Psychonauts 2 was one of my most anticipated games of this generation. But unlike a lot of other fans, I never actually got to play the first game as a kid, mostly because I was unaware of its existence for the longest time. I didn’t keep up with the latest releases in the world of video games as much as I do now, and fawning coverage around the title seemed to evade my sights for far too long. I suppose it was simply a matter of bad luck that I never stumbled upon it.
When I did eventually find out about it, a couple of years had passed since the initial release and the game seemed a bit unapproachable. The 7th generation of consoles was already here, and going back a generation for a game seemed a bit too implausible. What can I say, I was a kid. I couldn’t be bothered to go back to a game like Psychonauts, especially when massive titles like the original Borderlands were making waves in the industry.
But somehow I did give Psychonauts a try, and it blew me out of the water. I was utterly captivated by the fantastic art style, quirky characters and the sheer creativity behind this unique title. Never in my life had I played something as charming as this, and it quickly became one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve since beaten the game multiple times over without it ever getting boring.
Now over a decade later, it is my absolute pleasure to report to our readers that Psychonauts 2 is not only a worthwhile sequel to the original, it is actually a better game in every regard. It takes every idea that made the first entry special, and improves upon it tremendously to create a game that has exceeded even my wildest expectations.
Story And Writing
If you’re new to this series, a lot of what I’ve going to write below will not make a whole lot of sense to you. This game is a direct continuation of the original, and as such, it expects you to have at least a base level understanding of the events that lead up to the beginning of this new adventure. Jumping in blind can be extremely confusing, so Psychonauts 2 does a great job of bringing players up to speed with an initial animated sequence that briefly goes over the events of the previous two games.
Even after that, characters in-game constantly offer up context about the story and world in an organic way. It’s definitely not perfect in any sense of the word, but it’s good enough that you shouldn’t feel too confused. Still, it cannot be ignored that the best way to experience this game is to have played the original first. I personally think that the short VR sequel Rhombus of Ruin can be completely ignored though, unless you’re really committed.
Basically, the plot of Psychonauts 2 picks up almost immediately after the events of the first game and the Rhombus of Ruin. Barely a few days have passed since the events that unfolded in the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, and Raz is now a ‘full’ member of the Psychonauts. Or at least that’s what he initially believes anyway.
His dreams are summarily crushed however when he learns that no official authority has conferred the rank of agent to him, and that he must join the intern program instead. On top of this, the leader of the organization, Truman Zanotto, is also currently out of commission and a sinister plot is brewing that threatens to bring back the most dangerous enemy that the Psychonauts have ever faced.
Now it’s up to Raz to keep his friends safe and prove his worth as a psychic, while still figuring out his place within the Psychonauts. How does he do this exactly? Well, the core premise of the game revolves around using your psychic abilities to dive into the minds of different people and exploring the worlds that exist within. These are mental representations of their psyche, and the game focuses on Raz’s adventures into these different creative locations as he attempts to bring order to them.
And in that endeavor, he’s accompanied by a handful of quirky new characters like his strict mentors, fellow interns and doting family members. Each of the characters you meet in game are incredibly well written and voice acted. No one feels out of place in the story, with everyone having a meaningful part to play in the overall plot. The original cast of campers have been replaced with a much smaller and more distinct roster this time around, and that works out extremely well for the game.
Once you really start progressing through this new story though, what you’ll find is a deeply empathetic game that takes a close look at mental illness and human nature. It explores how trauma and guilt can break a person’s mind and change them from within, morphing them into completely different people on the outside. Developer Double Fine is not afraid to dive deep into uncomfortable topics that others would steer completely clear of.
What’s even more impressive about Psychonauts 2 is that it tackles all of these tough subjects without ever being too preachy or harsh in tone. The game’s narrative works so phenomenally because it goes to extra lengths not to depict it’s NPCs as caricatures, but as fully realized characters with strengths, flaws and desires. The writers also do an extremely good job of addressing the role of a psychic like Raz who dives into minds. He’s not there to ‘Fix’ people, whatever that means, he’s simply trying to help them face their inner demons.
And maybe none of this would work as well as it does, if the writing wasn’t so thoroughly hilarious as well. Psychonauts 2 is without a doubt one of the funniest games I have ever played, with writing that delivers laughs one after the other. It’s so incredibly witty, with near perfect timing when it comes to the execution of jokes and their visual accompaniments. The game never misses a beat, and I’m still laughing thinking about some of my favorite comedic bits even as I write this review.
The fact that this game manages to merge the comedy with the poignant moments so masterfully, is a testament to the talent of the writers at Double Fine. Time and time again they prove that no one does narratives quite like they do, and I cannot help but feel proud to be a fan. Not only of this game, but also of the people that made it.
The core gameplay in Psychonauts 2 is virtually the same as it was in the first game, with a few new additions, as well as tweaks to older mechanics. Players get access to a wide range of psychic powers that they can use to engage in combat with, as well as interact with different obstacles in the real world or inside a character’s mind.
Returning powers like Levitation still play a massive part in traversal. It allows you to move faster, jump higher and even glide long distances. But whereas this exact ability felt a bit floaty to use before, it has now been polished to be as responsive and satisfying as possible. In the options menu, the game even allows you to turn on some accessibility options that let you use this particular ability when you press the jump button multiple times instead of assigning it to the four limited PSI-Powers slots. So that is an extremely welcome addition.
Other useful abilities like Telekinesis and Pyrokinesis also make a return, and they are also extremely polished. Some of these function a bit differently than before, but it all works out for the best, and they even have additional uses this time around.
Some of the newer PSI-Powers like Mental Connection and Time Bubble are also extremely fun to use. Mental Connection allows you to connect ideas in the environment and fly between different tether points with the press of a button. Time Bubble on the other hand lets you slow down moving objects and enemies. This way you can get a few hits in on your foes, or even slow down extremely fast-moving platforms so you can interact with them.
Players can also upgrade their abilities and attacks by accumulating various different collectibles out in the world and increasing their intern rank. The Intern Credits rewarded for doing so, can then be used in the PSI-Powers menu to level up individual abilities with increased uses, greater damage, or additional functions. It’s a great system really, because this makes collectibles feel like more than a superficial addition. There are actual tangible benefits for taking the time to collect everything you see.
Additionally, you can use Psitanium, which is the currency of this game, to purchase Pins from the store. These can be equipped to offer additional effects such as increased melee damage and further uses for your powers. Some of these are also purely cosmetic in nature, allowing you to change the way your psychic abilities look and feel.
Every power, new or old, honestly feels great to use. They’re all fun to play with, and most importantly, combat now requires you to use them all in tandem in order to dominate fights. Almost all enemies in the game are now vulnerable to a specific type of power. So while it is still highly possible to button mash your way to victory, I much prefer the more tactile feel of using the different abilities to counter specific threats.
Speaking of enemies, Psychonauts 2 has a much more diverse cast of foes than before. In keeping with the theme of mental health, most of them are named and stylized after particular emotions or feelings like ‘Judgment,’ ‘Regrets’ or ‘Bad Ideas.’ The game slowly rolls them out over the course of the story when appropriate, and thanks to that, combat never actually got repetitive.
Now if you’re starting to get worried that this all feels a bit too combat oriented, I’m here to assure you that that’s not the case at all. Encounters in the game are perfectly paced and used in moderation, so that the real stars, the puzzles and platforming, can shine. Each world has its own unique set of challenges that the player must overcome, and there’s usually a power that has to be used to counter those hurdles. Players also have to jump, swing, slow time and generally manipulate the environments in all the proper ways to make their way through.
I cannot emphasize how incredibly fun this all is. No mechanic ever overstays it’s welcome, and the mental worlds are so impeccably designed that I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of them. Sometimes it’s extremely obvious that certain parts of a location cannot be accessed without a new power. So players are even incentivized to come back after they’ve gained the required abilities.
Visuals And Art Direction
On a base level, it’s hard to confuse Psychonauts 2 with any of its platforming peers. It has this unique art style and aesthetic that is so instantly recognizable and charming, that it might as well have a Double Fine watermark on the screen at all times. What’s even more pleasing is that the visuals are a direct evolution of the first game. Sure the models are more detailed and the game looks sharper and cleaner than it’s predecessor did 16 years ago, but it’s still remarkably the same at heart. Playing it was like getting punched in the face with nostalgia, but in a good way.
And although the main world looks fantastic, the real stars of the show are the handful of mental worlds that you’ll visit in the game. Each of these have been so lovingly crafted, with art assets and environments that are unique only to them. They’re so visually distinct from each other that out of context it wouldn’t be hard to believe that these are actually different games.
There’s so much creativity and talent on display here, that I’m struggling to understand how the artists even came up with these worlds. A single section of a single world in Psychonauts 2, oozes more charm, personality and style than some games have in their entirety. It’s mind-blowing how beautiful and surreal everything looks and feels.
I hesitate to go into too many spoilers, because I would not dare take away the joy of discovering these mental worlds for the first time. But let’s take a look at the first world you visit in the game as a small example. It’s within the mind of a deranged dentist who’s being manipulated by the Psychonauts, so the entire location starts off as a bleak office space. As he gains control over his consciousness however, the entire location twists and changes, eventually morphing into this uncomfortable display of teeth and gums and past memories.
From this point forward, Psychonauts 2 constantly keeps upping the ante with more elaborate worlds and more interesting characters. I haven’t even gone into some of the more fantastical locations or the incredible boss fights. Adding their images in the article would reveal the surprise, and talking about them further will simply not do them justice.
This is a beautiful game that deserves to be experienced by everyone who values creativity, and I refuse to spoil it for them.
While Psychonauts 2 might not be a graphical powerhouse, it never actually had to be one anyway. This game is incredibly beautiful thanks to the strength of its unique visuals and art direction, and that’s something that I’ll take over a title with realistic hair or cloth physics any day.
And maybe due to this exact same reason, the game looks incredibly crisp on the Xbox Series X and even the Xbox Series S. Both consoles are also able to run the game at 120fps, at 1440p and 1080p respectively. The Series X can also run the game at a perfect 4K 60fps outside of performance mode, but I personally always preferred the increase in framerate over visuals. Once again, this game is not too intensive, so even at 1080p it looks phenomenal.
I’m happy to report that the base Xbox One is also able to run Psychonauts 2 really well, but there are some issues. For starters, the visuals are noticeable grainier on the older hardware and there seems to be a reoccurring drop in the framerate when you enter the Motherlobe building in particular. I’m going to guess that this is due to the high number of NPCs that are present here at all times. This issue also popped up during one of the more flashy setpieces, but this is not something I noticed anywhere else in the world.
The game is also incredibly polished and bug free, but there is one specific instance that made me reboot the game when playing on the Xbox One. Randomly while fast-travelling to Sasha’s Laboratory from the outdoors, I saw the whole screen begin to flash and the in-game assets all but disappeared apart from a few different items. I tried to recreate this a handful of times on both the old console and the Series X, but it did not happen ever again. Perhaps this was simply a one off thing.
Apart from this one hitch though, my experience was smooth and pleasant throughout.
Psychonauts 2 Verdict
After over a decade of waiting, I honestly cannot believe that I got to jump back into the world of Psychonauts again. I never thought that this game would ever really exist, or that it would live up to all of my expectations for it. But I was wrong. This is one of the rare few games that not only lives up to the expectations set by it’s predecessor, it actually exceeds them.
I’m definitely biased when I say this, but not only is Psychonauts 2 one of the best games I’ve played this year, it is without a doubt one of the best games I have ever played in my life. I’m awestruck by its creativity and approach to storytelling, and it made me laugh until I cried. I will be coming back to this game for the rest of my life.
Psychonauts 2 is a masterpiece.
- Phenomenal level design.
- Impactful story.
- Funny throughout.
- Amazing platforming.
- Impeccable art direction.
- Improved combat.
- Upgraded PSI Powers.
- New players require a crash course in lore.
- Last gen is a bit disappointing.
Psychonauts 2 Rating – 5/5
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