Psychonauts 2 (Xbox Series S) Review

The creative and mind-bending 3D-action platformer Psychonauts finally has a true sequel with Psychonauts 2 – 16 years in the making after a successful Fig campaign and including additional budget from Xbox after they acquired Double Fine Productions in 2019. Technically, there was a direct sequel to the story of Psychonauts with the 2017 release of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin for the PSVR, however, this played out as a first-person adventure game rather than an action-platformer. It is, however, still an important entry to the series as the events in the game help to bridge the gap between Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2.

Psychonauts is renowned as a cult classic due to its bizarre concept of exploring the strange and imaginative minds of the characters you meet, which allows the game to go crazy with its level designs and humour. I admit that back in 2005 when the original game launched, its abstract visuals and characters didn’t interest me in the slightest and the game passed me by. This was rather surprising as even back then I knew who Tim Schafer was and his involvement with the game, having previously loved Grim Fandango and the first two Monkey Island games that he was a writer on.

To become familiar with the series, I played the original game and literally just completed it on the day the sequel was released. As such, I have absolutely no nostalgia for the series but can easily understand why it is beloved by a section of gamers who have been eagerly craving a sequel for many years!
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As previously stated, Psychonauts 2’s narrative picks up directly after the Rhombus of Ruin, therefore around 3 days after the events of Psychonauts, and you once again play as the 10-year-old psychic Razputin “Raz” Aquato. Thankfully, the game does an excellent job of retelling the story of the previous games through a wonderful artistic cutscene, so for newcomers, this is an essential recap to watch. Psychonauts 2 kicks off with Raz and the world-renowned Psychonaut agents Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello and Coach Oleander having just saved the leader of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, and capturing Dr. Laboto, the deranged dentist come brain surgeon who had kidnapped him.

Upon entering Dr. Laboto’s mind to learn more about his evil plans, the squad soon learn that he is being manipulated by Magligula – a past enemy of the Psychonauts who was presumed dead after being defeated by the Psychic 6, the original founders of the Psychonauts. This leads to Raz, now an intern Psychonaut, setting out to unravel the mystery of Magligula’s return, uncover a mole within the organisation itself, and return the Psychic 6 to their former glory. The story is surprisingly deep, and often heartfelt, as Raz must deal with the aftermath of running away from his family, which took place in the first game, and there is a running theme throughout the game of confronting your past and learning from your mistakes, both for Raz and the supporting cast of characters.

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Regarding the supporting cast, I was pleased to see a lot of returning faces, especially Ford Cruller who has a significant role within Psychonauts 2 – some of the game’s best levels play out in his mind. With Raz now being an intern Psychonaut, he initially finds himself at the Psychonauts Headquarters called The Motherlobe and here we meet a host of other interns that unfortunately aren’t quite as adorable and quirky as the campers in the original game. This is probably because the campers were more Raz’s age and with that, you got a lot of childlike humour in Psychonauts, while the new interns are slightly older, possibly teenagers, and therefore are meaner and moodier.

Obviously, the best intern is Sam who is the sister of my favourite camper from the original – Dogen (the camper who is a walking tomb bomb and wears a tinfoil hat to stop him blowing things up) – and there is a great scene of Sam making pancakes with some furry friends at the Diner in the Questionable Area, that you must visit – it’s hilarious. The rest of the new cast members, specifically the Psychic 6, are all a very welcome addition and Psychonauts 2 cements Raz as a loveable protagonist who helps to make the game such a joy to play.
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Characters aside, another marvel and highlight of Psychonauts 2 are its levels and environments. The level designs are so cleverly woven into the game’s narrative and the creativity and variety on show are exceptional. Often the minds that Raz interacts with will form the levels of the game, and these touch on some sensitive themes around mental conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction, and while there is a great deal of light-hearted humour throughout, Psychonauts 2 always approaches these themes with a great deal of empathy and Double Fine Productions should be congratulated for addressing these themes in such a thoughtful and approachable manner.

Psychonauts 2’s levels not only take place in the minds of others as there are also a few hub worlds to explore that feature some side quests to partake in and plenty of collectables to find. However, the best creativity and art design are within the games numerous mind delving levels. For example, one has you riding on a bowling ball, having to traverse narrow ledges and unlock platforms shaped as bowling alleys, and another is a fun and frantic gameshow that has you making meals using different foods that require a specific cooking utensil to prepare it.

A personal favourite level involves the psychedelic recollections of a 60’s rock band, where the visuals shift to a cel-shaded look with an acid-tripping array of colours complimented by a twisted landscape of platforming elements featuring different facial features such as giant tongues and bulbous eyes. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout my 25-hour playthrough (this includes collecting 100% of the collectables), whenever I thought I had seen everything the game had to offer, it would spring something new and different for me to do. I haven’t been in such awe of a platformer since Mario Galaxy and while Psychonauts 2 may not have the gorgeous visual punch as, say, Ratchet and Clank: A Rift Apart, it’s still a very pretty game with bags full of vibrancy and a 90’s children’s cartoon feel to it.
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What helps to compliment the visual distinction between Psychonauts 2’s levels is the ever-changing soundtrack. Each area’s music feels distinct and suitably relates to the theme of the level. The previously mentioned, 60’s inspired rock band level has, as you would probably expect, a trippy 60’s jazzy rock soundtrack to it and concludes with a rather catchy song that includes a special guest appearance.

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It feels as though everything Psychonauts 2 has to offer links directly to the game’s narrative, and the gameplay mechanics and enemies are no exception. The introductory level will have Raz quickly re-learn the psychic powers that he used within the original game which includes Melee (attack enemies with mentally charged strike), Psi-Blast (projectile of concentrated psychic energy which causes damage), Pyrokinesis (conjure fire to inflict damage over time), Telekinesis (lift objects to carry or throw), Levitation (move more quickly and jump higher, or summon balloon to float through the air), and the newly acquired power from Rhombus of Ruin – Clairvoyance (see through the eyes of others to reveal new details).

A brand new ability to the game is shortly unlocked when Raz has to enter the mind of his new teacher – Hollis Forsythe – where he learns a Mental Connection that allows him to grapple between thoughts to make connections. This is used within the level to change the thoughts of Hollis which, as you can imagine, leads to a whole host of trouble.

There are a couple of other abilities that I won’t spoil – the final one you unlock is an absolute delight and had me chuckling every time I used it. My only negative with the Psi Power abilities is that when you upgrade them, through increasing your rank and being rewarded with an ability point, the upgrades don’t add anything interesting to the combat experience. The upgrades tend to only offer more damage, reduce cooldowns or extend the radius of an attack.

You can also purchase Pins that will also provide more combat upgrades, such as rooting an enemy to the spot with your Mental Connection power, but as above, it’s nothing that truly adds any further variety to the combat mechanics – sadly there’s no huge special attack that causes projectiles to rain down on enemies or an attack that confuses enemies to make them hurt attack each other, for example.
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The enemies within Psychonauts 2 are all named after emotions and doubts, and while the melee focussed Censors return, there is now a much wider enemy variation on offer that require different methods to defeat them. For example, Regrets are flying enemies that drop weights on you, of which some of these explode to cause a wider damage radius – a sharp Psi Blast will take them down with ease, while Bad Ideas are an enemy which throws an electrifying light bulb at you – these are best dealt with by catching the bulb with Telekinesis and returning it back to them!

As with the original Psychonauts, there are bosses included, however, not within each mind you enter as there is a much great number of levels within Psychonauts 2 than compared to the original. These bosses aren’t overly challenging, but you must utilise a variety of your abilities to defeat them. I found them to largely be enjoyable but not mind-blowing, fresh or intuitive, however, I did like that they had multiple stages of progression and difficulty to them.

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I am happy to report that traversing the levels is a much more responsive and less frustrating experience than with the original Psychonauts. That final level in Psychonauts was utterly painful. It was quite common for early 3D platformers to be a bit flaky and hard to judge where your jump will land and in Psychonauts, trying to jump onto a trapeze was infuriating. Thankfully, I had no issues with the platforming in Psychonauts 2, however, I did find that the Levitation ball was a little speedy and difficult to manage on small ledges, but it is a must-use ability when exploring due to Raz’s quite slow walking speed.
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Psychonauts 2, like many 3D platformers, has an array of different collectables to find throughout the game’s many areas. Figments, Psi Challenge Cards, Psi Challenge Cores, Keys, Emotional Baggage, and Nuggets of Wisdom can all be used to increase your rank, whereas collecting Psi shards can be spent at the Otto-Matic Terminals to purchase a multitude of items, such as lollypops to replenish health to the Pins that I mentioned earlier. You can also find halves of brains, which once you have a pair, will create a cute little animation of them coming together to produce an extra brain on your health meter.

Compared to the original game it’s easier to track what collectables you have found within a level – however, there are no dedicated level maps so you aren’t able to pin to the map where an out of reach collectable is so you know where to return to once you’ve gained a new ability. This makes remembering where collectables are located a bit of a pain, but at least you have your snot buddy to quickly travel to different parts of levels that you have already completed to make exploration more manageable.

I experienced no framerate issues or serious bugs playing Psychonauts 2 on my Xbox Series S. However, I did have a few slow texture load-ins during cutscenes, which I was quite surprised to see as the game isn’t a visual powerhouse. Whether this also occurs on the PS4 or Series X, I can’t say. I also had a slight issue where a button prompt disappeared during an early boss battle, but walking away and returning to the object seemed to correct this. Other than those two issues, the game performed superbly.

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Psychonauts 2 is easily one of the most entertaining platformers that I have played in recent years. The level design is so impressive and constantly throwing new ideas at you that creates a fresh gameplay experience throughout the games lengthy story. Once again, Double Fine Productions have instilled themselves as some of the finest writers on the gaming scene with a narrative that successfully manages to walk the fine line of merging comedy with sensitive mental health themes and being completely respectful of the subject matter. Raz has equally become one of my all-time favourite gaming protagonists and I really hope we won’t have to wait another 16 years to jump into some new mind-bending experiences.

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As Psychonauts 2 is an Xbox Games Studio game, it’s included as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription on both PC and Xbox consoles. Due to Double Fine Productions being acquired whilst the development of the game was already partially complete, the game is also available on the PlayStation 4. All platforms are digital-only (at the time of writing this review), with no physical editions planned or announced.

In terms of performance and quality, there is no native PS5 edition of the game, but it does run at 60fps via the PS4 BC ability. However, Xbox has an Xbox Series edition provided via Smart Delivery – this gives you either 4k/60fps or 1440p/120fps on the Series X, and 1620p/60fps or 1080p/120fps on the Series S. 

A code for Game Pass Ultimate was kindly provided for review purposes

Psychonauts 2

£54.99
9

Final Score

9.0/10

The Good:

  • - Compelling and heartfelt story that isn’t afraid to touch on mental health conditions
  • - Excellent quirky cast of characters and brilliant dialogue throughout
  • - Satisfying and responsive combat and platforming
  • - Stunning level design and art direction that directly relates to the themes of the narrative
  • - A great deal of action platforming goodness on offer ranging from 15-20 hours to complete

The Bad:

  • - Slight texture pop-in during cutscenes
  • - Psi Power upgrades not particularly interesting
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