Everyone likes a winner. There’s something special when your favorite team or game or movie takes home a trophy. Sure you had nothing to do with it in a technical sense, but it makes you feel like you’ve got an eye for talent. You spotted a winner and got on board before everyone else. It’s anti-FOMO. This is doubly true for gaming, where picking a winner means plopping down some hard-earned cash and investing dozens of hours. Every year there are countless Game of the Year (GOTY) awards ceremonies (although The Game Awards is really the one that counts) and taking home top honors gives devs and fans alike bragging rights.
Xbox may have one of 2021’s top contenders.
Spotting a GOTY contender can be tough. Reviews alone don’t help, there’s a lot of games that get released with near-perfect scores that don’t enter the conversation. Same with sales. The best-selling games aren’t always the BEST games of the year (looking at you Call of Duty). A true GOTY contender must be accessible to a range of players, tell a great story, have style, and incorporate some innovations. It helps to have a legacy behind it, too. Is there really a new release that has all that on Xbox Game Pass right now?
Psychonauts 2 from Double Fine Studios is an absolute treat of a game. We loved it, and so do lots and lots of other critics. It owes its popularity, in part, to the number “2” in the title. The first Psychonauts was a cult classic for Xbox, but never really reached massive mainstream success. That may be why Double Fine crowdfunded a sequel that took a staggering 16 years to complete. The passion and patience were there for fans who fell in love with the original.
So what do they love?
If you’re not familiar, Psychonauts 2 continues the story of Raz, a kid with psychic powers who enlists in a law enforcement agency of sorts known as the Psychonauts. This isn’t your typical dark and brooding metaphysical cops and robbers tale though. Psychonauts 2 celebrates the series' signature art style, which is more Klasky Csupo than Beyond Two Souls. It’s vibrant and eclectic and absurd because it has to be.
The premise of Psychonauts 2 involves Raz using his powers to infiltrate different people’s minds to uncover information hidden in the fever dream constructs of their subconscious. Ever had a dream where all your teeth fall out or grow uncontrollably? Psychonauts 2 has a level for that!
In fact, it’s the level design in Psychonauts 2 that helps cement it as a GOTY contender. Beyond the wildly imaginative settings that are, quite literally, anything someone could think of, Psychonauts 2 delivers a polished platforming experience by way of great gameplay mechanics. Raz’s powers include things like levitation, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and time dilation. These abilities help ward off the baddies but also serve to navigate the trippy environs and puzzles therein.
You never know quite what to expect with Psychonauts 2 other than a good time. It strikes a perfect balance of subtly guiding you to solutions without completely holding your hand. It’s like Super Mario franchise levels of design excellence: addictively fun, often challenging, and always full of possibilities.
Couple all this with a weird and wonderful story populated with some truly unique characters and all the secrets and collectibles you’d expect from a fantastic platformer and it’s easy to make the case for GOTY. If you wanna be one of the cool kids on the “Told Ya So Express” come awards season, you need to play this one ASAP.
Psychonauts 2 is available now on Game Pass and for purchase on PC and PlayStation.