Psychonauts 2 was worth the 16-year wait.
The original Psychonauts was released in April 2005 on the original Xbox. In it, players were at a summer camp run by the Psychonauts, who can explore people’s subconscious. The result was a mind-bending adventure where players explore the minds of the characters they meet. Sadly, it underperformed and achieved cult classic status.
Now, with fans’ backing via a crowdfunding campaign and Microsoft as the publisher, Double Fine is following it up with a grander adventure that’s bigger and better in every way possible. Backed up by a masterful script from Tim Schafer, Psychonauts 2 balances humor, difficulty, and style to craft one of the best 3D platformers in years.
Psychonauts 2 delivers everything expected from a sequel to such a strange game. But, even if you are a newcomer to the series, Psychonauts 2 is an excellent standalone 3D platformer with the most creative level design since Super Mario Odyssey.
Welcome to My Mind
Tim Schafer’s creative style is all over Psychonauts 2. His witty, pun-filled writing is unmatched in the video game industry. The story picks up right after the VR interquel Rhombus of Ruin 2017. After saving the leader of Psychonauts, the circus runaway Raz finally visits Psychonauts headquarters with ambitions of becoming an agent.
But the Psychonauts don’t live up to Raz’s expectations. The organization is struggling. Raz becomes an intern, not an agent, and his peers haze him. Even worse, his overwhelming family from the circus comes to visit him. However, a greater mystery doesn’t take long to expose itself: a mole within the Psychonauts tries to resurrect an evil entity called Maligula.
From there, Raz sets out on a quest to get the Psychonauts’ founders back together by exploring their minds and helping them overcome their problems. This includes Ford Cruller, a strange old Psychonauts founder whose mind was fractured in a fight with Maligula.
The game is chock full of wild hijinks, awkward situations, and witty conversations between Raz and the extraordinary characters he encounters. Still, the story has some surprisingly touching moments as you gradually discover the nature of the relationships between Raz, his family, Ford Cruller, and Maligula becomes more apparent.
Psychonauts 2 delivers a funny but poignant story about accepting your flaws, moving on, and accepting what makes you different.
Beauty Is the Mind
Psychonauts 2 smartly intertwines narrative and gameplay to create a sense of ludonarrative consistency that many platformers don’t. First, of course, there’s basic 3D platforming and combat with a wide variety of enemies and psychic powers at the game’s core, and two big hubs give the player plenty of space to play around with their different abilities between levels.
Still, every mind introduces a unique concept or gimmick to freshen up the experience. For example, Compton’s Cookoff tasks the player with gathering and putting together ingredients for a cooking show run by puppets — a clever way to simulate anxiety.
Yeah, Psychonauts 2 is not afraid to get weird. While some ideas feel off-kilter, they’re all vital for the story. Then the intensity of a psychedelic concert level makes sense for a character overwhelmed by regaining his senses.
Have we mentioned the psychedelic Coachella-like festival level inside a Brain in a Jar voiced by Jack Black, meant to represent a character being overwhelmed by regaining their senses? No idea is off the table, no matter how absurd.
Psychically going through someone’s mind, experiencing whatever issues they are facing, and helping them solve them invests you in the narrative and gameplay. Having some enjoyable platforming and combat mixed in there only serves to keep Psychonauts 2 more engaging.
That said, some gimmicks do work better than others. Gimmicks like the cooking competition are fun, but doing a tight platforming challenge while rolling a giant ball in one of Ford Cruller’s fractured minds is more frustrating than fun. Thankfully, Psychonauts 2 progresses at a brisk pace, so you’ll quickly move on from any idea that you don’t like.
All of this variation means the game rarely gets dull. And even if you do hit a wall when it comes to a platformer or combat challenge, the game has plenty of accessibility options like easier combat or invincibility to help make the game a smoother experience. Double Fine generously wants to make sure anyone who wants to can beat the game.
Platformers are a genre Microsoft has struggled with for years, never getting the same clout in the space as Sony or Nintendo. So while Psychonauts 2 is available on PlayStation consoles, Microsoft is lucky to have a hallmark platformer in its game lineup finally and should support Double Fine with whatever outlandish idea the developer has next.
Psychonauts 2 is one of the best games of 2021 — and the best ones Double Fine has ever made — so play it and make sure this becomes a bonafide classic, not a cult classic like its predecessor.
Inverse reviewed Psychonauts 2 on Xbox Series X ahead of its August 25, 2021 release.
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