Jumping into Psychonauts 2, you don’t get the feeling that 16 years have passed since Raz Aquato’s first adventure. Despite some very clear improvements that elevate the original’s action-platformer recipe to new heights, it feels, sounds, and plays in a very familiar fashion.
That long a hiatus can make a series feel like a relic of the past but, after a lengthy detour, developer Double Fine emerges with a sequel that hits all the marks, proving that Raz and his gang have plenty more to offer.
It’s also a game that makes the series’ universe feel bigger and more alive than ever, while potentially signaling that good times lie ahead if more games like it are part of Microsoft’s plans going forward.
Psychonauts 2 is a third-person action-platformer in which you play as Raz Aquato, a trainee looking to join the Psychonauts, a group of psychic spies whose special powers enable them to enter people’s minds and help them deal with their issues.
Psychonauts 2 picks up shortly after the conclusion of 2018’s VR game, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, with Raz and his teachers from Whispering Rock Camp returning to the organization’s headquarters after having recovered its missing leader.
A neat animated introductory cutscene recounts all of Raz’s previous adventures, getting new players up to speed, while those who’ve played the original are in for a few treats and easter eggs that reference older levels and events. The sequel itself is, however, a mostly self-contained story that you can safely enjoy on its own.
Raz quickly takes on his newfound role of intern and, with his old bag of mental powers in tow, sets off to scour the Motherlobe – the organization’s HQ – and its surrounding areas, whose swamps and forests offer plenty of distractions when you’re not diving deep into people’s minds.
Psychonauts 2’s story is one of healing, managing to incorporate a lot of empathy while maintaining the series’ childlike charm and wacky visuals. Its levels connect better to the overall story than those of the original, managing to deliver a couple of valuable lessons that reveal a considerably more empathetic approach to mental health problems, which never comes at the detriment of the game’s humor.
Its supporting cast – particularly Raz’s intern pals – feels a bit underused, popping up whenever it’s convenient, but the sequel’s scope is larger than that of the original, delving deeper not just into Raz’s own story, but also that of the Psychonauts and the organization’s founding members.
Psychonauts 2 is a single-player experience and does not feature any co-op or multiplayer modes.
Psychonauts 2 brings back most of its predecessor’s notable concepts but plays considerably smoother. You’re still collecting Figments or combining Challenge Cards and Psi Challenge Markers in order to rank up. The main currency is now Psitanium, which you still need to dig up from the ground, mostly while exploring the game’s hub and surrounding areas.
Raz gains access to his powers after a short tutorial and all of the original’s greatest hits return. Levitation summons a bouncy ball that lets you roll around at high speeds but also slows your descent while in mid-air. Telekinesis lets you grab objects, throw them back at opponents and, most importantly, annoy everyone around you. Psi Blast is your go-to ranged attack, while Clairvoyance lets you literally see the world through other people’s eyes.
The sequel also brings some new tricks of its own that fit well into Raz’s arsenal. Time Bubble slows downtime in an area, so you can safely get past certain obstacles or more easily deal with foes. Mind Connection lets you navigate bits of environments by connecting to suspended thoughts, while Projection lets you build a papery AI-controlled pal that can squeeze through tight spots and distract enemies.
These new powers are introduced across the game’s wildly varied levels – which never fail to surprise –, but remain relevant for its entire duration. As you rank up, you can spend points on upgrades, improving their effects and making Raz stronger. Pins, purchased with Psitanium, let you access a different set of potential upgrades. Some are purely cosmetic, changing the color of your ball or making your Telekinesis gently pet wildlife.
Others change how your abilities function, having Time Bubble speed up objects instead of slowing them down, extending Psi Blast’s chain effect to more enemies, or soaking up dropped health and currency from further away. Unfortunately, although there’s a high number of Pins to unlock, you can only ever equip three at any given time which, in tandem with the relatively slow rate at which you obtain Psitanium, feels overly restrictive.
Psychonauts 2’s richer array of enemies will see you actively switching between different powers, even if combat is mostly a means of spicing things up between longer platforming sequences. Judges wield massive gavels that you can pull out of their hands using telekinesis and fling back for good damage. Enablers turn other enemies invulnerable until killed, while inflammable Doubts slow you down with their purple goo.
A few fights can feel a bit overwhelming, but you’re looking at a more fluid experience than that of the original. Psychonauts 2’s boss fights rarely stand out mechanically, outside of one against a trio of overfed goat hand puppets, and do sometimes overstay their welcome, yet remain an integral part of their respective worlds.
Speaking of brain levels, they’ve received a very welcome upgrade, both in terms of size and visual complexity. Expansive and chock-full with optional collectibles, they reflect each character’s unique personality and struggles. You never know what to expect as you jump from mind to mind.
You’ll participate in a timed cooking game show, chopping and blending seemingly sentient vegetables but also explore a massive mailroom with a letter-burning maelstrom in the middle, as well as one particularly brilliantly crafted psychedelia-infused level.
Whether it’s using trapezes to swing across gaps, grinding on rails, or hopping from thought to thought as you cover great distances, the platforming challenges keep gameplay fresh until the very end, at times briefly switching to a 2D perspective as Raz navigates the inside of an X-Ray machine or books. Some of these bits did inherit a little ambiguity from the original, but not to an extent where they become bothersome.
From the retro-futurism of the Motherlobe, to the psychedelic landscapes of the Psi-King’s Sensorium, Psychonauts 2 is a visual spectacle unlike any other. Less blocky, and more detailed than its predecessor, its stylized visuals not just live up to today’s standards, but effortlessly collaborate with the game’s excellent writing and sound to create impressive levels that offer surreal yet powerful representations of various mental health issues.
Driven by a clear vision, its art direction, like the game itself, treads the fine line between playful and serious, knowing precisely when to be exuberantly colorful and when to switch to a more considered tone.
Psychonauts 2 also features more cutscenes than its predecessor. They do occasionally feel a little intrusive, but this additional dimension to how it presents the story offers more opportunities for physical and situational humor, often giving the impression that an animation film snuck in when the developers weren’t looking, which is a welcome surprise.
Audio & Music
Psychonauts 2’s voice acting also knocks it out of the park, doing a great job of emphasizing the characters’ distinct personalities and moods. Its music morphs with the worlds you’re visiting, offering a rather rich palette of genres that ranges from guitar-driven folk to grandiose string arrangements, but also a playfully sorrowful musical number, all of which are vital puzzle pieces making up the game’s brain levels.
Psychonauts 2’s AI is rather single-minded, but does its job quite well. Enemies rely on clear attack patterns, putting pressure on you when you’re vastly outnumbered without ever making the game feel outright frustrating.
Psychonauts 2 offers a few more accessibility features than you’d normally expect. You can turn fall damage and invincibility on, if you’re looking for an easier experience, but also make combat easier across the board by greatly increasing the damage Raz deals, so you can focus on the story and platforming.
You also have the option of changing the text language, subtitle size, font legibility, and the level of camera shake. Lastly, the color blindness compensation option features three modes (Protanopia, Deuteranopia, Tritanopia).
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB Ram, and an Nvidia 1070 GTX @1080p, Psychonauts 2 never dropped below 60 FPS, running without a hitch.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The psychedelia-infused trip inside the Psi King’s Sensorium.
PSYCHONAUTS 2 VERDICT
Psychonauts 2 isn’t necessarily longer than the original – we spent some 14 hours beating the main story, with plenty of collectibles left to discover – but it’s bigger and better in just about every way imaginable. It’s also more considerate and discusses mental health with more empathy than its predecessor did, but never at a detriment to its puntastic dialogue and humor.
It boasts some of the most imaginative levels out there, and they’re backed up by platforming and combat that feels very familiar yet also surprisingly fresh. Its story has a more personal note, yet fleshes out not just Raz and the characters around him, but the game’s universe as a whole. Simply put, Psychonauts 2 is a triumph in all the ways it needs to be, and this hopefully means that it won’t be the last we see of the series.
Smooth platforming and combat
Old powers feel great to use, new additions that slot well into Raz's arsenal
Impressively varied visuals
Brain levels constantly surprise you
Story nails the balance between empathy and humor
Pin system feels overly restrictive
Inherits a small degree of ambiguity from the original during certain platforming sections
Raz's fellow interns feel underused
About Bogdan Robert Mateș
When not brewing coffee or debating serious topics with my cat, you'll either find me playing video games or writing about them.