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Psychonauts 2 on Xbox Series X
Psychonauts 2 is a game that in many other alternate universes likely doesn’t exist. The chances that an indie developer (at least up until recently) survives over two decades and has the opportunity to follow up on a game they made fifteen years ago in a genre that is no longer in vogue, is very low in this day and age, to say the least. But fortunately for all of us in this universe, we are blessed to be living in the same time and space where Double Fine is given the chance to make Psychonauts 2 because it is just absolutely fantastic.
Psychonauts 2 picks up right where the original game left off. There’s a quick recap for newcomers that quickly explains what happens in the first game, but it’s not long before you’re off and running.
I’ll admit, it was a bit tough for me to fully grasp what was going on at first. I played the original game at launch as a kid and never finished it, so it was a bit overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be an issue for newcomers.
The game quickly shifts gears into its new story angle where Raz, despite being an honorary Psychonaut, still needs to go through the intern program at Psychonauts HQ, AKA the Motherlobe. It isn’t long before the game is up to its old tricks. You’re working alongside other gifted teens and getting wrapped up in the problems of the wacky adults that populate the Motherlobe.
The Motherlobe and the areas surrounding it serve as the hub world Psychonauts 2. There’s plenty to explore and collect, but one thing I really enjoyed about Psychonauts 2 is that it doesn’t jam a collect-a-thon experience where it doesn’t belong.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore collect-a-thons, but that isn’t what Psychonauts is. You can beat the game even if you do a really crappy job picking up all of the various collectibles such as Psicards, Figments, Half-A-Minds, Emotional Baggage, etc. Most of these funnel into currency known as Intern Credits that you can use to enhance and augment your psychic powers. Collecting definitely makes your life easier, but you can certainly progress through the game without going crazy trying to pick everything up and 100%ing every level.
You have a ton of freedom in what you choose to upgrade. You can opt for focusing on your combat powers like Melee and Psiblast to get an edge while fighting, or you can spend your credits on powers like Levitation to help you in platforming sections. You can even save up for powers like Dark Thoughts within the Mental Connection power which allows you to access previously inaccessible areas. Once you unlock backtracking, you can go back and use your new powers to explore areas/minds more thoroughly, even adding a little dash of optional Metroidvania if that suits you.
Ultimately, though, the draw of Psychonauts 2 is its story, characters, and wacky minds/worlds that you’ll explore. Psychonauts 2 plays out like a classic Saturday morning cartoon in video game form.
Raz, like many Psychonauts, has the ability to enter the minds of others, and often these people will be suffering from some kind of problem that will manifest in their thoughts. This leads to some truly memorable levels.
One of my favorites is early on where Raz will use his Mental Connection power to change the thoughts of an over-protective instructor in an attempt to allow Raz and his fellow classmates to go on a dangerous casino heist mission.
The instructor’s mind, normally an airtight hospital where everything is safe, gets flipped upside down when Raz changes her thoughts to associate Risk with positive thoughts instead of negative ones. It eventually turns her mind into a Casino/Hospital hybrid where the spin of a roulette wheel determines whether or not would-be parents get their babies, and medicine is delivered via Plinko.
The settings are vibrant, wonderfully irrelevant, and loaded with plenty of cutscenes where Raz, his fellow interns, and the many other colorful characters can shine.
There’s an overarching mission about trying to root out a mole that has infiltrated the Psychonauts, driving Raz to enter the minds of people to piece together the mystery. However, once he’s there, he quickly becomes just as, if not more, invested in helping out the person in question than he is his primary mission.
Very often there’s someone struggling with very real-world mental health problems. While Psychonauts 2 often deals with this in cheerfully irreverent ways, there’s often a heartwarming end to each mind where Raz is able to help the characters work through their problems and everyone learns a valuable lesson.
Psychonauts 2 is just absolutely loaded with worthwhile cutscenes and dialog. There are lots of things going right in this game, but the superb writing takes the cake. Whether it’s delivering a compelling mystery in the main story, hysterical one on one conversations with a goofy character, or touching moments where Raz’s empathy for others shines through, Psychonauts 2 constantly has you in awe and smiling for so many different reasons.
All of that said, where Psychonauts 2 falls a little bit short, at least compared to the rest of the game, is in its combat and platforming. Now I’m not saying either is bad. In fact, for the most part, it’s quite good, but there are a few issues worth noting that may annoy some players as it did me.
For one, swapping powers out mid-combat can get quite cumbersome. You only have four power slots that are assigned to your trigger buttons. Whether you’re exploring or fighting, you often need to use more than four powers at a time. Because I needed to frequently swap powers around, none of my powers really had a consistent stay at any of the buttons and it got difficult keeping track of which power was assigned to which button. I often would hit a button and use a power I wasn’t expecting because of that.
The combat in Psychonauts 2 is still good, but it would have been much better if there was a crisper system for swapping powers in and out when you need to.
Similar complaints can be levied against the platforming aspects of Psychonauts 2 as well. It suffers from the same issues I described above for the combat sections; you need to swap powers out all the time and it’s easy to lose track and realize you don’t have what you need equipped, and/or that you are using the wrong power.
In addition, it’s also not the world’s most precise platformer ever made. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing special in this regard. You’re going to fall into some pits you feel like you shouldn’t have and the feeling that I got is that the culprit is the momentum. I never really got a good feel for the physics/momentum and sometimes I would not land where I expected to.
It’s not game-ruining by any means and most of the time it’s fine, but Psychonauts 2 isn’t at the same level as Super Mario, Crash Bandicoot, or Ori when it comes to precision platforming. Exploration and problem-solving are the aspects of the platforming worth celebrating in Psychonauts 2, not precision and skill.
Those nitpicks out of the way, Psychonauts 2 is an absolute joy to play. It’s hard to put down not only because it’s a solid game from top to bottom, but also because it’s just so damn charming. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Raz and his crew of zany characters, and I imagine that just about anyone who decides to pick up Psychonauts 2 will feel the same way.
Reviewer: Ed McGlone | Award: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Wonderfully charming cast of characters.
- Story that plays out like one of your favorite Saturday morning cartoons.
- Outrageous and entertaining minds to explore.
- Interesting set of powers that encourage you to backtrack and complete more of the game.
- Platforming isn’t the most precise.
- Constantly power swapping can get a bit annoying.
Xbox Game Studios
PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PCs