A Mind-Altering and Humour Filled Adventure Through the Human Psyche.
It’s been a long time since a game has held my attention so well that I’ve not wanted to play anything else after starting it. So long in fact that it was 10 years ago with Halo Reach, (another Microsoft title), that I last felt like that. However, unlike Halo Reach, the pedigree for Psychonauts 2 coming out of Double Fine Productions, with Tim Schaffer at the helm, is more akin to hits and misses for me. You have Tim’s well-regarded classics like Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, then you have their cult classics like the original Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, then many others which were enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. (If you asked me to explain the story of Stacking, for example, I couldn’t tell you much past enjoying it).
Psychonauts 2 instantly falls into their classic’s realm being the long-awaited sequel to Psychonauts, which, (whilst technically a commercial failure), was a hit among critics and fans. Psychonauts 2 was first announced in 2016 alongside a crowd-funding campaign to help produce the starting capital required to take it to a publisher, and in 2017 Starbreeze Studios had invested as a publisher for digital distribution allowing Double Fine to move forward with full-scale production. Then in 2019 Microsoft purchased both the distribution rights for Psychonauts 2 and Double Fine themselves, fully funding the rest of the production, and promising, after a handful of delays, to not release the game until they believed the game would meet fan expectations.
This promise has paid off though as Psychonauts 2 is a solid and memorable Action-Adventure experience that doesn’t rely on you being familiar with the franchise or even being good at Action-Adventure games. Whilst it helps to be familiar with both it’s not essential as the game provides a good recap of previous events from the start and the accessibility options make the game less challenging but no less enjoyable for those wanting to play the game on easier settings. Many veteran gamers will likely lament the accessibility options as pandering to ‘casual gamers’ but seeing many people in streams and in my personal life who struggle with most games enjoy the game with these options on, you can see the benefits of the “Gaming should be for everyone” focus that the Xbox team has been trying to pursue.
The gameplay of Psychonauts 2 doesn’t re-invent the wheel, nor does it need to, but it thankfully avoids a pitfall that many Action-Adventure sequels fall into by not making you reacquire all your abilities/ weapons. You start the game with all the powers you finish with in the first game and steadily learn a handful more as the game progresses.
Never once though did it feel overwhelming to have to relearn powers as needed as most levels only required the use of 3 or 4 at most to clear the level, only needing more if you wish to 100% the level of all its collectables. The platforming is solid, only having a few control issues when riding the Levitation Ball due to the slipperiness of the power itself, but it can cause some frustrating manoeuvring when on a non-level surface. The combat is fairly simple, attack, dodge, jump and powers. Each power has a different enemy it’s strong and weak to, meaning late in the game, it’s highly recommended to keep a select main few on you for fights. The main powers I lent on for combat ended up being Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis and Mental Connection due to their general all-round applications. All the powers also have their own traversal strengths and each tended to have a level where some are of more use than the others.
When getting into the story, Psychonauts 2 is a good balance between a serious enough tone and comedic value that blends well enough together to not have you questioning why some things are the way they are. It also does a brilliant job of ensuring each level is very unique and portrays a different mental phobia or illness in a way that isn’t slap you in the face obvious but also not so far-fetched that you can’t work out what each level represents. The story seems very straightforward as you progress but you get a feeling that there’s something not quite right about the way events are playing out and are rewarded when the major twist finally occurs leading into another twist that is both out of the blue and somewhat expected at the same time.
Moving onto the main gripe I had with the game though. Collectables. There are a lot of collectables. There are 9 main collectable types. 5 are only in the levels set inside the minds whilst the other 4 only appear in the hub world areas. The main type of collectable that I and many others online seemed to take issue with were the figments of imagination. Some levels had less than 100 figments and they were simple enough. It was when a level would pass the 100 mark that it became difficult to keep track of which areas you had collected them all in and which you hadn’t. The list for telling you which ones you were missing was usually not helpful either, as in many levels a certain figment would only appear once so it wouldn’t be listed in the user-accessible list to determine which was missing.
Overall, the team at Double Fine Productions has released a solid, and sorely requested sequel, that will easily live on as one of their best games to date, blending smooth gameplay, enjoyable but challenging combat, wonderful level design and fantastic storytelling and humour into a complete package that I highly recommend anyone and everyone to try, even if you don’t usually aim towards Action-Adventure story games.
This review was created after playing the game on both a modern Xbox Series X and last-gen Xbox One X. Other than a load time difference and lower frame rate, the game still ran smoothly and solidly on last-gen platforms leaving no room to say you shouldn’t give the game a try. All screenshots were captured in-game using the provided photo mode on both platforms.