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Psychonauts 2 Review

Psychonauts 2 Review

Those who follow my writing here would know that Psychonauts holds a special place in my heart. I mentioned it in my article about Dragon Age: Origins, citing it as a game I used to play a lot when I was a kid. It was even featured in one of the first write-ups I did for this website — an article about my favourite music pieces in videogames (although in hindsight, the fact I didn’t mention ‘Stay out of the Moonlight’ is borderline a crime). It feels weird being one of those people who waited their whole life for a follow-up to a game and then actually getting to play it; like I’ve finally undertaken a rite of passage in growing up as a gamer. But I am currently a university student and therefore have more slices of bread than I do money in my bank account. As such, when Microsoft provided us with a copy of Psychonauts 2 for review, I was more than eager to get my hands on the game that I’ve wanted to exist since I was a child

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It’s not often a game has to wait 16 years for a sequel. Most projects likely get finished or abandoned long before that point. Yet here we are, over 16 years and 30 games since the launch of Double Fine’s debut title Psychonauts and we have Psychonauts 2, which picks up right where Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin (a short VR tech demo) left off, which in turn picks up right where Psychonauts left off, meaning that series protagonist Razputin is probably having the absolute worst 24 hours of his life right about now. Given how long it’s been since the previous main iteration to the series, it is assumed some players would not have played the previous titles and thus you are treated to a cinematic detailing the main plot of Psychonauts and Rhombus of Ruin, allowing people new to the series to very easily pick up Psychonauts 2 even with little to no knowledge about its predecessors.

Psychonauts 2 follows Razputin’s first day among the Psychonauts HQ, a huge brain-like structure called the Motherlobe. From here, a plot involving the organisation’s head and the fabled Psychic Six (one of which, Ford Cruller, played an important role in the previous game) starts to arise, all revolving around the return of an elusive figure known only as ‘Maligula’. It falls to Razputin to figure out what’s really going on and put a stop to whatever plan Maligula’s followers have as he travels across the minds of powerful fellow Psychonauts, both friend and foe, in order to unravel the past.


Upon opening Psychonauts 2, you are greeted with an advisor warning for artistic depictions and interpretations of real and serious mental disorders. It’s essentially the entire premise of the game. In general, it is very easy for representations of mental illness and psychotherapy in the media to be done in a bad tone. It is arguably something that occurred in a few cases with the 2005 Psychonauts, but here a lot of real conditions are given labels, personified or otherwise physically represented in such a way where they don't feel disrespectful, even given the more comedic tone Psychonauts 2 can take at times. Even small improvements over the original, such as Raz asking permission before using the Psycho-Portal to enter people's minds, and still, only using it to enter the minds of other psychics who fully understand what that means. Razputin’s tendency to wildly and very invasively mess with people’s minds in the most literal sense was an issue that some had with the original Psychonauts and is something that is not only amended in Psychonauts 2, but is addressed by the other characters around Raz.

Schafer’s ability to blend comedic timing into compelling storytelling with an ounce of self-awareness is something he’s had a long time to perfect, and Psychonauts 2 is the epitome of this style, able to be light-hearted and comedic one moment, sombre and engaging the next. Much like its predecessor, it isn’t shy from stepping into the uncomfortable when it needs to. Whether exploring the isolation and lack of motivation in an alcoholic, or even a short stint in someone’s mind that at first just looks like a barbershop in a decaying backalley and ends up alluding towards genocide, Psychonauts 2 walks a nearly impossible tightrope of telling a complex narrative amid an experimental subject matter, all while still maintaining a lightheartedness without any ingredient soiling the overall experience. Representations of real mental conditions and phenomena are clearly given incredible thought. The highlight of which being a person suffering from a rather intense sensory overload after a period of isolation, and when Raz takes a look into their mind, the sensory overload is interpreted as trying to play at a festival you used to play at all the time, but one day the ‘crowd’ (representing the outside world) just disappeared and ‘the band’ (being composed of the five sense) having just drifted apart and can’t remember where they put their instruments now that the crowd has unexpectedly returned louder than ever. Almost every mind you go into represents some form of negative mental process, and the way each of these are portrayed always feels sympathetic and easy to digest without diluting the seriousness of these conditions.

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Moving onto gameplay itself, the platforming in Psychonauts 2 is more refined, taking the formula of the last one and polishing it up to function even better. Some powers return from the original, such as levitation and telekinesis, but they now sit alongside brand new ones such as time warp and mental connections to add a wide variety to the ways Razputin will be navigating the mind. Outside of mental escapades, The Motherlobe base is this game's version of the Whispering Rock Summer Camp, acting as a central hub for players to explore between levels. More idle NPCs can be found inhabiting the Motherlobe than could be found in Whispering Rock, and each of them has their own chatter and conversations as you pass that help make the environment feel real. It also resulted in what I genuinely think is the funniest background NPC conversation I’ve ever heard in a game and if you want to find out what that is why don’t you play the game and find out yourself you filthy freeloader.

Peter McConnell returns as the musical composer for Psychonauts 2, and once again he doesn’t disappoint, with themes that feel like they are part of the world you’re in, rather than something just attached as an afterthought. Going back to the sensory overload victim, the level involves Razputin navigating a psychedelic landscape themed around the senses to recover their instruments. At first, there is little to no music, but as Razputin collects all the instruments, they slowly get added to the background music until you have a full symphony playing for you in a change that you might not fully notice until the end.

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Level design in Psychonauts was ahead of its time. Toying with perspective, gravity and dimensions to give levels an otherworldly sense was incredible for the time. Psychonauts 2 maintains this iconic and innovative approach to its levels, with every single level having a specific theme and gimmick. The advantage of having levels take part in someone's mind is that the sky really was the limit for how creative Double Fine could get with their design. Each area you go into has an incredible amount of detail put into it, and the mental worlds can reveal a lot more about the brain’s owner than you bargained for if you pay attention, and some aspects of a person's mental world can actually foreshadow later plot points as a reward for more attentive players. Psychonauts 2 does this while managing to to still maintain the signature art style that the original sported, staying true to the larger-than-life nature and appearance of the characters and locales while making them all look much cleaner.

Speaking of plot points, Psychonauts 2 hits the nail on the head for pacing and entertaining the user. A lot of the plot ends up dragging in the Psychic Six and expands upon them after teasing them and their importance a lot in the first game, and the payoff is amazing, straddling the line of ‘don’t meet your heroes’ while still reinforcing the sheer power that these people hold. The game's plot progresses at a very steady rate, slowly introducing players to concepts that are likely new to players, or forgotten by those who played the original. Although on the subject of forgetting, an odd note was how a lot of the agents working in the Motherlobe have no idea who Razputin is, and even the ones who do know him treat him like he’s an idiot. After the literal therapy-inducing journey Razputin goes through in the first game, you’d think his name would have gone around the Motherlobe a little bit. References to the first game’s antagonist are mentioned frequently, so knowledge of what transpired is clearly public to at least fellow psychics. Meanwhile, nobody seems to care that a literal 10-year-old was outperforming actual fully trained Psychonaut agents with decades of experience.

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Conversation trees return from the first game, but these hold little bearing on the actual story or gameplay, offering what appears to be minor RPG elements, but act more as a way to get additional information from characters if you so wish. While on the subject of RPG elements, this does lead into a minor gripe that arises in the mid-game. Raz is tasked with having to traverse the mental world of three Psychonauts across the Motherlobe. During this time, each one uncovers a small portion of Maligula’s past that helps Razputin put the puzzle pieces together in the present, and these three missions can be done in any order. It’s a definite throwback to the Asylum courtyard from the first game, where you can traverse the three inmates in any order, albeit this time much more ambitiously, as each mental world answers some questions while presenting more, that in turn are answered by the other mental worlds until you have all the pieces. But for some reason Raz never makes any of these connections until all three are complete, to the point where he will get confused about something he is told in one world, even when the information he learnt in a previous would fully explain the story. It’s difficult to properly explain without breaching into spoiler territory, but it’s as if the game doesn’t try to recognise what the player has already done, thus what they would already know, and it takes the immersion out of the game a little bit when you see Razputin get surprised about Maligula’s connection to certain people when this is his third time finding out, or for him to be confused as to why something happened, even when his knowledge from the previous missions should make it clear.

The gameplay in Psychonauts 2 is a split of combat and platforming, with the latter definitely taking the priority. So with the platforming being more than up to standard, how does the combat fare? Unlike the platforming which was essentially just an improvement of the original — brush off the dust and add a new layer of paint —, combat in Psychonauts 2 feels much different. The introduction of new Psi powers adds whole new elements to fights, and with a wider range of enemies, combat is a huge step in the right direction. You have enemies that fly, enemies that buff their allies and some enemies that just throw themselves at you at mach one. Each of these enemies require a different approach, and when they all come at you at once it can make combat dynamic and enjoyable, offering a refreshing change of pace to the basic Censors that occupied a majority of mental worlds in the first game. The boss fights in Psychonauts 2 are brilliantly made and satisfying to beat, often being an ordeal that requires you to combine your powers to defeat them. The lock-on system could sometimes be a tad temperamental, especially when fighting big groups, but I often found that keeping myself mobile was more important than focusing a single target in a group, and the manual camera control is intuitive and responsive enough that the lock-on featuring making my eyes hurt didn’t actually cause many issues.

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Part of me was worried that I’d be too biased when I began writing this review, but at some point I realised that you only have to look to recent releases in the past five years of highly-anticipated sequels or games that lived in development hell to understand that nostalgia goggles or marketing hype can only do so much. Psychonauts 2 is an absolutely fantastic game, and I can say that with certainty. Double Fine took an amazing concept that was ahead of its time and proved that they could do it again. The very few issues I had with the game were minor and had absolutely zero bearings on my overall enjoyment of the game. I’ve never given a 10 to a game before, and as much as I want to for what was nothing but a perfect experience, I can’t because the price tag of £54.99 is just too much. I know that I wouldn’t have picked up Psychonauts 2 on launch at that price, even with how much I wanted it, and I have a hard time saying that such a price tag doesn’t affect my verdict. If you can handle the high cost, Psychonauts 2 is a masterclass of platforming, level design, and storytelling that I can guarantee you’ll enjoy.


As of this review going up, Psychonauts and Rhombus of Ruin are available at the ridiculously discounted price of 90% off until 25th August 2021 on Steam, and they are definitely worth picking up if you liked the sound of Psychonauts 2.

9.50/10 9½

Psychonauts 2 (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

Psychonauts 2 is an absolutely fantastic game, and I can say that with certainty. Double Fine took an amazing concept that was ahead of its time and proved that they could do it again. The very few issues I had with the game were minor and had absolutely zero bearings on my overall enjoyment of the game

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Luke Greenfield

Luke Greenfield

Staff Writer

Just a guy that loves to write :)

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Acelister - 05:38pm, 10th September 2021

~Grulovia, Grulovia, I finished this game too~

~Grulovia, Grulovia, I agree with this review~