Psychonauts 2 is a game out of its time. That is a phrase usually reserved as a negative, but here it is nothing but a positive. Coming 16 years after the first entry, Tim Schaefer and the master developers at Double Fine have created a gem of a game that not only channels everything wonderful about early 2000s games, but also lives up to and surpasses the original in nearly every way.
Picking up mere days and moments after the first Psychonauts and the PSVR game Rhombus of Ruin, Razputin Aquato (Raz for short) is inducted into the Psychonauts Headquarters, known as the Motherlobe, as an intern. Of course, many familiar faces from the original show up like Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello, and Raz is introduced as well to his new teachers and fellow interns. All the new faces naturally have that signature Double Fine quirkiness attached to them, and each felt distinct and have an equal amount of screen time amongst each other.
The game hits the ground running and before long Raz is making his way into the minds of nearly everyone around him. These “mind levels” are all visually and tonally distinct from each other and really put your new platforming and combat skills to the test. The combat specifically doesn’t get a dramatic overhaul from the original Psychonauts but is much more refined and balanced here, especially with how most enemies require certain powers from Raz to be defeated. However, some of the new powers weren’t exactly helpful and in many cases it is more effective to stick to a couple of tried-and-true attacks for most enemies unless the type called for a specific power. Still, the improvements in gameplay were very welcomed and ensured I didn’t let out a groan or sigh when enemies spawned.
The amount of creativity that Double Fine puts on display here continually astounded me; numerous times throughout the game’s 15 or so hours, I was amazed at how the developers continued to one-up each idea with the next one. Psychonauts 2 isn’t just dripping with creativity either, but is absurdly hilarious, witty and clever, with equal parts dry and zany humor throughout. As mentioned, each level brings a new theme that surprised and delighted me each and every time, and mostly held my attention throughout. Some mind levels were a tiny bit overlong, such as the one that riffs on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, that I would’ve welcomed a small amount of tightening up in some areas. Similarly, the story as a whole outstays its welcome a smidge as some parts stretch on far longer than they need to, requiring you to find 3 items or complete 3 of areas as is the case of games of this type.
Psychonauts 2 is of course the sort of 3D platformer/collectible collect-a-thon that littered the gaming industry from the mid-90s to mid-2000s. Of course, certain games of that era did it better than others such as Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie, and the original Psychonauts. Here, all of that collecting comes back in full force, for better or worse. The collectibles on display are mostly the same from the first entry, with the mind figments being the biggest offender. I definitely caught the collecting bug when it came to these figments, scouring each mind level for every single last one. Unfortunately, a couple levels had so many (over 200!) that it became a tiresome chore to locate them all, as some of them are pretty cleverly hidden and can be difficult to locate if you’re not paying careful attention. It wasn’t enough to completely turn me off from the game, but I needed a break from time to time because of them. Sometimes, less really is more.
What also didn’t exactly jive well was the upgrade system. Upgrade points are doled out at a brisk enough pace, but some upgrades blocked other, much more enticing upgrades to combat. By the time I got to them, the story was over and they were practically useless by that point. The player is also are given the option of attaching 3 pins at any given time, and while some were practical upgrades such as boosting your melee power, most were cosmetic and cost way too much Psytanium (the game’s currency found around the open-world) that they ended up being pointless as well.
All of that being said, Psychonauts 2’s charm and wittiness really kept me enraptured in the story of Raz and his friends through to the very end and the voice acting alone is some of the best in the business. It all truly feels like the old Saturday morning cartoons we’d watch as children. Psychonauts 2 is not only a tremendous sequel, but really a love letter to an old era of gaming, and is the gold standard in how to treat a follow up to a cult favorite. Double Fine’s Tim Burton-esque style may not be for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience for it, the story pays off in absolutely charming and unique ways. After playing the original earlier this year and now this sequel, Psychonauts has shot up to being one of my favorite series of all time. I truly hope it succeeds as we desperately need more of this kind of creativity in the industry, and with a little tightening up on combat and collectibles, a third Psychonauts could really be the mainstream masterpiece I know this series could put out.