Its been over fifteen years since the first Psychonauts came out, and despite not playing the original, I was surprised with how much Psychonauts 2 instantly clicked with me. It made me feel nostalgic, and yearn for the days where games were able to do so much with budgets that were only a fraction of what we see today.
Psychonauts 2 takes place after the events of the previous two games, though the game does a great job of catching you up if you didn’t play them. You play as Raz once more, following his rescuing of the head Psychonaut Truman Zanotto and eventual induction into the Psychonauts. Through careful interrogation of the parties responsible, Raz discovers a plot to resurrect a dangerous villain and perhaps even a dangerous threat within the Psychonauts itself.
As I lamented in my preview, I was worried that Psychonauts 2 wouldn’t be as accessible for me having never played the original games in satisfactory depth. I’m happy to make clear that it’s almost a non-issue. Not only does the game catch you up on every major detail that you need to know, but it’s also a new story that fleshes out backstories while still working entirely well on its own too.
Just like the original, Psychonauts 2 is A 3D platformer at heart. The game has you playing as Raz to enter the minds of various characters to solve either their own problems or your own. If I had to compare the game to other 3D platformers, I’d probably compare it to something like Banjo-Kazooie or Spyro in terms of structure, though filtered through a much more modern lens.
What really sets Psychonauts 2 apart from its contemporaries is its strong art design. I’m a big fan of variety in games and the amount on offer here is astounding. Every area in the game looks like it could be from a different game and while it doesn’t feel cohesive, the sheer variety of environments and locales on offer is to be commended. Some will evoke the feeling of being disgusted – the opening level that is built out of gums, teeth and flowing nerves is truly revolting. Others are either colourful or abstract – like a psychedelic music festival or living library. It all looks great, and not a single one felt out of place.
In between the major levels there’s a nice open world to explore – including the Psychonauts academy and its surrounding areas where Raz’s family eventually settle. It’s here where you’ll be able to embark on optional content as well, though said content is of variable quality. The open world isn’t quite what you’d expect from a typical open world in the sense that it’s not vast or sprawling, but it does feel dense and alive.
When you’re not platforming, you’ll be in battle with the game’s strong cast of enemies and that’s where a lot of your abilities will come into play. Psychonauts 2 brings back pretty much every major power from the first game while adding a bunch of new ones too. Each of them has a distinct use during combat to make things easier against the games well thought out bestiary.
Tying in perfectly with the overall concept, each of the enemies is themed after negative emotions or thought processes that would often bring us down in real life. Regret is a flying enemy that carries a huge weight around whilst Bad Ideas are four legged beasts that blow up in your face when they get close. Doubt is a gooey creature that drenches you in goo and slows you down. Almost everything about Psychonauts 2 is cleverly designed and done so with so much love, but there’s especially some great creativity on display here for the types of enemies you’ll encounter.
Expanding on that, the boss battles are similarly fantastic and some of the highlights of the entire experience. To put it simply they just don’t make boss battles like this anymore and the idea that these were almost not going to make the cut is shocking. Each of them fantastically punctuates each area and are spectacularly choreographed.
A lot of your abilities have use outside of combat too though the best new one is easily the Mental Connection, a grapple hook of sorts, you can use it to pull yourself towards enemies or pull smaller enemies towards you. Outside of combat, it can be used to latch on to floating thoughts and connect them to change the opinions of the mind you are inside. It’s an incredibly satisfying way to zip around an arena and ties perfectly into the Psychonauts aesthetic.
I can’t overstate enough just how great Psychonauts 2 looks with some fantastic artistic direction that I’ve not seen in a game in a long time. Every locale you’ll visit has been crafted with so much care and love and even areas where you’ll spend only a short amount of time in have had as much work put into them as the ones you’ll spend hours in with no corners cut. Nothing is symmetrical, everything is colourful and the whole vibe of the game is akin to a gross-out cartoon from the 90s.
The presentation is similarly bolstered by a strong soundtrack and performance from the cast. Everyone from the original game returns to voice their respective roles – which is appreciated given the gap between the games. New roles, including none other than Jack Black, also do a great job at making the cast feel alive. The score is similarly fantastic, employing an upbeat and jazzy soundscape to create a fun atmosphere akin to Double Fine’s greatest like Grim Fandango but also films like Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles.
Psychonauts 2 is a fantastic romp that manages to channel the vibe of the original while expanding on everything it did. It by no means revolutionary but given how strong the original game has been and the reverence so many players hold for it, just having more is hardly anything to balk at.
Psychonauts 2 brings together classic platforming, an engaging story and well realised combat in a package that feels reminiscent of the best platformers of decades past. Even better, it does this with a visual flair that’s unmatched by its contemporaries. It might be more of the same, but given how unique it is, that’s hardly a bad thing.