The original Psychonauts was definitely one of the cult classics of the early 2000s upon its 2005 release. It took until now for us to get a sequel, and we couldn’t wait to go hands on with it. Here are our thoughts on Double Fine’s Psychonauts 2, which we reviewed on a PlayStation 5 (through compatibility with the PS4 version).
With Double Fine now part of the Xbox Game Studios, even playing it all on a PlayStation console felt like a relief – although it’s worth pointing out that Xbox owners get superior technical performance with resolutions of up to 3840×2160, framerates of up to 120 frames per second and support for HDR and VRR. Just to compare, the PS5 version doesn’t support these technologies and maxes out at a 2560×1440 resolution, running at 60 frames per second.
Now that Psychonauts 2 is out, the VR-exclusive spinoff that was Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin acts as a direct prequel to the new game. If you haven’t played it, then you should at least play the original game, which is available for modern consoles as well. Besides helping you with the backstory for the game, it’ll also make you appreciate the strides that were made in terms of the game’s controls and camera work. It’s not perfect and occasionally there will be frustrating jumps or sequences that you’ll need to try again and again, but it’s miles better.
Double Fine’s (or Tim Schafer’s) roots in adventure gaming show in how well defined the characters and narrative in Psychonauts 2 are. As with the original Psychonauts the gameplay mechanics feel like they suffer a tiny bit as a result, and here it shows mainly in combat. Raz can fight a wide range of opponents with an equally wide array of abilities, but ultimately this means that there are more abilities than your controller can handle at once – forcing you to remap (or ‘re-equip’) your current selection from time to time. If you come to this conclusion mid-fight, it hurts the flow of combat.
Options like the ability to turn on a god mode of sorts that makes Raz invincible can alleviate this, but many won’t want to play that way and if they do it’ll be out of frustration. The same applies to the platforming issues mentioned earlier, where it also feels like a workaround for an issue that should have been more polished to begin with.
That may sound very harsh, especially when you consider that I really loved my time with Psychonauts 2. The story campaign is very long compared to the likes of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and after 20+ hours of gameplay I still haven’t checked off all of the game’s collectibles and optional missions. And this never feels like a chore either, because the game’s level designs are excellent – both visually and in terms of letting you explore new parts of them with abilities you’ve learned over the course of the campaign.
Part of the joy that comes from playing Psychonauts 2 doesn’t stem from its old school action platforming though – it comes from the excellent writing and design work that went into it. Although inspired by psychological processes inside one’s mind, Raz’s story and encounters feel lighthearted and fun. While at times it’s reminiscent of Pixal’s Inside Out in that sense, the journey is less about emotion and more about fun here – full of silly jokes and creative ways of approaching how the mind works and how that translates to game mechanics. There are touching moments as well, but the overall feeling is one of joy.
Sure, it’s been a long time coming, but Psychonauts 2 was worth the wait and a must-play for fans of the franchise. It has all the elements that made the previous game(s) fun with a more polished and refined approach for 2021.