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Review:  Hilarious and Surreal, Psychonauts 2 Was Worth the Wait

Screenshot: Psychonauts 2

As a kid, I played many LucasArts games, so I had an early introduction to the works and humor of Tim Schafer. He left LucasArts over 20 years ago and formed Double Fine Studios, known for their debut title, Psychonauts. A surreal platformer with a strange sense of humor, it became a cult classic. Fans have been clamoring for more ever since, and except for the brief (but savory) morsel that was In the Rhombus of Ruin, we haven’t been able to catch up with Raz, Sasha, Mia, Liili, and Ford Cruller in a full blown adventure since 2005—but the wait was worth it.

Psychonauts 2 is a third person action adventure game where you play as Razputin Aquato, or Raz. It takes place immediately after the events of Psychonauts and Psychonauts: In the Rhombus of Ruin. Raz is off to HQ, aka the Motherlobe to start his work as a Psychonaut after he helped in the capture of Doctor Loboto. Raz is in for a rude awakening, however, as his Psychonaut status is reversed from “agent” to “intern.” What? You expected Raz to be a full blown Psychonaut after some time at summer camp? Okay, I did too, but it turns out the second in command of the Psychonauts doesn’t think spending a summer meddling in minds is enough training to become an elite agent.

Screenshot: Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts are powerful agents who employ telekinesis and telepathy to keep the world free from psychic tyranny. They also have the ability to literally enter into someone’s mind. Psychonauts 2 takes place inside and outside of people’s minds, with tasks to perform in and around the Motherlobe (and other locations) while you dive into people’s minds to sort out their problems, or further your own agenda. Each mind has its own theme, objectives and challenges. One mind can be a psychedelic rock concert, while another could be a nightmare hellscape.

If you’re familiar with Psychonauts you’ll probably remember it best for its strange humor and variety of surreal levels featuring mind-themed enemies and sometimes difficult platforming. Psychonauts 2 follows much of the same formula as the first game, with some tweaks to gameplay, and lots of improvements to quality of life. Take it from someone who recently played Psychonauts in preparation for this review: Psychonauts 2 feel completely modern while retaining the style and most of the humor that made the 2005 original a cult classic. And Psychonauts 2 actually manages some truly great gameplay that makes it incredibly fun.

Screenshot: Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 is an action platformer—that means fighting waves of enemies and performing jumping puzzles. Coming from a family of acrobats, Raz is incredibly nimble. He can jump, double jump, climb, swing, etc. Combining his Psychonaut powers with his natural abilities, he becomes even more mobile, with the ability to double jump and glide for short distances. He can also fight with the help of his mind, shooting powerful psi-blasts and using psychic energy to strike his enemies. Eventually, Raz will gain the ability to slow enemies (and objects) and even project an archetype of himself that can distract enemies and give Raz health. Certain psi powers in Psychonauts 2 are better against some enemies than others, forcing you to cycle between the nine powers where appropriate. While not all of these powers have combat applications, you might be surprised what you find if you start to do some experimentation, especially with clairvoyance, which allows you to see what other characters perceive.

If you haven’t played the other two games in the Psychonauts series, there might be some references and story you’re missing—but it’s not strictly necessary to go back to get the full enjoyments from Psychonauts 2. Psychonauts might be considered a classic, but take it from someone who recently played through it for this review: it hasn’t aged well. Rhombus of Ruin, on the other hand, is actually quite amusing despite it primitive control scheme. If you haven’t played these games, you might feel a little lost with some of the references, but for the most part, Psychonauts 2 is a self-contained story.

If you haven’t gathered, Psychonauts 2 features Tim Schafer’s strange brand of comedy. However, its edge has been dulled a bit. Psychonauts 2 is still genuinely funny, but I feel like it is somewhat neutered compared to the first, though it still has moments of crazy absurdity. I don’t know if the years tempered Schafer’s humor, or Psychonauts 2 is attempting for more mass appeal. But it works, and where it loses a bit of immaturity, it gains some poignancy. That’s not to say that each mind you enter into is lacking surrealism or strangeness—each person’s brain you inhabit is vastly different, and has their own theme and unique gameplay and objectives.

Psychonauts 2  tells a very different story than the original. The first game is Raz’s introduction to the world of psychic abilities, while the second is an exploration of the Psychonauts organization itself, specifically, how it came to be. I don’t want to spoil any plot elements, but Psychonauts 2 is about mistakes, regret, and redemption—and it’s a story worthy of an animated feature. If you’re hoping to see more of the original cast, you’ll mostly get your wish, with the return of Mia, Sasha, Cruller, Oleander, etc. But there’s also a whole new cast of characters, from mean girl interns (who later have a change of heart) to founding members of the Psychonauts—known as the Psychic Six. Psychonauts 2 is full of surprises and even quite a few touching moments.

Screenshot: Psychonauts 2

While it’s not the most graphically impressive game released this year, I’m blown away by Psychonauts 2’s production values. It’s a gorgeous looking game, with moments that look like they could have been straight out of a full length animated motion picture. The voice acting is also superb, with some seriously good comedic timing and great deliveries. There are some heavy hitters lending their voice to Psychonauts 2, and since some of them were a surprise to me I don’t want to ruin anybody’s experience who might be going in completely blind like I did.

If you enjoy getting collectibles and other secret items, Psychonauts 2 has them in abundance. Returning from Psychonauts are figments: floating objects that look like doodles that level you up when you collect enough. There are also cards that, when combined with Psi Cores, increase your level by 1. Each new level gives you points you can spend to upgrade your psi abilities. On top of this, there are also pins that can be purchased that change your psi abilities—by buffing them, or even changing their appearance cosmetically. If you want to 100 percent Psychonauts 2, it might take a bit of time.

Screenshot: Psychonauts 2

I enjoyed my playthrough of Psychonauts 2, and even lingered around a bit at the end to spend more time in that world. It would be easy to say that Psychonauts 2 “grew up” or is a “modernized” version of the original, but it’s more than that. Psychonauts 2 makes the Psychonauts world feel like a tangible IP, and one I hope to see more from in the near future. Psychonauts 2 is fun, funny, and easily one of my favorite games so far this year.

 

Psychonauts 2’s global launch happens on August 25 for Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One, as well as on PC via Steam, and PlayStation 4 and 5. And just in case you need a refresher on where we last left off…

 

 

 

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