There’s a very comforting feeling to Psychonauts 2. It’s nostalgic not because it exploits your fondness for something from the past but because of how it makes you feel. This is a game packed with so much joy, so much heart and so much creativity that playing it makes you feel like a kid playing video games on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s a game that will put a smile on your face practically the entire time.
Psychonauts 2, coming 15 years after the original takes place just a few days later. There’s a recap video that explains what happened in both the original and the VR midquel, Rhombus of Ruin, and then the game picks up right after the end of Rhombus. The head of the Psychonauts is in a coma and it’s up to new intern Raz to get to the bottom of who is responsible. Despite taking place almost immediately after the previous entries, Psychonauts 2 works as a stand-alone story. There are some references to past events that people who played the previous games will get more out of but the game wisely avoids having a story that relies on events in its predecessors to work. Plus, the recap does a good job at getting you up to speed on the important story beats of the earlier games.
Being accessible for anyone regardless of their familiarity with the series is good because it would be an absolute shame for people to be deprived of the excellent writing. A lot of times when video games try to be funny, it comes off as cringe or like it’s trying too hard but Psychonauts 2 is genuinely funny. This is a zany world filled with quirky characters and much of the humor comes from those characters as opposed to jokes that are shoehorned in. The characters themselves are funny, the way they interact with each other is funny and the way they interact with the world around them is funny. It’s not all in your face either, a lot of the jokes are subtle or in the background. The big jokes are there but they’re spaced out so it never becomes grating.
The star of the game is the level design and the presentation. Graphically, it’s beautiful and the art style looks like it was ripped out of Tim Burton’s mind and then put into a machine that converts macabre to goofy. Level design is where the team at Double Fine really get to show their creativity. Since each level takes place inside character’s minds, you’re not going to see the standard platformer level themes like the snow level or the water level. Each level is based on inner psyche of whichever character’s mind you’re currently infiltrating. I’m not going to accuse the writers and level designers of taking drugs while making the game but they’ve definitely taken drugs at some point in their lives because I don’t know how else they would have come up with these levels. An early level in the mind of a crazy dentist is made up of teeth and gums, one level is basically a 1970s psychedelic LSD trip and they all come full of trippy effects you would expect in a game about entering minds. From twisting hallways, to roundabouts that change the level as you walk around, it’s all suitably Vertigo-esque.
Earlier I said that the game has a nostalgic quality about it despite it being new. That’s because it’s a 3D platformer which is a genre that was the biggest in the gaming industry for a while before it slowly faded out of favor. It’s made a bit of a resurgence recently with releases like Sackboy, It Takes Two & Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart but I think Psychonauts 2 is the purest 3D platformer of them all. The gameplay is polished to modern standards but the base mechanics are straight out of the golden era of the genre. There’s nothing too flashy, there’s no big set pieces, just jumping, swinging and some simple beat em’ up combat. This is mid 2000s platforming through and through but it is absolutely a 2021 game in control and feel. It’s like running into an old friend who’s doing really well.
Raz has an arsenal of psychic abilities that will help him get through area’s as well as deal with enemies. There are more abilities than buttons on a controller so you’ll have to swap them out when you need them, sometimes on the fly but it works the same way as switching weapons in Ratchet & Clank. It never becomes a nuisance, it’s quick and if you’re in combat then everything slows down while you swap. And you will be swapping as not only are some abilities more effective against certain enemies but most levels will require almost every ability if you want to collect everything.
You’re definitely going to want to be collecting as much as possible because in addition to being satisfying, that’s how you upgrade your abilities. Every level is filled with collectible figments, memory vaults and emotional baggage, which not only tell a story about the background of the person who’s brain you’re in also allows Raz to level up and get an upgrade point. The explorable hub worlds also include collectibles and side quests that help Raz level up. You’ll end up leveling up frequently just by going through the game normally and the world is so packed with charm and personality that you’ll end up getting a lot of the harder to reach collectibles because you wanted to explore the world rather than specifically go to collect things.
The game is a joy ride from beginning to end. Emphasis on the word joy. Psychonauts 2 isn’t very long, you can beat the story in around 12 – 15 hours, more if you decide to 100% but I think that’s the perfect playtime for it. If it was any shorter, it wouldn’t be enough and if it was any longer it would risk overstaying it’s welcome. I’ll gladly take 12 hours of some of the most creative levels of the last few years that are packed with passion, joy and humor than something that dilutes that in the name of stretching out the playtime.
Psychonauts 2 provides an experience that no other game can because no one other than Double Fine could have designed it. It’s a superbly made game that stands alongside the best games in the genre. It’s a game that puts you in a better mood after having played it because it spends all its energy making you smile and making sure you’re always having fun. When I said it makes you feel nostalgia, I meant it but it’s not because it reminds you of your childhood, it’s because it makes you feel like you’re back in it.
Psychonauts 2 is available now for PS4, PC & Xbox. It is on GamePass for Console, PC & Cloud
Rating: Exploring Paddington’s Mind
We rate things on a scale based on how close something is in quality to Paddington 2. To learn more please read this post