For a long time, I didn’t think we’d actually ever get a Psychonauts 2. But a little over a decade after the original release, a Kickstarter popped up that thankfully proved me wrong. The next problem, though, was hype. Psychonauts is truly beloved for many great reasons, so the odds of Double Fine being able to live up to all the hopes fans were pinning on the sequel seemed like quite the tall order. Thankfully, Psychonauts 2 not only successfully captures all of the character and zany joy of the original, but improves upon nearly every aspect of its gameplay and narrative pacing. This isn’t just one of the best games of the year, it’s one of the best 3D platformers in existence.
Psychonauts 2 picks up immediately after Rhombus of Ruin (although it gets part of its ending jarringly retconned), which itself picked up directly from the first game. Raz has finally made it to the Psychonauts headquarters, only to be surprised by getting made a mere intern after he ended up stopping Oleander’s brain tank world domination plan. Truman Zanotto, who was clearly awake and talking at the end of RoR, is now comatose due to said retcon. I suppose the story direction pivoted in the last few years.
Regardless, the story here is fantastic. Although Psychonauts 2 repeats the original game’s mistake of having too much of the cast vanish while Raz jumps into some minds, the writing and voice work is all Pixar quality. The game is funny, charming, touching, and purely entertaining from start to finish. The basic premise, here, is that there’s a mole in the HQ working with individuals who wish to bring back a powerful foe from the Psychonauts’ past. This leads to mysteries and revelations that make the story constantly engrossing. And unlike the first game, each mind Raz jumps into feels truly important to the overall narrative, as opposed to how the asylum felt like a series of fetch quests, despite that area featuring the game’s best levels.
Somebody check my brain
Much as you’d expect, Psychonauts 2 sees Raz traveling into several brains, often to help folks overcome a trauma or mental block. While the levels here might not have the same high level of pointed originality of classics like Lungfishopolis, Waterloo World, or the Milkman Conspiracy (although, time will certainly tell on that front), level design overall is markedly better. One major difference is that practically all adventure game-esque inventory puzzles are gone, save for a section or two that’ll require you to think outside of the box. That puts the onus more on the platforming and combat, but they’re both so greatly improved that this is a fine change.
The abilities Raz uses are very much similar to the first game. He attacks with psychic hand projections, but the combat is extremely smooth and responsive in the sequel, as opposed to the clunky three-hit strike of the past. He also no longer strafes and dodges based on lock-on, and instead makes use of a dodge button to get out of the way. The combat isn’t extremely complex, but it’s exactly where it needs to be. Psychic abilities have all seen a big overhaul as well.
Certain powers, such as invisibility and confusion grenades, have been removed altogether, but the returning powers have become far more effective. Telekinesis is now for throwing objects at enemies to stun them, instead of simply tossing the enemy itself. Pyrokinesis creates fire over an area, as opposed to burning a single target after a while. Marksmanship has a faster rate of fire and feels more immediate. These all have charges, so you can’t spam them incessantly, however. Others, such as clairvoyance and levitation, are much the same, although levitation has new facets, and Raz can’t glide indefinitely anymore.
Jumping from then to now
The first game isn’t beloved because it’s a truly great platformer. The controls and movement were adequate, to be sure, but they couldn’t compare with other genre stalwarts. That is no longer true. Psychonauts 2 has wonderful platforming controls that make it easy to be precise, plus the movement simply feels great. Raz is an acrobat, after all, so it was the right choice to make sure he felt more like one this time around. From a pure gameplay perspective, the action and combat are mostly pitch-perfect.
The levels themselves are no slouches, either. Standouts include a hospital that’s been turned into a casino, a germ city with a bowling alley motif, and, my personal favorite, a psychedelic ’60s musical journey that sees you rounding up members of a band of senses to help a brain recover from sensory overload.
Psychonauts 2 is positively gorgeous as well, with a lot of incredible sights to see across the levels and overworld. Character animation is fluid, and models are detailed and awash with personality. Instead of the Whispering Rock summer camp of the original, we get to explore the headquarters and surrounding areas, which are fairly large and quite varied.
There are also cards and challenge markers to find, as well as psitanium (no longer the problematic arrowheads) to collect. Raz can carry healing items, and these can be purchased from shop kiosks alongside capacity upgrades and new pins that modify his abilities. Levels themselves also still have hundreds of figments floating around in them, plus emotional baggage, health upgrades, and immediate rank-up collectibles to find. Increasing your rank now gives you skill points that you can put into abilities, instead of just getting added at certain ranks. There’s a lot to see and finding everything isn’t going to be easy. You’ll once again have to return to levels later to collect certain things, although the cobweb duster doesn’t make a return.
You’re not the boss of me
The only nitpick I can really hit Psychonauts 2 with is that the boss battles are infrequent and somewhat underwhelming. Most of them can be summed up as “Raz must dodge a giant enemy standing outside the arena” along with “you hurt them by shooting them.” They’re still interesting, but they alone feel like a step down compared to the last go-round, at least as far as mechanics go. The game is a good deal longer, though. I didn’t 100% it, but beating it and exploring to my heart’s content took me about 18 hours. The ending left me wanting, as things wrap up quite quickly, but every major character gets new dialogue once you beat the game, even if some of these don’t offer as much closure as I wanted.
Regardless, Psychonauts 2 is an incredible game that manages to not only maintain most of what made its predecessor so beloved, but also improves on all of its gameplay systems while still staying faithful to them. I wish there were more boss battles and that they were more interesting and varied, but, as a fan of the first game, I’m incredibly happy with Psychonauts 2. It’s a worthy sequel and an easy contender for game of the year, and an absolute must play for anyone who likes Pixar movies or platformers in general.