Psychonauts 2 Review – Recreating greatness.

Psychonauts 2 has been a game fans have been clambering for over fifteen years.  Psychonauts was the first title from a newly created Double Fine Studio and yet remained a fan favorite long after other titles had been released and forgotten. 

Psychonauts 2 had a lot to live up to, the original title was a unique experience in which players delved into the brains of the characters in the story and explored their secret desires, their hidden passions, and their traumas.   Psychonauts 2 would be expected to do the same. 

So Psychonauts 2 starts with an amazing dive into the psyche of an insane dentist.  Starting with an office building but then delving into a mashup between a dentistry practice and an office setting.  This gives the player a unique level to explore. 

It’s clear Psychonauts 2 understood what players wanted when exploring the psyches of its characters, and there’s a good quantity of these levels, but beyond that, each level feels free, unique, and new.   There are multiple different takes on how the mind works but each dive into a character’s mind is something the game hasn’t played with before. 

In addition to just the minds, players will explore, there are several locations in the world for players to explore, each giving the player a new hub with tons of locations for them to scour for collectibles.  

The larger open world is vibrant and the artistic style of Psychonauts 2 brings back the surreal vibe of the original game and expands on it.   Each location feels like it could only exist in the mad minds of Psychonauts 2’s creators.  But it’s not just the locations that made Psychonauts 2 memorable.  Psychonauts is extremely funny, and Psychonauts 2 was going to be measured by that stick as well.

Psychonauts 2’s experience is extremely hilarious as it starts.  There’s a ton of interesting characters at the beginning and a lot of really solid jokes.  I laughed out loud multiple times.  Even the setups and designs of the levels are clever, and I enjoyed seeing more. 

But after finishing the game, my opinion has changed.  Psychonauts 2 started strong in the humor department, but before long the main story kicks in and overwhelms the humor.  Psychonauts 2 never really stops attempting to inject humor into the situations, but Psychonauts 2 humor runs out around the end of the first act. 

The whole game changes around the end of the first act. The first two major levels and story are engaging but push a type of game to hook the player.  There are two large heist missions and this section of the game is excellent, but it’s only made to start the next part of the tale, and that’s where Psychonauts starts to focus on its real story.  Without giving it away I can say it’s well-told, interesting, and deep. 

But the serious nature of the story leaves the humor struggling to find its place, and ultimately it becomes a little more ethereal.  Jokes are being told but it’s not clear if they’re landing or if the player just won’t care as much.   The forced humor never bogs down the game or distracts, but I also struggle to think of any moment as humorous as the opening levels. 

The gameplay of Psychonauts 2 is similar to the first title.  While a majority of the game focuses on the exploration of the levels, using abilities, and platforming there’s also a decent amount of combat involved in the title.

The platforming is generally good.  There are very few hard jumps and while a few items are in harder-to-reach places, there tends to be a solid way to reach location, even if it looks impossible at first. 

The combat is where Psychonauts is a little shakier.  Many levels will introduce a new enemy right after gaining a new ability, and that matchup becomes those enemies’ weakest set.  There’s rarely any deep challenge in Psychonauts 2,  but mostly it becomes a test to see if you’re matching the right skill or power with the right enemy, and the matchups are easy to remember as well.  When the game becomes overwhelming it’s mostly because it just throws too many enemies at the player and usually a little retreating and leading only a few enemies away solves the problem. 

The larger fights in the game are memorable to the point that players might be upset because of how few there are.  There’s only a handful, and it feels like less than half the levels in the game ends with a Boss fight.  Normally I would say that’s a good thing to change up the formula, but due to how inventive the boss fights are and how lacking the typical combat is, it leaves the player wanting more. 

There is also a lot of excitement about the collectibles in Psychonauts 2, and some people are calling it a return to form for the collect-a-thon games.  That might be how people see it, but the collectibles in Psychonauts 2 are lacking.  The issue becomes that only a few collectibles contribute to the narrative at all, namely the memory vaults.  While a majority of the collectibles give players additional health or with enough collectibles, minor upgrades to powers. 

But none of this feels like the real goal of the collectibles.  Ultimately. Psychonauts 2 collectibles are there because “Games have collectibles”, but players won’t feel a strong reason to collect any of these objects practically shoved at the player, and yet only hardcore fans will try to hunt down every collectible in the game. 

A few powers gained by the player are a bit underutilized.  There is a brilliant mechanic in the second level that is never repeated, quite a few powers are only able to be used a handful of times before the end of the game, and while the combat powers are good, there’s a very clear line between the useful abilities and the powers that are for the level traversal. 

Similarly, certain levels are better than others.  The opening levels feel better, perhaps due to the newer style of the game, or the fact they were more worked on.  By the finale of the game, most levels tended to drag on or just lingered between each major moment.  Players will often have to do an action three times because that’s the rule with games. 

And yet much of this is understandable and forgivable.  The fact is Psychonauts 2 is very good, it’s Double Fine at the top of their game, and reminds me why they’re a studio to watch.  The story at the heart of Psychonauts 2 is really what the game is about.  Even with its longer levels, the experience here took at least twenty hours which is quite a long time for a platformer, and when many games are rushing players through experiences with their hands out for more money, Psychonauts 2 delivers a well-built game.  IT could be better, but it also could be a lot worse, and I’m glad Double Fine was able to deliver a suitable sequel to the masterpiece from over a decade and a half ago. 

I’m awarding Psychonauts 2 a 

9/10

I had a huge number of technical issues with the game.  I’m not happy with the experience, but I’m also unhappy about giving Yakuza 0 a 4.5/5 when it deserves a 5/5. 

I’m rating this game a 9/10 on the assumption that the bugs and issues can get fixed and resolved, and I think that’s a safe bet, however, my experience wasn’t that 9/10 experience, and that’s a shame. 

I included this title in my Youtube coverage of the Xbox Game Pass for October 2020, if you’re interested in that, please check out the following link: https://youtu.be/oHaW4s8Mopc

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