Psychonauts 2 - Review

Psychonauts 2 Review

If you grew up with platformers like Maria, Crash, Spyra, Bugs Bunny, or Harry Potter - Psychonauts 2 is a game that will be a holiday for you from all the shackles of modern gaming.

Psychonauts 2 is aware that many people do not know the previous material of this series. The original platformer came out as much as 16 years ago, and a key part of the story was told in the VR exclusive Rhombus of Ruin played by even fewer players. So before starting a new adventure, the game recounts everything that happened before, while doing a good job of introducing players to the strange world of psycho-agents called Psychonauts.

Psychonauts can enter another’s mind through astral projection, and defeat within the brain its traumas that are depicted in the form of imaginative levels with obstacles and adversaries such as bad ideas, remorse, or panic attacks. A fresh member of the Psychonauts team is Razputin ‘Raz’ Aquato, a kid who ran away from the circus because his family did not accept his psychic abilities. Aquats are timid about psycho-things because someone has cast a curse on them that says they will all die by drowning in water. By joining the Psychonauts, he must face precisely this curse, but also the condemnation of his parents because he ran away from them.

If this plot intrigued you - don't worry, there's more. There is a traitor in the ranks of the Psychonauts, and Raz, in search of him, reveals a story that the oldest agents would like to sweep under the rug. Little Razputin also has the role of a "new kid" and has to deal with the jokes of other students, hiding from them the sympathy for the daughter of the boss Psychonaut, whom he kissed in the first game. 

Psychonauts 2 pic1

The story of Psychonauts 2 is atypically rich for a single platformer and touches on very serious topics. Phobias, addictions, and emotional instabilities are central topics covered here. Each character has their problem, eg the host of Psychonaut is obsessed with making money, one of the members is afraid of criticism from other people, etc. All this is intertwined with subtle but above all quality humor that never mocks problems but breaks their seriousness so as not to depress players. Eg. The topic of running away from home is not a joke, but Razputin's mother jokingly added: "I forgive you for running away from home - if no children were running away from home, there would be no circus."

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Humorous treatment of serious topics is not a specific novelty for Psychonauts 2 because the first game functioned identically. The only difference is that Psychonauts 2 takes that formula to an even higher level. The levels through which mental disorders manifest are now more visually detailed and it is easier to discern the idea behind them, i.e. their leading motive. I’d say the hardware didn’t significantly hamper the team this time around and they dared to fantasize about some crazy stuff. The result is phenomenally creative levels that are known for their originality as some of the best levels in platformer games in general.

The theme of one of the levels was felt by Razputin with his nose and ear-shaped characters, while avoiding the obstacles of huge limping tongues and driving a Feel Mobile van, gathering a band for a concert in a psychedelic environment. In the second level, you participate in a cooking TV show where you have to prepare a meal within a limited time by turning the pig into fried bacon, serve the dish to the judges and finally whip them with food until they crack. In the third level, Razputin moves with the help of a ball along the winding paths and breaks the cones that represent the memories of the failed love that began on the first date in the bowling alley.

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These are just some of the examples, not to mention the level designed by the phobia of a dental examination. The way Psychonauts 2 presents and solves psychic intricacies isn’t serious - because it doesn’t even have to be a fantasy. Instead, he is indescribably charming and is never so obvious that he draws everything for the player, but allows him to connect the dots himself and interpret the transferred meanings. Superb are those stories that work on two levels - the one shown and the one suggested, and the story of Psychonauts 2 is just that.

It is also very rare for a game to have such a symbiosis of the story and design of the environment itself and the gameplay in it. But Psychonauts 2 cleverly balances between its silly and down-to-earth part. You do not explore the landscapes of other people's minds all the time but move freely between missions at the Psychonaut base. Here, the gameplay gives a bit of freedom and rewards exploration by encouraging the collection of cards and purple crystals to develop the character.

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I want to emphasize this because in the initial 2-3 hours it seems that the game does not have such segments at all and that it is exclusively linear. This is also one of my objections because, in the beginning, the game interrupts the player now and then with directed animations, ie cutscenes. When I say now and then I think that literally every minute or two the player is deprived of control over the character and the story begins. These cutscenes are not long-lasting and can be interrupted, but they also appear when it was not necessary to point the camera at the characters. While playing, I came to say, "Let me play!"

Fortunately, the characters are likable and often make you laugh with their character, strange habits, or clumsy behavior. In addition, often interrupting the game with cutscenes becomes less frequent in later parts of the game - as if the developers later figured out that some things can be told on the go.

The mechanics of the gameplay haven’t changed much since the original. Basic powers like telekinesis, levitation, and pyrokinesis are still there, they can only be upgraded to more levels. Enemies are designed so that one power falls for each other, e.g., a quick panic attack needs to be slowed down first, and the fights are dynamic and fun. Especially interesting are the boss battles that are among the best in platformer games because they always give the player more work than just avoiding attacks and hitting opponents.

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The weight of the game is hit hard and I like the system that one player error doesn’t return to the checkpoint, but if he loses all his energy then the whole thing has to start all over again. On the other hand, I don’t like the fact that there’s no option to manually save a position in the game, even when exiting it, although I believe we could add that through an update.

Psychonauts 2 lasts approximately 12-13 hours as far as the main story is concerned. You can go back to the already visited levels later to collect everything you missed the first time, but generally, there is no big reason to switch again - yet this is not so much a role-playing game to have New Game + or something like that. Now, is that a minus? If you’re on a PC and Xbox, the game is available as part of a Game Pass subscription so it’s easy to accept.

If nothing else, every moment spent with Psychonauts 2 is very enjoyable in both the visual and auditory segments. The music is tailor-made for this game and I like the fact that the music "moves" with the player: when Raz stands still, then there is silence, as soon as he starts running, the music starts. Graphically, the game is not a rhapsody like Ratchet & Clank for PS5, but it makes up for it with a charming aesthetic and visual style that sometimes changes depending on the world/mind you are in. Again, the most prominent are the characters who are so strangely shaped that each one is special in its way. If you appreciate Tim Schaffer’s games (e.g. Grim Fandango, Brutal Legend, Broken Age) then you will feel right at home here because Psychonauts 2 is the pinnacle of his aesthetics.

Psychonauts 2 was worth the wait of 16 years and I don’t think anyone is aware of the quality of this game until they play it themselves. I truly enjoyed it and I would love for that adventure to never end. In an ideal world, a model of games as a service would be perfect for Psychonauts and this is a game to which he would return regularly when delivering new seasons/missions/content every 2-3 months. But we are not so lucky so we should appreciate what is there. Especially when it comes to the most imaginative platformer back a few years.

Our Rating

Psychonauts 2 was worth the wait of 16 years, and I don’t think anyone is aware of the quality of this game until they play it themselves.
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