LifeisXbox’s Psychonauts 2 Review | Psychonauts 2 is a third-person platformer with similar gameplay to the original Xbox classic. You play as a recently inducted Psychonaut with the ability to dive into the minds of other people. The game tackles a variety of subject matters such as depression, anxiety, and regret to name a few. The game is created by Double Fine and published in-house by Microsoft Game Studios. It’s been a long 16 years since the original graced us with its interesting spin on platforming, combined with puzzles, story, and special abilities. Double Fine is back with Tim Schafer still at the helm, bringing with it the majestic quality of the original but adding new and exciting abilities, fluid and strategic combat, and a cinematic story that not only looks good but plays and sounds great also.
There is a certain charm about Psychonauts 2. The huge advances in graphical applications make the wacky and zany graphical style, and Unreal Engine is utilised well here. There is a great variety of gameplay, cinematics, and audio that make the whole package feel like a GOTY contender as each new section of the game that is unlocked feels fresh and different from the last. Read on to find out more about how Psychonauts performed.
ℹ️ | We played Psychonauts 2 for Thirty Hours on Xbox Series X. This game is also available on Xbox One and S/X, Playstation 4/5, Steam, Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux.
What we liked!
- Skills and Abilities | Each enemy has a certain weakness to one of your psychic powers. As a result, battles feel different with each encounter. Using the right type of attack is just as important as utilising the right type of defense. Dodging and rolling feel responsive enough that you can almost time it right once you have learned the enemy’s rhythm. Some of the attacking abilities can also be utilised as a defense measure, for instance, rolling around on your levitation ball whilst shooting your psy blast is a really good way of tackling large groups of enemies and dialing up your speed. The upgrade system works well also, with the system of collecting psy cards. For every 12 cards you collect, combine these with a psy core allows you 1 upgrade point. You can then use these points to upgrade your abilities to do more damage, last longer, or change the behavior of the ability entirely. It’s a clever way of getting you to explore more of the world of Psychonauts 2 whilst also feeling rewarded in the process. The badges system can also add some cool quirks are colour to your play-through with badges that allow you to change your waiting pose or levitation ball colour. Simple things for sure, but they add to the overall charm of the game. For example, I equipped a bade that allowed Raz to body pop and dance whilst waiting for player input. Raz also sang along to the moves and the whole thing had me grinning ear to ear.
- Mechanics | With Psychonauts 2 being a platforming game, you get the usual run-of-the-mill game mechanics like running and jumping, but Raz has a great backstory that transitions over from the original game. You used to be an acrobat. Raz descends from a family of circus performers and as such, gives him the ability to bounce from wall to wall, rail slide, tight rope walk, swing from branches and other objects in the game, you can even tread water several times before falling in completely. The very fact that your character can do all of this isn’t questioned once in the game because it is tied together well using the backstory of the character, again making the whole thing feel very cohesive and well thought out. Usually, when characters have these amazing abilities it isn’t covered well, but here, it all makes sense and the game is designed well enough to let you make your way around it, giving the mechanics a good reason to exist on top of your abilities. The final mechanic I enjoyed in this game ties in with its underlying themes of personal grief. There are bags to discover in-game but they are crying the entire time. These are referred to as emotional baggage. With these specifically, you must find the tags for the bags and reunite them to turn their frowns upside down. There are also “half a mind” to collect, which plays on the old saying “if I had half a mind”. Collecting two of these will create a whole mind and grant the player one additional health slot.
- The Music and Audio | The music in Psychonauts 2 is some of the best I have seen. Without going into spoiler zone, one of the best moments in the game sees Raz reuniting a band from the memories so that they can perform a concert. Once accomplished, the whole scene plays out some pre Beatles era music video that had me on the edge of my seat. As mentioned in the intro, Unreal Engine has been utilised extremely well here and has some of the best imagery I have seen in a video game to date. The usual audio is also well used in the game. The Motherlobe (where you will spend most of your time in the earlier sections) benefits from 3D spatial audio. This is due to the populous NPC’s in-game. The area is filled to the brim with people to meet and rooms to explore and the conversations they have can be heard the closer you approach, drowning out the further you get away. Announcements are played over the PA system and echo through the halls. There is a lot to explore here and every new location feels alive with detail given how well the sound compliments the overarching design.
- Cinematic Moments | One of the biggest wow moments for me in video games is the cinematics. I love it when a game transitions from cutscene to in-game seamlessly and makes you feel like you are watching an epic movie. Psychonauts 2 is no different. Some stunning set pieces are featuring the other Psychonauts of the team. The opening mission set in Lady Luctopus is a feast for the eyes with neon lights, great music, great cinematography, and a surprisingly challenging but fair boss fight. The whole game feels like a AAA title, but Double Fine and Microsoft Game Studios have done a great job with a tiny budget of only 13.5 million dollars. Games these days average a 60-80 million dollar budget so it is really impressive what the team has been able to do here. All in all, if you love a good cinematic in your games, Psychonauts 2 has you covered. The game doesn’t stop there though with its cinematics. The game also has what we call “Cinematic set pieces” which means there are some stunning level design layouts with huge center pieces that rule the level and can either be a blessing or a detriment to your play style. One of the later levels sees you inside the mind of the Psychic Seven, and diving into his mind is full of regret. The underlying story here is there is regret about not telling someone how they felt, ultimately leading him to live his life alone. This is represented by the character being a huge 50ft robot which signifies no feelings and you must find your way to the top of him and shut him down before he destroys himself. The robot is interacting with all aspects of the environment and can knock you down if you are not careful resulting in a restart of the level.
- The Boss Fights | What Psychonauts 2 does well is introducing unique boss fights. Each boss cannot simply be defeated by using your Psychic abilities alone. Instead, there are some very unique and clever ways to defeat them which makes each boss fight feel like a learning curve at first. Bosses are introduced once you reach the end of a person’s mental journey. They represent the underlying fear of the individual, and this also results in showing the relation the boss has with that person’s suffering. Regret, Depression, Anxiety, Panic attacks, addiction, they are all here and it makes for some very interesting gameplay. During my time playing through Psychonauts 2, this is where the game really shone for me and also where I spent a great deal of time having to re-do since the bosses can be a little tricky at times.
- The Story | I have to admit, the story of Psychonauts 2 is downright engaging. It’s got a great cast, perfect voice acting, and direction and it does a great job at staying interesting even after 16 hours of gameplay. Psychonauts 2 is not a short game by any means. After finishing the main campaign at around 16 hours, not once did the story feel dragged out. This is due to the game’s well-paced narrative. It introduces new areas well and at the right time. Grants you new abilities that also fit in well with the story and provides you with enough back story of the people whose minds you enter to ensure it stays relevant to the objective and doesn’t feel forced or tacked on. All in all, if you are a completionist, you are looking at a good 35+ hours to find everything you can along with maxing out your abilities and completing optional side quests.
- Too many puzzles | For all of the good that Psychonauts 2 features, they can sometimes be overshadowed by the sheer amount of puzzles features not only in the levels but outside in the real world also. The balance here feels slightly one-sided as I alluded to before, the real game shines in its combat and platforming. In some areas (which I will call the bowling level) require you to navigate with near-perfect control otherwise you fall to your death only having to do it again. The whole thing feels like a way to slow you down and can feel lazily put together. One puzzle saw me have to get typewriter keys just to type out a name onto a letter that needed to be posted. At no point did it feel relevant, and ultimately took me out of the fast-paced action platforming craziness of the majority of the game. I understand the need for puzzles, but I feel they were quite the juxtaposition to the rest of the game.
- Hot swapping abilities | Despite the psychic abilities being one of the best features of the game, the ones you unlock come much later in the game and as these can only be assigned the 4 shoulder buttons it can (and most of the time will) catch you off guard when suddenly you need to swap abilities. The problem here is that by this time, you have found a particular style that suits your play and you will have these 4 abilities already perfectly programmed into muscle memory. Swapping these out interrupts that and can sometimes be a life or death situation. Not only this, but it slows the game down considerably, forcing you to decide what ability to give up to use the one that is required to complete the action in front of you. I would have much preferred a context-sensitive situation where I am given the ability to hold down a button and perform that action that to stop the game entirely.
What we disliked
- Lack of way points | The biggest dislike I had for Psychonauts 2 was the lack of direction when a player loses their way. There were more than a few times when I was tasked with finding my way to a new section of the world to progress the story. There is a journal you can refer to tell you what you need to do but that is it. For example, I had to find my way to the forgotten forest to catch a bee to acquire a bowling pass for seniors. I had no idea where this forest was, nor was I given any indication. Sure the argument could be made that it is a tactic that developers employ to get you to explore your surroundings and enjoy the world, but after running around for the best part of an hour, it starts to become a little frustrating, to say the least. It drags you out of the experience and feel that a waypoint would have been a nice option to add for people, especially since kids will also most likely play this game too given its cartoony style and platforming.
How long to beat the story | 16 Hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 35+ Hours
Similar with | Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter. The platforming, quirky gameplay, and mechanics all feel very similar in nature.
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Gaming is in my blood. Be it handheld games, Xbox, PC, Switch or Playstation, I am all over it.
I make my own games as part of my profession and love playing co op games with friends in my spare time. Avid dog lover and camper van enthusiast.