STAFF REVIEW of Psychonauts 2 (Xbox One)

Friday, September 24, 2021.
by Josh Morgan

Psychonauts 2 Box art Psychonauts 2 is the sequel to the 2005 cult classic released on Xbox, PC and Playstation 2. Ten years after the release of the original, in December of 2015 it was announced on stage at The Game Awards that Psychonauts 2 was going into crowd funding. A few weeks later in early January it reached its goal and was given a tentative release year of 2018. After multiple delays which included its original publisher, Starbreeze, going out of business, and then being acquired by Microsoft in 2019, the team at Double Fine finally released their masterpiece. Was it worth the wait? Well, put on your red goggles, throw a Psycho-Portal door on my head and let’s see!

The story starts immediately after the VR game Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin which bridges the gap between Psychonauts 1 and Psychonauts 2. You are Razputin Aquato, a former acrobat turned Psychonaut but are quickly dismissed by the boss down to recruit level at the start of the game. You must prove yourself and rank up to be considered a full member of the Psychonauts and during its twenty or so hour campaign you will unravel a complex story that pulls from the first game, and the events that formed the Psychonauts agency.

A Psychonaut is a psychic that uses Psycho Portal doors on people's brains to enter them and sort out problems, or to get info needed for their missions. For instance, the opening mission finds you in the brain of the first game's villain Dr. Loboto. He’s a mad crazy dentist and his mental world is made up of gums, teeth, braces and pools of saliva. Your mission upon entering his mindscape is to look for clues that could help with the investigation focused on in the main story. As you piece together clues from this mad dentist's memories you see a shadowy figure that he is absolutely terrified of. This shadowy figure happens to be Psychonauts 2’s main villain, and as you enter more minds trying to unravel the story, you will learn about its origin and how to defeat it.

The ability to enter a vast array of minds is a genius way to design a video game because it creates an endless pool of level designs to pull from. There is a casino level, a psychedelic music festival, a library, a colorful swamp with stained glass windows everywhere, a rip-off “It's a Small World” amusement park ride and many more. Because you are entering people's minds, there is no deeper explanation needed to link them together in a story. Raz can just throw a door onto a character's mind and you are transported to a city designed to look like a bowling alley.

As I’ve said in other reviews, I’m a pretty straight forward person and I don’t always notice the hidden meaning of things in games and movies. I pretty much take things at face value, but Psychonauts 2 made me feel smart by making all the references very easy to spot. For instance, one of the collectibles is to find tags for the emotional baggage that is hidden in each level. You’ll come across a crying hat box that needs its tag, and that tag is hidden in the area. Match the correct tag with the baggage and you’ll get rewarded with an animation where the baggage stops crying and becomes happy that it’s been reunited with its tag. I understood that! There are also colorful figment sketches to locate, half-a-minds to assemble and Nuggets of Wisdom to find. There are hundreds of collectibles to find throughout the mindscapes of Psychonauts 2 and they are all very fun to search for. I was able to 100% complete the game with 1000/1000 achievement points after I crossed the 40-hour mark, so there is a lot to do if you are a collectible hound like me.

Once you complete a mindscape, you can return at any time to find collectibles. To help you even further, once you re-enter you will see a little yellow slime creature that will warp you to the different zones in each mind and you can check your book for the number of collectibles in each mind you have found. With so many collectibles in the game, this is a very necessary feature to 100% complete the game. I can’t imagine hunting over 100 figments per level without some sort of checklist and warp. Most of the collectibles are just that, for collecting, but if you find two half-a-mind’s then you will add one notch to your health bar. Each collectible you find also grants you XP to your overall level and as you level up you can buy higher ranked pins from the vending machine. So, there is a small reason to find these other than achievements, but honestly, it’s not a very hard game so leveling up Raz by upgrading your health bar isn’t a requirement.

I mentioned pins above and I wanted to dive a bit deeper into that. As you explore the main hubs in the game and the virus minds as part of the story, you will collect purple orbs from defeating enemies and interacting with objects. These purple orbs are called Psitanium and you can use this currency to upgrade abilities, upgrade your carry bag and also purchase candy that will refill your health from vending machines in the hub worlds. The pins that you purchase act as modifiers for the abilities you have unlocked through the story points. For instance, you can purchase a pin to alter your time ability to speed things up rather than slow, but you can also purchase a pin that will let you telepathically pet animals in the game, so not all pins are serious. These pins can be equipped and swapped at any time so you can use them to try all sorts of different combinations of moves. Some of the areas in the hubs and mindscapes are blocked off by doors or spinning objects that you will be able to access later with an ability you unlock further in the story.

As you progress in the story you will also unlock abilities to help you add to your arsenal to defeat the main boss. Psychonauts 2 does a great job of forcing you to use all the abilities you receive throughout the game. You’ll be using these abilities not only for combat, but also in the platforming sections of the game, which can be mapped to the bumpers and triggers of the controllers and can be swapped out at any time with an on-screen wheel selector. I mentioned the slow time ability above; you can use this to slow down speeding fans or platforms so you can time your jumps better, but also the slow time ability is necessary to defeat the Panic Attack enemy which is super-fast and impossible to beat without slowing him down. The levitation ability was one of my most used throughout the game. You can use it while falling to create a bubble to slow your descent, and when you are running around it will create a ball for you to roll on increasing your speed. It was very useful to get to hard-to-reach places while hunting collectibles, but also very useful during combat to avoid enemy attacks. Throughout the story you will also unlock fire, a quick laser shot, mind to mind connection (teleport) and you’ll be using all of these abilities regularly to platform and beat up enemies.

As you progress through the story you will be sent into many different mindscapes, and as I said above, this method of storytelling really opens the options of level design. Since each mind is different, the theme, color pallet, enemies and obstacles should all be different. Psychonauts 2 does this perfectly and as I sit here thinking of all the places I visited, I cannot pick a favorite. A standout level will be the Psi-King (voiced by Jack Black) level at the psychedelic music festival. The beauty of the colors and moving objects throughout the level cannot be described. It’s a trippy traversal into the mind of a musician in the 70’s where you can just tell he did some experimental drugs. There are eyeballs, noses, flapping tongues and ears all over the level and they are called The Feast of the Senses, all while the Psi-King narrates telling the story of the band. But I think my favorite level to just explore and look at the environment is Bob’s Bottles. It’s set in a dark and green swamp but hanging from the trees and structures are colored glass bottles and stained-glass windows, and as the light shines through them you see a rainbow of colors shining and flickering through the glass and reflecting off objects. As I was exploring the mindscape for collectibles for my 100% completion, I lost track of how many times I stopped moving around and just rotated the camera to watch the colors dance in the trees.

Speaking of collectibles, one thing that blew my mind with the graphics was the draw distance. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where you can stand anywhere on the level and see the entire distance from one end to the other, it’s absolutely insane how clear the game is without any pop-in during play (on an Xbox Series X). Since this game has so many collectibles, it’s an absolute treat to be able to see them easily from any spot in the level. For as beautiful the environments are, I can say that the character models are hit and miss. The main characters like Raz, Lily and a few others really stand out with the detailed textures of their faces, but you can tell some of the other lesser seen characters in the game did not receive as much love as their faces and clothes lacked the texture and details of the main characters. I was able to play the game at 4K 120hz on my Series X and it ran buttery smooth without a hiccup or hitch, you can really tell a lot of time went into the game to ensure it ran smooth which is essential for platformers.

Psychonauts 1 is the perfect example of the term cult classic, and Psychonauts 2 has created another masterpiece that I am only assuming won’t receive the attention it deserves. They have perfected and expanded on their original idea in every way and created a world full of heart and fun. It’s been well documented that the last few years it took to bake were used to expand the boss battles, and finely polish the areas that were complete. It’s clear that the added funds from being a Microsoft studio were put to good use and the team at Double Fine should be very proud of what they have created. I cannot wait to see what they create next.

**Psychonauts 2 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.7 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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