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Psychonauts 2 review for Xbox Series X/One, PS4, PC


Platform: Xbox One
Also On: Xbox Series X, PS4, PC
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Developer: Xbox Game Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: T

Disclaimer: I am 1 of the 24,109 people who crowdfunded this title on Fig. My name also appears in the Hall of Brains in Otto Mentalis’ Lab. I’m probably in the credits, but the backer credits were so long…I actually skipped it when it rolled.

In 2005 a modest number of gamers got to spend time at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, a training facility for potential recruits of a governmental agency known as the Psychonauts with a circus runaway named Razputin “Raz” Aquato. Raz, whose family hated psychics due to a family vendetta, found solace with the kids he met at the camp as he ironically was a psychic. Despite the fact that he was not supposed to be there, the staff at the camp was willing to let Raz partake in the training as the rest of the campers, all the while a dastardly plot was being hatched right underneath their nose. Honing his psychic abilities remarkably fast (The game takes place over the span of several days), Raz managed to foil the world threatening plot and was invited on an important mission with the Psychonauts.

The game had a cult following and the fanbase grew as the years passed. Double Fine Productions went on to make many well received titles such as Brutal Legends, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, and Broken Age. Despite much urging from fans, the student never felt it was the right time to revisit the Psychonauts IP. 2015 apparently was the right time as the game was finally announced and funding was being raised on Fig, a crowdfunding platform co-founded by the company. A VR title named Psychonauts: Rhombus of Ruin would be released to satiate fan interest, although given VR’s limited user base, this side adventure was probably enjoyed through let’s plays and youtube videos. After several delays, and even a company buy out by Microsoft, Psychonauts 2 has finally arrived and after nearly a decade and a half, was the 2nd full adventure of Razputin Aquato worth the wait?

Yes, yes it is. Psychonauts 2 takes the impeccably well written platformer from 2005 and manages to make a prettier and while retaining the charm and solid gameplay mechanics. In a Metroid-ish return to zero move, Raz’s tenure as a Psychonaut is cut short as the temporary head of the Psychonauts demotes him to an intern. However a majority of the powers he’s earned do make a return and are doled out rather quickly (Invisibility, Shield, Confusion are afterthought and frankly not missed). The new powers are equally inventive and one late game power even facilitates a low-key Invader Zim reunion (Raz is voiced by Richard Horowitz, who also voiced the eponymous Invader). Sadly the cast of campers that we grew to love do not return and are instead replaced with the Interns. While an eclectic bunch, interactions with the interns are scant and they never feel as fleshed out as the interactions campers of Whispering Rock. Raz’s family also find their way to the grounds of the Psychonauts headquarters and just like interns, interactions with them never feel too meaningful and their relevance to the main plot feels underwhelming. Despite what felt like letting these two groups slip, the plot of the game is still meticulously crafted and follows up on some of the mysterious that were alluded to in the original all the while investigating a potential mole in the Psychonauts organization.

Psychonauts was lauded from the inventive mental worlds which the players would explore and help soothe the trauma that the owners of these mental worlds experienced in their past. Psychonauts 2’s worlds manage to keep up with and in some instances even surpass the worlds of its predecessors. The game manages to provide a “villain explaining their plan” moment that was not only genuinely surprising, but something that put a smile on my face and I frankly wouldn’t mind reliving the sequence over and over again. Much like real life, your return trips to these mental worlds will never be the same as the first time you visit and is disappointing as I wish there was a means to replay some of the boss fights that go through (Sadly this is something that carried over from the first time).

Mental Baggage, Figments, Memory Vaults return and the latter two act as a great means of storytelling and world building. Psi Cards, Cores and Psi Challenge Markers allow Raz to level up and provide intern credits to bolster his psychic abilities. Pins can be purchased and worn with various results from boosting or modifying his psychic abilities, or just silly effects such as making Raz do the infamous taunt/dance that Bobby Zilch did as an idle animation.

While my sloppy play would occasionally cause Raz to get knocked out of the mental world (aka “lose a life”), the game’s combat never felt too unfair and unmanageable. As a statement regarding the “difficulty discourse”, Double Fine implemented several accessibility options that can be applied if the players feel overwhelmed by gameplay. It definitely feels like growth by the company given how many complaints there were regarding the final level of the first game (that and you can’t even incinerate the various woodland creatures in the sequel. Maturation!).

Now the negatives, while playing through the title was unbridled joy, I have to say the load times on the Xbox One X felt long, and it certainly doesn’t help that getting knocked out of a mental world would trigger a load sequence. One might say why didn’t you play this on PC or the Xbox Series X. While the game is cross buy (sadly on the Windows 10 Store), a video driver update prevented the title from loading (this is why I’m a console gamer 4 lyfe!) and frankly my Xbox Series X is a lamp stand at the moment. I also ran into some memory crashes on the Xbox One X version, but thankfully the game does a great job of auto saving frequently…although I did have to sit through load screens again..

Psychonauts 2 took over 16 years to reach the masses, and while it was an agonizing wait to return to the wondrous world that Double Fine has crafted, it was definitely worth the wait. Double Fine didn’t deviate from the formula they had crafted many years ago and still retained the humor and heart that the first title had. While this title doesn’t posit anything that remained unanswered, let’s hope we won’t have to wait as long to find out what happens to Raz in the next couple of days in his life.

Note: Xbox Game Studios provided us with a Psychonauts 2 Xbox One/Series X code for review purposes.

Grade: A