Psychonauts 2 review: A mind-blowing second act

Razputin continues his journey to become a proper psychic secret agent in Psychonauts 2, but was the wait for this new adventure worth it?

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It’s been over 16 years since the first Psychonauts came out in April 2005, and just shy of six years since Psychonauts 2 was revealed at The Game Awards in December 2015. We have been waiting through crowdfunding, console generations, the acquisition of Double Fine by Microsoft, and so many more things that gently nudged this much-anticipated sequel back. It may be a lot of time to wait for a game as charming and quirky as Psychonauts 2 to arrive, but was it ultimately worth it in the end? I have to say… I entirely think so. Psychonauts 2 is a well-expanded sequel to the first game with tons of personality, solid platforming and action, and a great story with a memorable cast of new and returning characters.

For them, it was only days

When last we left off in the Psychonauts franchise, Razputin “Raz” Aquato - a circus acrobat with the gift of psychic powers - ran away from his family’s troupe to join a camp hosted by the Psychonauts, an organization of secret agents utilizing their psychic power to keep the world safe. The Pyschonauts’ Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp was a place for children to learn to control their powers and perhaps, one day, become a Psychonaut themselves. Unfortunately, the experience was soured for Raz when one of the Psychonauts, Coach Oleander, hatched a plan to steal brains and take over the world. Raz made friends with the other campers to stop him, proving his worth, and soon after, engaged in an impromptu mission to rescue the head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, from the maniacal unlicensed dentist turned amateur brain surgeon, Dr. Loboto.

He and the other agents were successful in their mission and Psychonauts 2 picks up right where that left off, literally a few days after the events of both the original game and its VR follow-up, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. The good news here is that you don’t have to worry about playing those games to get started on Psychonauts. Double Fine included a very good “previously on…” section to get you caught up with the story whether you’ve played Psychonauts or not. Not to mention, the animated sequence is a great lead-in and reintroduction to Psychonauts’ trademark quirk and charm.

The important thing is that Raz and the other Psychonauts agree that a crackpot like Dr. Loboto couldn’t have captured the head of the organization on his own. He had to have had help, and for someone as important as Zanotto, that help had to be on the inside. It’s an uncomfortable realization that one of the characters you know or will come to know is a mole. Moreover, Razputin’s digging around inside Loboto’s head warns him of a terrifying presence known as Maligula. She was a powerful psychic that was once a threat to both the Psychonauts and the world whom was fought and thought killed. She might be gone, but her terrifying presence lives on, and it seems someone is trying to bring her back.

That sets up the two main threads of Psychonauts 2, which are finding the traitor within the organization and investigating/stopping the possible return of Maligula. It makes for a very compelling arc throughout all of the game, even as Razputin is officially accepted into the Psychonauts organization (as an intern) and seeks to become a full-fledged psycho secret agent. There were characters I wanted the traitor to be, characters I was worried it might be, and the game kept me guessing for quite some time throughout. All of this is well-aided by a stellar soundtrack full of James Bond-style guitar and plenty more variety for whatever situation you happen to be caught up in. Snappy and well-delivered dialogue also brings energetic and cartoonish life to the whole thing.

Right up to the end, the finish is quite well-handled with the exception a few details that felt shoehorned in. This game goes out of its way to answer nearly every loose end that has remained since the first game, which is great for the most part. If it ended here, it would be a good franchise bookend, but it also feels like there’s room for further games or material based on some post-game conversations.

Brain spelunking & psychic acrobatics

Psychonauts 2 is more than just a good story. It’s an action-platformer with a lot of versatility due to its very premise alone. There’s an overworld in which you can explore and move the plot along. However, returning from the first game, Psychonauts 2 is also full of levels in which you dive into the minds of various characters in the game to discover information or sort out their problems. They offer some of the most interesting scenery and varied interaction as you solve each character’s mental gauntlet.

I think one of my least favorite parts of the first Psychonauts was how finnicky the controls could be sometimes. 3D platforming often has this problem with feedback and context, but I think they really nailed it down in Psychonauts 2 for the most part. Raz Aquato is a circus boy with psychic powers. He can do a lot to move around the environment including double jumps and floating, ledge climbs, tightrope walking, trapeze swinging, and more.

Much of the game’s level design is also smartly designed to give you a generous or just barely enough amount of leeway to get past obstacles. Generally, it knows what you’re trying to do and magnetizes towards an interaction like a ledge grab or rope swing automatically, which I highly appreciate. I only occasionally had moments in which I felt I put in the right moves only for Raz to plummet to his death, but the only punishment for this is losing a miniscule amount of life and trying again. That’s also a nice thing.

Then there’s the psychic powers. You’re a Psychonaut after all. Much of Raz’s powers return intact from the first game, including Levitation (for double jumps, slowing a fall, and faster ground movement), Pyrokinesis, Telekinesis, PSI Blast, and Clairvoyance. Joining these powers are some really fun new ones, such as Mental Connection. This one allows you to locate hanging “scattered thought” points in the overworld and in brain levels and zip between them to reach otherwise unreachable places. Time Bubble is also awesome. In exploration it can slow fast moving obstacles to make them traversable (such as spinning fans). In combat it can also slow foes and open them up to attacks, so it’s a great utility ability. As you go, you’ll also collect upgrades for your Psychonaut Rank that give you points to spend on power upgrades, so the whole arsenal becomes an increasingly evolving toolkit.

Speaking of combat, Psychonauts 2’s brain levels are chockfull of foes you must contend with. I wouldn’t say this game is big or flashy on combat, but it does make you utilize your powers effectively. Telekinesis is great on Censors because it stuns them temporarily. PSI Blast is great on regrets because they’re flying around and hard to hit otherwise. Each enemy has a weakness associated with defeating them the easiest way and dealing with swarms of different foes will have you changing your powers regularly to overcome them.

I think that’s another interesting win for Psychonauts 2 is that it makes many of your powers feel useful throughout the game. There were, of course, some powers like Levitation that I would never unequip, but you can only have four powers equipped at a time for ready use and I would find myself moving through all of them frequently in both combat and exploration. Nothing fell by the wayside outside of its introduction and level in which it was used most. Each level and the overworld contains a wealth of collectibles that will upgrade your Psychonauts Rank and give expanded looks at the story. That means not only exploring levels to the fullest, but also going back to older levels and areas with powers and abilities you didn’t have before is encouraged. Even so, it can feel like a bit of a tedious collect-a-thon if you want to 100% the game.

I really praise Double Fine for the level design too. The brain levels are incredible in how they challenge you to use your powers and platforming, not to mention just being utterly compelling to explore. Not to spoil anything, but I think one of my absolute favorites was a brain level that I can only describe as if The Beatles animated film, The Yellow Submarine, was a Psychonauts level. Each level challenges you in extremely interesting ways to utilize what you have and overcome its unique gauntlet, but they also serve as the drapery for some of the funniest, most emotional, and outright darkest moments the game has to offer. I won’t lie, the new set of brain levels made me laugh, cry, and twisted my guts with realization at some key points.

I also finally have to give props to accessibility here. Psychonauts 2 lets you adjust its difficulty by degrees with modular options like invincibility, no fall damage, and easy combat, but it also has handy features like a font adjuster, UI adjuster, camera shake and vibration disable options, and colorblind mode. It’s not the most I’ve ever seen in accessibility for a game, but it feels clear that Double Fine and Microsoft wanted to make sure a wide audience could enjoy this game however they wanted. All-in-all, with everything above, I’d say there’s good reason to check it out and adjust it to your liking.

A long time coming & worth the wait

It’s wild to think how many years of development are here in this game, but the end product is undeniably polished and top-to-bottom good gaming. The dialogue is well-written and delivered, the story is riveting throughout, and the use of platforming and powers to traverse a vast variety of funny, ridiculous, and sometimes disturbing mental worlds is fantastically solid. It feels like the doors are open for more in this universe, and that prospect is exciting, but if there isn’t another Psychonauts game ever, then I feel confident in saying Double Fine did right by this series with Psychonauts 2.


This review is based on a digital copy supplied by the publisher and played on PC. Psychonauts 2 comes out on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on August 25, 2021.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Psychonauts 2
9
Pros
  • Quickly catches you up
  • Very fun world with well-written characters
  • Brain levels are amazing in gameplay & narrative
  • Story remains interesting and compelling throughout
  • Powers are fun to mix, match, & grow
  • Platforming both with and without powers is solid
  • Great dialogue and soundtrack throughout
Cons
  • Collecting all items to 100% the game is tedious
  • Some late story details feel a bit shoehorned
  • Very slightly occasionally janky in platforming
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 23, 2021 6:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Psychonauts 2 review: A mind-blowing second act

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:15 AM

      Getting good reviews all around.

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 7:14 AM

        Phew. I'm glad, Double Fine needed good reviews for this.

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:15 AM

      Review embargo appears to have lifted and I see generally high 80s/low 90s / 4-out-of-5 stars on this across the board, all generally glowing reviews.

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:19 AM

      Really, it's a miracle this was even funded let alone made. Super-excited to try it.

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 6:24 AM

        I dunno, they did use crowd funding to get it through which was probably the smart choice here. If they went a traditional funding route (outside of using DF's own funds) I'd agree it would have been far more miraculous.

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          August 23, 2021 7:04 AM

          Well it also needed a bunch of MS monies as well.

          • reply
            August 23, 2021 7:59 AM

            That's right - Schafer did say that w/o MS money they were at a point of having to cut content like some boss fights (back when DF was acquired). But I think that was in part after Starbreeze (who was initially going to publish) had their own problems.

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              August 23, 2021 8:01 AM

              It's great that them being given the extra time seems to be validated with good reviews as well. I wonder how well it'll do on Playstation though with it being available on gamepass.

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                August 23, 2021 8:20 AM

                Phil Spencer has generally indicated that they aren't touching any existing publishing deals when they acquire companies, it is part of trying to maintain goodwill within the industry. Obviously, future games will be more exclusive (Xbox needs that) but I can't see Xbox purposely having DF purposely ignore quality control on the PS version to make the Xbox or PC one look better without drawing a lot of fire.

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          August 23, 2021 7:14 AM

          I feel like even crowd funding a game like this is tricky. Unless you're literally Star Citizen, a few million is usually not going to be close to the kind of budget a AA game like this requires.

        • reply
          August 23, 2021 7:58 AM

          Microsoft bought them which is what allowed them to finish it. So by that accounting, it failed.

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 10:21 AM

        I’ve waited ages for this. First was such an amazing game.

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:25 AM

      https://www.reddit.com/r/Games/comments/p9zop4/psychonauts_2_review_thread/

      These scores are looking fantastic!

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:35 AM

      Hell yeah sleeper hit of 2021. I fear this game won’t be a huge commercial success but I got a good feeling it will be a cult hit like the last one.

      Bring it on. R&C:RA and PN2 for platformers of the year?

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        August 23, 2021 7:18 AM

        It is launching on Game Pass, not sure how much that affects things as far as quantifying it a commercial success.

        I know I would for sure be buying it on Steam if it weren't. May still purchase the icon later if I really like it, but might as well take advantage of this active GP sub I have barely used.

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          August 23, 2021 7:50 AM

          Whole lot of publicity at the expense of a whole lot of sales. I would've probably been buying it day one but now I'm weighing up getting a gamepass sub for the month instead for the first time.

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            August 23, 2021 7:55 AM

            It's on Gamepass because MS bought Doublefine. That's one of the main points of Gamepass you get all the MS games day one. I'd recommend Gamepass as well some great games out now and more coming this year.

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      August 23, 2021 7:12 AM

      Haven't really played any SP games in a while, this should be a nice change of pace. The first one was a bit rough in spots, but still loved it.

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      August 23, 2021 7:26 AM

      I'm supper happy for Double Fine. I watch all of their videos about their studio and it's awesome that they've knocked this one out of the park.

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        August 23, 2021 10:52 AM

        I really like Tim Schafer.

        • reply
          August 23, 2021 10:56 AM

          Yes me too he is very likeable and seems to care a lot about the people that work for him.

        • reply
          August 23, 2021 12:05 PM

          Same, and same, but I think their games tend to go a bit out-of-control and break at the seams. As if they tend to have a lot of potential, but miss the mark a bit.

          Hoping this one will be a more polished thing.

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 7:27 AM

      Pre-loading on Game Pass now...

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 8:00 AM

        man, not available to play until 5pm PT tomorrow....

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 12:01 PM

        Same!

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      August 23, 2021 8:02 AM

      I never beat the first one. It kind of didn't grab me like I had hoped.

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 8:23 AM

        Same. I’ll give this one a try though.

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      August 23, 2021 9:43 AM

      Releases August 25th!! I cannot wait.

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      August 23, 2021 10:16 AM

      Hell yes, can't fucking wait. The original is a true classic.

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      August 23, 2021 10:32 AM

      Does it require playing the first to enjoy the second?

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      August 23, 2021 10:50 AM

      Cool. Eager to play it just because its something new and interesting looking - never played the first one and still haven't even though its on Game Pass... is it necessary to play the first one or is it OK to just jump into 2? Maybe I should read the review?

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 11:32 AM

        I'd at least start it and play through some levels, it's really different than pretty much any platform you've ever played, super fun characters and story. I'd at least check out some of it before the 2nd one.

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 12:16 PM

        Theres a summary of the previous game here also:

        https://youtu.be/9Qb639VcY68

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 11:28 AM

      I backed this way back when... what was it... 5 or 6 years ago? So glad it's getting good reviews. Can't wait to play it. Really happy for Tim and the rest of Double Fine!

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 1:54 PM

      Does anyone know when the 2 Player Productions making-of documentary will be released?

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:22 PM

      So excited for this experience. I didn't know it was coming out now.

    • reply
      August 23, 2021 6:41 PM

      Been playing through the first game a little bit and I actually like it! Now I’m even more stoked to play the sequel tomorrow!

      • reply
        August 23, 2021 10:31 PM

        the first game is almost perfect despite it's flaws

        i love the writing and some of the voice acting is really good

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