Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Linux, macOS
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Sixteen years after the release of the original Psychonauts comes a sequel. For fans of the cult-classic, getting an actual sequel that feels worthy of the original must be a great feeling, even if it took so long. The first game is a bit wonky to play by todays standards, but excels with funny writing, interesting character & level designs as well as a unique feeling hybrid of platforming and puzzle adventure game genres. This sequel carries the torch pretty well. Also it's great to see a real sequel and not a remake or reboot despite the long gap between releases. It feels like the sequel that could've come out years and years ago, if the original had been a financial success.
How's it Play?
Pretty good. My biggest problem with the 2005 original was how rough around the edges the gameplay was. Here things feel a lot more polished. Platforming is much more enjoyable this time around, which is good because there's far more of a focus on it. Even better, the combat is also much improved, even if it's still one of the weaker aspects of the game. There's far more variation in enemy types, you have a dodge now which is essential and big boss battles are a lot less frustrating. While the combat and platforming are both far tighter here, the core of the game's enjoyment is primarily in its aesthetics and plot.
One big thing that I noticed with this game is that above all, it is a platform game. The original Pyschonauts remained a unique case as despite having platforming elements, it married that gameplay with puzzle focused '90s style adventure games. That's what made the best levels in the original so exciting was the blend of puzzles and platforming. This game is a narrative focused platformer, it focuses on cut-scenes and dialogue far more than the average platformer, but the core gameplay is jumping about inventive obstacle courses. There's not really many puzzles or scenarios that feel inspired by '90s puzzle adventure games such as 'The Milkman Conspiracy' or 'Waterloo World' from the original Pyschonauts.
What About the Plot and Characters?
It gets off to a really good start. It's an actual sequel, it doesn't focus on nostalgia call-backs or re-teaching you everything you learnt in the original game in great detail. Compared to the original game being stifled with tutorials for its first third, this game gets of to a rolling start. While some characters return, most of the cast is new. Replacing the huge cast of summer camp kids from the original is a more focused group of six interns, who main character Raz joins up with. Each has enough character and the fact they join in on your adventures into the minds makes for a more cohesive cast this time around. For a while at least...
The core plot is a whodunnit mystery that promises a big twist, which of course comes at the tail end of the game. Raz's comic book nerd persona allows for him to nonchalantly dump exposition about the new characters we are introduced to in a way that doesn't feel too forced. Most of the character's personalities and backstory whose minds we enter to make up levels of the game are explored via level design and visuals, which is great, continuing one of this game's predecessor's best storytelling elements.
Problems arise as the plot proceeds however. The group of interns drop out of any key plot moments, simply existing in the game's hub world, until they show up for the ending which just feels odd. It would've been nice to have them be consistently appearing in each level as they did earlier in the game. I thought the first half of the game's core plot was strong, but the second half it shows signs of weakness. Individual character vignettes are fine, but the way it all ties together isn't totally engaging. Of course there's a twist, but it's not really that exciting. Then the game ends rather abruptly, I was surprised to see the credits roll so suddenly after the core conflict is resolved, however the game does let you return to the hub world and interact with all the characters as a form of epilogue while also letting you finish up any content you missed.
Graphics & Aesthetics
Psychonauts always had a strong aesthetic. Tim Burton meets '90s-'00s cartoons. This new shiny take on the characters and aesthetic is pretty nice. While not a powerhouse graphically, it looks pretty nice and has varied and well thought out aesthetic choices for each level. The highlight for me was a music festival themed stage which takes inspiration from '60s psychedelic art. It's bursting with colour in an already very colourful game:
There's a lot of effort put into making each level's aesthetics fairly distinct, which is helpful as in terms of gameplay there isn't as much variation as the original Psychonauts. The first level for example, is a bizarre blend of a hospital and a casino. Two places that when combined create an darkly comic sort of environment, where characters are gambling to receive a new-born.
Another one of the highlights in terms of gameplay is a level which is set-up as a cooking show. In order to prepare the appropriate meals, you're put through a fun Takeshi's Castle style obstacle course. This feels like one of the moments which feels a bit more inventive with its platforming, similar to the original game, as you're required to do a little thinking on top of the jumping and dodging.
Sum it Up!
Psychonauts 2 lives up to the original, while modernising and improving on a lot of aspects of that original game. I don't think its plot and characters reach the full potential that they're initially set-up for and compared to the original it's goes a bit less crazy with its level design ideas. But above all it is a satisfying platformer with great aesthetics and a lot of creativity packed into it.
Fantastic, varied aesthetics for levels
Platforming is tight and fun
Good amount of content and rewards for exploration
Very inventive level design concepts
What's not so good!
Plot feels half-baked at times
Not as off the wall as the original Psychonauts