Way back when in 2005, acclaimed indie-game director Tim Schafer – who, at the time, was perhaps best loved for his work on Grim Fandango at LucasArts – released a brilliant 3D platformer called Psychonauts.
Taking control of a young acrobat called Raz, players explored the minds of several unique characters – literally, you would enter other people’s minds and complete quirky platforming levels within them – as Raz got to grips with his newfound mind powers.
The game earned a lot of strong reviews and put Schafer’s then-brand-new company, Double Fine Productions, on the map. Jump forward 16+ years to today, and Double Fine has become a staple of the gaming scene – as of 2019, the company is owned by Microsoft as part of Xbox Game Studios.
The first Double Fine game to launch since the Microsoft acquisition will be Psychonauts 2 – a sequel to the company’s very first game, it picks up not long after the conclusion of that game from 2005 (there is a short VR game, 2017’s Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, slotted in between the two stories).
But is it worth jumping into Psychonauts 2, whether or not you’ve played the original game or its VR follow-up? The answer to that question is a resounding yes, and you can read on to find out why in our full review.
First things first, don’t worry if you missed either of the previous entries in the Psychonauts franchise – although you will appreciate the returning characters and callbacks if you’re a fully-fledged fan of the series, Psychonauts 2 does a great job of bringing everyone up to speed in its opening moments.
Raz, still a young child, finally makes his way to Psychonauts HQ in the game’s opening scenes, and it’s not long before he’s pulled into a mystery involving a returning villain and the founding members of this Men in Black-like psychic institution.
What unfolds from that simple beginning is a terrifically imaginative experience, as Raz ventures into mind after mind in search of answers and understanding. Although this game has a few more ‘real world’ locations compared to the original, most of the meaningful gameplay segments still take place within the off-the-wall confines of people’s brains.
This, as returning fans will already know, is a recipe for some truly bonkers and infinitely memorable levels. For us describe these experiences in any real detail would probably spoil the fun of you discovering them for yourself. But suffice it to say – we weren’t expecting there to be a cookery level, and there were surprises to be found around every corner.
Where to buy Psychonauts 2:
- Play Psychonauts 2 through Xbox Game Pass (14 day trial for £2.99)
- Get the PS4 version from the PlayStation store (£49.99)
- Buy the PC version from CDKeys (£53.99)
The gameplay in itself is genuinely very fun. In a similar-ish way to the brilliant It Takes Two, Psychonauts 2 regularly throws new game mechanics at you. You’re picking up new skills all the time, right up until the third act stage of the story, and you end up with a satisfyingly stuffed wheel of powers. (There are points when the combat draws to mind the ability-mixing gameplay of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.)
This, combined with the fact that pretty much every level takes place in a new brain, means that no two points in Psychonauts 2 are ever the same. Sometimes the structure might feel familiar – you’ll often need to fetch a few McGuffins and overcome a boss battle in order to complete a mind – but the content is always changing.
It’s worth stressing that the game has mature themes. The minds that you enter are sometimes affected by mental health struggles, and these may feel all too real for some people – an early level touches on gambling addiction, while panic attacks are a recurring feature in a later segment. Of course, everyone will react differently to seeing matters like this depicted in a wacky platforming game.
For this reviewer, I’d say that there isn’t a nasty bone in Psychonauts 2’s metaphorical body. The game is fun, funny and filled with neat surprises. The overall tone is pure and hopeful with a side order of silliness, which will hit the spot very nicely for a lot of players.
The graphics are great throughout most of the game – one or two minds maybe lack a bit of a pizazz, but there are so many other ones that are simply stunning. Double Fine has come far in the 16 years since the first game, and there are moments where the surreal visuals will really blow you away. The area around the Psychonauts HQ is also very eye-catching, and there are plenty of secrets to be found here if you fancy some exploration between missions.
The music is also excellent – it’s a real feast for the senses, hopping between trippy guitar riffs and John Williams-aping orchestral parps – and the soundscape is especially impressive in one level that features a brilliant performance from Jack Black. We’re sworn to secrecy on the specifics of his character, but we’re confident in assuming that his segment will be remembered as one of the standout parts of this game.
The rest of the voice cast is solid, too, and the writing does well to toe the line between embracing outright silliness and maintaining a human story. Just when you think the game is in danger of jumping the shark, it pulls you right back in with a heartfelt punch in the gut.
We really enjoyed going on this journey with Raz, and we’d be quick to recommend this game to anyone who’d listen. So whether you’re a returning fan or an intrigued onlooker, this is one that you won’t want to miss.
Psychonauts 2 launches 25th August 2021 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and PC. We reviewed it on Xbox Series X.