Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: 08/25/2021
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If you were really into gaming back in the mid-2000s then Psychonauts is a game you either played or heard of and that’s thanks to Tim Schafer’s voice being heard. The game was critically well-received but sold poorly due to a lack of advertising and support from the Publisher. The game was great on PC and Xbox, but didn’t do so well on PS2 due to the system’s lack of power and had framerate issues and downgraded visuals. A few years later a petition was released to put the game on Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360. I remember signing that petition and that’s how I finally played the game. It was visually brilliant, but did have issues with the camera and felt a bit repetitive.
Here we are 15 years later and that same brilliance has happened again. You play as Razputin, a large-headed boy whose dream is to be a Psychonaut. This team of mind-bending heroes is trained to enter people’s minds and rid them of anything dangerous and help people get back to being mentally more stable. I won’t spoil the story and tell if Raz gets in the Psychonauts or not, but the game’s main hub is the Psychonaut headquarters. The story itself is entertaining with the main villain, Maligula, who needs to be stopped before she…does something. It’s never really told what danger Maligula can do to the world as Psychonauts‘ story solely focuses on just the team and never anything outside of it or how they affect the world around them. It feels like a very claustrophobic world and seems a bit strange to be like this, but the voice-acting is wonderful and the dialog is clever and witty at every turn and it never misses a beat. While the story feels a bit rushed towards the end and feels a little too convoluted for what it is, it’s entertaining and all of the characters are a joy to see on screen.
Psychonauts’combat has always been something to be desired and kind of takes a back seat to platform and that’s the same for this game. You get one melee button and have to use other Psi-Powers in tandem with this and it feels too easy and a bit lazy. Most of the Psi-Powers aren’t useful in combat so I just stuck with Psi-Blast, Telekinesis, and Pyrokenisis which sets things on fire. Enemies are either too easy or are just damage sponges and towards the end of the game, it really feels unbalanced and just an annoyance. While the combat plays well and there are no control issues, it just feels like it needs more work if there is going to be a sequel. Bosses also just felt like damage sponges and aren’t really challenging. Even the final boss is a push-over. Thankfully the game mostly focuses on platforming.
With that said, platforming and collecting are where Psychonauts shines the most. Each level oozes personality and style. The art in Psychonauts 2 is absolutely gorgeous with some of the most creative levels you will ever see gaming. This is art in raw video game form and they just don’t make them like this, especially in the AAA form. Most of the Psi-Powers are used for platforming and this is another issue with those powers. They are either really useful for a few things or useless for everything but one thing. Projection is gained last and towards the end of the game, it’s mostly used for that level and collecting a few items in others. Mental Connection is used to swing between nodes, Time Bubble is used to slow down spinning fans and platforms, and Clairvoyance is mostly used to read people’s minds for fun and use their eyes to find treasure in hub worlds. Despite this, you can collect 2D Figments which are colorful sprites scattered around, Emotional Baggage and their associated tags which are needed to collect the bags, Memory Vaults, Relics, and others. You can skip all of this as it’s mostly for completionists and achievement hunters, but you’re missing out on most of the more difficult and fun platforming if you do. The hub areas, of which there are four, have Psi Cards, Half-A-Minds, and Psi Ranks to collect. There are vending machines to spend the cards on and you can use Psitanium to buy pins which passively enhance some Psi-Powers, but I felt this was a last-minute tacked-on feature since the combat is already easy.
With that said, the game’s art style is bananas. It feels alive and there’s so much detail in every single level and neither level is the same. There’s a 60’s style acid-induced mind-trip level, an amusement ride level, a library, a hospital, and others. They all feel unique and I couldn’t wait to see what the game brought next. While the story does feel convoluted it’s still entertaining and seeing the characters on screen was never dull. While most people will skip all the collecting, you miss out on a lot as won’t see what all the levels have to offer. This is an interactive art and there’s no denying this is just one of the most artistically impressive games to be released in the last decade. While it’s not technically impressive since it uses Unreal Engine 4, it still looks good with great textures, and good lighting effects, and there were no bugs in my playthrough.
Overall, Psychonauts 2 is a mascot platformer dream and you only get these games once a decade these days. While indie games have taken over this hole in the gaming space it’s nice to see larger budget AAA games do this too once again. The story is entertaining albeit a little too claustrophobic in its world-building and convoluted for what it is, but the character writing is clever and the voice acting is well done. There are lots to collect and the platforming is top-notch, but the combat is a miss here due to being too easy and unbalanced life bars and bosses being damage sponges and nothing more.