Old meets new in a Double Fine game practically 16 years in the making.
Psychonauts 2 is right around the corner and ahead of its 25 August launch, Stevivor was not only able to spend four hours of hands-on time with the title but speak to Double Fine’s Tim Schafer and Lauren Scott about it too.
Before we get to that, here’s a confession: I’ve never played the original Psychonauts. I’ve purchased it and had it sitting on my Xbox Series X’s SSD for months, but have never gotten around to firing it up. And before you say it, I know: for shame.
I am a massive fan of Double Fine and Schafer’s work, however — The Secret of Monkey Island is a treasured childhood delight, and of late I’ve been hitting up classics like Grim Fandango and Brutal Legend thanks to Xbox Game Pass and its impressive collection of backwards compatible titles. In short, I’ve always meant to play Psychonauts, to the point where I’d bought it long before its inclusion in Xbox Game Pass. After speaking with Schafer and Scott about the franchise and its legacy, I was kicking myself for not doing it sooner.
Instead, I jumped into Psychonauts 2 first and thankfully didn’t find the experience jarring in any way. A lovingly crafted “Previously On…” sequence greets a new player, briefing them not only on the events of Psychonauts but the PlayStation VR mini-sequel Psychonauts and the Rhombus of Ruin too. It also warns players right at its beginning that it’ll deal with some confronting mental health issues and creepy dental things to boot, so consider yourself warned even moreso (and if you don’t like creepy dental things, you might not want to scroll down any further).
The events of the two previous games have take place literally hours (at most, days) before this; we rejoin our hero Razputin Aquato as he works with fellow Psychonauts as an actual member of the team. Its mission? To determine who hired the nefarious Dr Loboto to kidnap Truman Zanotto, the organisation’s head… and father of Raz’s potential girlfriend, Lili. Right from the get-go, you understand the tone that Double Fine has set, jumping headfirst into the mind of the troubled dental professional.
Psychonauts 2 is unquestionably hilarious and quirky, making me laugh — and loudly — often. Its world is a mish-mash of shapes, colours and patterns, but one that isn’t an affront to the senses. While those that have played previous iterations of the franchise will obviously get more from reunions that could be up to sixteen years in the making — depending on your ability to access VR, really — I didn’t feel like I was behind when introduced to the likes of Psychonauts team members Sasha, Milla or Coach.
Speaking with Stevivor, Double Fine head Tim Schafer said his studio understood that “it’s very important with a game like Psychonauts — with a very devoted following — to be very true to what fans of the first game expect, what they loved about the first game,” and I feel like lightning has once again been captured in the proverbial developmental bottle. Having played two hours of the original now, this sequel is undeniably Psychonauts, from Figment and Emotional Baggage collectibles to its look and feel. Of course, this is 2021 and not 2005, so advancements have also been made.
“The two things we wanted to make better [were] combat and camera,” Schafer told us, and once again, Double Fine has accomplished what it has set out to do.
To a point, perhaps.
I can’t fault the in-game camera at all; combat is much improved but requires, at times, a lot of coordination to lock-on to an enemy and then find the proper attack — a melee hit, TK throw or psi-blast as examples — to hit it with all the while dodging other enemies that are hunting you down. At times, I felt like I had to adopt a claw hold over my controller, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve needed to. Some platforming sections had to be handled in the same way, with coordination required to get maximum height on a double-jump, then ensuring to hit the glide button at the exact right moment and then aim at your target hoping for almost pixel-perfect consistency.
None of that is necessarily bad, mind you, but things sometimes felt a little old-school when I’m not sure they were meant to.
If that’s my biggest concern with Psychonauts 2, we’re laughing. It has an impressively immersive world, colourful setpieces and characters, and a whole lot of charm. If things prove too tricky for me, I can always do exactly what Double Fine says to do: make use of its accessibility options to better enjoy it. Beating the game is beating the game, after all.
Psychonauts 2 heads to Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PS4 and PS5 on 25 August 2021, part of the Xbox Game Pass program.
20 August 2021
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