Reviews

Psychonauts 2 Review: A well-timed boost to mental health

Yes, please.

As I sit down to write this, COVID-19 cases are hitting record highs within Australia. I leave my house to buy groceries, alcohol and go on the occasional run; I’m exercising less lately because I get too frustrated when I see people outside doing the wrong thing. I’m too scared to actually check, but I have a very strong suspicion that my alcohol spending is trending along the same lines as our daily COVID case count.

With that in mind, I’ve never been more thankful for a title like Psychonauts 2.

A direct sequel to Psychonauts and Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, this new adventure takes place literal minutes after the latter, and a whopping 16 years after the real-world release of the original. I’ve never finished said masterpiece, though I’ve certainly tried — the Xbox version is avaialble on Xbox Game Pass right this second, but I couldn’t cope with its camera and control scheme.

What must have felt like an eternity of waiting for this new title to fans is truly a advantage in this respect; controls and camera work are exceedingly better, though some old-school mentalities occasionally creep in. Sometimes that’s good — there are a couple collectibles that require almost pixel-perfect timing to chain together a double jump and float — and others less so, like a boat that requires a docking point to let Raz get out and explore.

Developer Double Fine intended to weave a mixture of narrative, exploration and combat, though the latter falls well behind. Though I concede that my failures at attacking could very well be from swapping between it and Hades, I found Psychonauts 2‘s systems overly complex and a tad frustrating. Largely, you’ll fight groups of varying enemies, with each having their own weaknesses.

With a bevy of powers of Raz’s disposal, you’ll frequently need to jump into a menu to map out access to powers that will benefit you in that specific instance. This causes problems in that you’ll sometimes be required to swap out powers on the fly; while muscle memory believes pyrokinesis to be on RB, you may have thrown it on LB accidentally. With an additional lock-on system, the full combat experience means you’ll have to have a sharp mind and extremely nimble fingers. I ultimately eased the burden of combat by turning on Invincible mode.

Honestly, accessibility modes like that are a godsend; not only did they assist in fights, they helped with exploration. Raz is allegric to water, with three touches wiping away his health. With invincibility mode on, water became a minor convienience when trying to platform and hit new heights. Figuring this out took Psychonauts 2 from mostly fun and a little frustrating to fully fun. Relaxing, even.

Clocking in at around the 15-20 hour mark to complete, Psychonauts 2 occasionally wears out its welcome with a couple sections that feel padded out or with a narrative that’s overly explained. It balances this out with an addictive endgame where players will easily burn through another 10 or so hour mopping up collectibles and side-missions.

The endgame state is absolutely delicious, with level design that not only makes each area feel incredibly unique, but with so many different Metroidvania-style nooks and crannies to explore. Doing so rewards the player with experience to unlock and obtain new abilities, and that in turn fuels future exploration. It’s a morish cycle that will have you losing track of time very, very easily. While one Achievement tasks you to reach level 100 — one that seems ridiculously high when you start off — you’ll find you’ll hit that without extraneous effort.

As I said in my preview a month or so agoPsychonauts 2 is uplifting and very old-school, a colourful barrage of colours and mish-mashed designs that — most importantly — doesn’t take itself seriously. At the same time, it very much does; it’s hard not to when dealing with the inner workings of the mind. Enemies like censors, enablers, judgements, bad moods and doubts challenge our hero Raz, and he meets them all with a clear mind, compassion, empathy and an optimistic view of the world.

Despite a lockdown hanging over my head, I couldn’t help but giggle at its stupid jokes and wackiness. Nor could I help but apply a lesson or two along the way. Maybe some future DLC will tackle drinking out of boredom or bad news.

Psychonauts 2 heads to Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PS4 and PS5 on 25 August 2021. It’s part of the Xbox Game Pass program, meaning it’s a free download to subscribers on Xbox or PC.

9 out of 10

The good

  • Charming, engaging and just the right thing for those of us in lockdown.
  • Brilliant characters and sense of humour.
  • A great mix of old-school with modern sensibilities.
  • A great endgame.

The bad

  • Combat is a bit off (though can be remedied with accessibility options).
  • The narrative is a little overdone and repetitive near its end.

Psychonauts 2 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox Series X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.

Psychonauts 2

25 August 2021
PC PS4 Xbox One Xbox Series S & X
 

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.