Psychonauts 2 – Series X

Remember the phat Xbox? The console that weights as much as a breeze-block and is mostly remembered for LAN games of Halo. Microsoft made a bit of a fuss a while back releasing the original Xbox Psychonauts on Game Pass. However it’s probably for the best that most people forgot about Psychonauts going into the sequel. It was a unique 3D adventure/platformer that had a cult following and was good at best and frustrating as hell at worst. It was released on PC, Linux, Mac, PS2 and Xbox so it wasn’t ever really an Xbox exclusive. Even Psychonauts 2 started out in 2015 as a Kickstarter on Fig and is being released on PS4, Mac, Linux, PC and all flavours of Xbox. With all this history behind it does Psychonauts 2 shine as a standout experience or was it best left in obscurity?

Psychonauts 2 really does start in the best way for a sequel like this. Everything from Psychonauts and the Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin (the VR only game) is quickly explained through a short enjoyable cutscene. Immediately after you’re caught up with the basics you dive into a level that twists and turns quickly to get you up to speed with all the powers and controls. The story told through Psychonauts 2 is simply staggering. It is a game that feels a lot like a 3D Mario experience while telling a complex story about very difficult emotions and themes. There’s a strong focus of doing your best within your limits and healing throughout and it covers a lot of psychological issues that you just don’t expect to see in an platforming adventure game like this.

I realise the Psychonauts 2 visual style is not for everyone. I know there’s a little too much Boxtrolls about it for me to really become a massive fan but there is no denying how it’s an absolutely stunning game. Every world of levels has a different rendering filter and it’s not just slapped on the level with no thought; the colour schemes, enemies and objects are all tailored to fit the mood and aesthetic for that moment. Psychonauts 2 on the Series X is packed with reflections, ripples, clever lighting and everything a system that can run RTX can manage, it just oozes polish throughout. There were numerous moments where I’d simply stop and soak in how good it looks regardless of the ridiculousness going on.

Everything visually strikes you constantly in Psychonauts 2 so it was quite surprising how little the soundtrack made an impact. There are some really clever uses of sounds and music for important moments but there isn’t any real need to re-listen to it once the credits roll (although the credits song is fantastic) It’s the same with the voice acting where lines are delivered perfectly to match the witty and cleverly written scripts but Raz still has a little of Spider-Man about him where he won’t shut up about the sounds of emotional baggage nearby.

Psychonauts 2 has one huge problem and it’s a strange one for a 3D platformer this enjoyable to have, it’s just too long. There are some stages where you’ll dive in only to find it’s not a singular area but another hub for a “collect 3 key items” quest and after a few hours it does feel like they could have been trimmed. It’s frustrating as every stage is simply incredible, there are some stellar award defining moments to be had and they just feel a little watered down by the journey to get there. It’s a strange thing to be complaining about given the quality of the levels that are there but it’s the equivalent of a decadent chocolate pudding and having just a little too much to eat.

There are so many nice touches to Psychonauts 2 and it feels a lot like a game that has gone through multiple quality of life improvements. You’ve tight controls throughout for platforming and switching between various abilities is snappy and fast. You can equip badges to improve specific skills and cosmetically change effects but all of these are simply the tools that you’ll use to experience the great story being told. Going back after the credits to collect more figments and hunting down more info in previous stages all felt great to do. This is considerably more accessible, interesting and fun than Mario Odyssey.

Psychonauts 2 is the first game I’ve ever played where I wish it had a subtitle instead of a sequel number. A lot of people are going to be instinctively put off playing Psychonauts 2 until they play Psychonauts and it’s the equivalent of not eating incredibly baked artisanal bread until you’ve tried the flour. Psychonauts 2 is just a shocking delight from start to finish with so many twists, nice touches and moments that pull you in. It’s one of the few 3D platformer adventure games that makes you want to play it all the way through to the brilliantly fantastical conclusion and not only does it pay off but it has you going back for more.

9/10 – A mind blowing romp through the psyche

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