I am not a fan of platform-based titles and hence, Psychonauts 2 is something I won’t be spending hours and hours in. But if you love the genre, Psychonauts 2 is a visceral experience that not only tickles your grey cells but leaves you with some simple yet clever tips on psychic health. Available on PC, Xbox, and Playstation, this is a game you need to try at least once. Also Read - India gets the Xbox Series X Halo Infinite Limited Edition console: Will it be available this time?
At a price of Rs 1,299, Psychonauts 2 is reasonably priced and on the face of it, provides an exciting platform-based experience and clever puzzle-solving. With retro-style graphics and an easy-to-grasp control scheme, it is possible that you may end up spending hours trying to ace the levels, whether you are in here for nostalgia or a young player looking for something lively. Also Read - Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (Xbox Series X|S) review: Sit back, relax and enjoy
Before we deep dive into the review, please note that I had early access to the game on the Xbox Series X. If you are playing on a PC, PS5, PS4 and other Xbox models, your experiences could vary. Also Read - Xbox Series X restock in India possible by early August, no news on Series S
Psychonauts 2 is essentially a sequel to the original 2005 classic of the same name (minus the number), and will ring bells if you tried 2017’s Rhombus of Ruins. While it is suggested you try the original Psychonauts once to familiarize yourself with the setup, newcomers (such as myself) can go through the short video introduction to get an idea of the previous plot.
Then begins the long adventure of jump, run, fight, and solve puzzles. Right from the beginning, Psychonauts 2 throws you into an exciting mission in the Psychonauts headquarters, wherein you play as young Raz trying to figure the maze within a villainous dentist’s mind. You eventually get introduced to all the characters, the upgrades system, and more while progressing through the plot (not going to spoil it for you).
There’s a fun story waiting for you to be a part of, and the writers surely deserve applause for infusing cute humour as well as the satisfactory ending to each level. The story basically makes you identify the inner demons and figure out easy ways to control them, or get rid of them. I find this kind of a plot tricky to implement in a video game but hats off the to developers for getting the screenplay right, especially with the screenplay in the cutscenes. And adding to that are the voice actors, who have done a phenomenal job of giving each character a distinct identity.
What immediately catches your fancy is the variety of the worlds. Given that these stages are all based on a character’s mind, the designers have done a marvellous job of representing the mental setup, wherein basic psychological issues like depressions, doubts, bad idea, and more appear as villains. As Raz, you have to use your psychic powers to fight them and solve the puzzle. And boy do these powers look cool! You get to do Telekinesis, Psi-Blast, and Pyrokinesis to go around the world and beat the crap out of enemies.
While I was amazed by the art direction as a critic, some of these “mind” designs could be troublesome to digest, especially if you are playing it on a large TV. I personally found the dental-and-gum level disgusting to sit through, despite the designers trying their best for a cutesy appeal. Hence, parental discretion is advised for young players.
But once you get used to weird setups, going through the mazes and solving the puzzles starts becoming engaging. You may end up playing “match-the-following” with targets themed after mental issues, or teleporting to different waypoints in order to unlock the next levels. While most of the puzzles are easy, some of them may make you sit an extra hour and figure it out.
Then there’s the character control. Similar to the original Psychonauts, you can make Raz run, jump, fight and use the psychic powers. In the midst of weirdly designed minds, making Raz jump through obstacles and fight boss villains at the same time could be quite a task, especially if you are playing on a controller. I found some classic movement issues that were given in the platformers from the previous decade.
Whatever it is that you are doing in Psychonauts 2, you are always left with a message that informs you about some aspect of mental health issues, and how to solve them. I personally like this idea of using a fun platformer to impart knowledge about mental health but it often crosses the fine line between smart and preachy. If you are a young player or want something fun yet educational for your child, this plot is fine. Adult gamers may start finding it unbearable after a while.
Joining this shortlist of unbearable bits is the character upgrade system, which often takes away from the core experience of the game. Since the game is intended for young players, it could have been better if you did not have to figure out what pins to collect or what psychic power to assign to the limited quick access buttons.
Double Fine Productions chose to carry over the adorable Disney Pixar style “cartoonish” theme from the original, and it sort of furthers the game’s cutesy appeal. To make the most out of modern-day gaming systems, the cartoonish theme accompanies better textures, swanky lighting effects, and decent levels of special effects. I particularly like the “sketch-themed” collectables floating around the levels.
While Psychonauts 2 looks unique, it still falls behind fellow platformers like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart in terms of graphics fidelity. The game does not take advantage of the latest tricks like ray tracing, volumetric lighting, HDR effects, and more. The colour palette itself is absurd; it makes you look at the clock too often. I get the idea of the simple cartoon-themed graphics but in a world of fancy-looking games, Psychonauts 2 looks dull and at least a few years old.
With a reasonable set of system requirements, Psychonauts 2 can look after itself well even on entry-level gaming laptops as well as the consoles from the last-gen. I tried the game on the Xbox Series X and throughout my sessions, it never faltered while doing 4K at 60 fps. On the standard Xbox wireless controller, it wasn’t long before I get used to the controls for the typical “wham-bam-slam” nature of the game. With a keyboard and mouse setup, I doubt the process would be any more difficult.
Psychonauts 2 is undoubtedly a highly enjoyable experience with its unique style of storytelling involving mental health issues. The core concept of the game is a great change from the usual platform titles and, if you are in the mood to learn about psychological issues, you should go ahead and give it a try. If not for that, the visually appealing recreation of the levels and the ability to explore them as the cute Raz should make you play it once.
That said, the game tries too hard to involve you and it ends up being preachy most of the time. This contradicts the core idea of having fun jumping around mazes and solving puzzles. This would be fine as long as you are planning to get this for your kid, and spend some family time joining them in the quests. For a fun time pass, you may want to look elsewhere (probably Ratchet and Clank, or even Super Mario).
On the whole, Psychonauts 2 is a fun one-time play, and its preachy nature coupled with childish humour and a fun storytelling makes it great for children, as well as having a fun family time together on a console.