I think this is probably the furthest I've stretched the definition of "Indie"—Psychonauts 2 is a moderately-budgeted game helped into being by Xbox Game Studios, a decidedly un-Indie publisher—but darn it I've been looking for an excuse to play some more Psychonauts ever since I activated this Game Pass trial. Following from the 2005 PS2 platformer, and also the 2017 VR half-sequel I'm not sure anyone played, Psychonauts 2 picks up the story almost immediately afterwards. Having helped save the day twice, former circus acrobat Razputin "Raz" Aquato is finally brought to Psychonauts headquarters, The Motherlobe, to be officially enrolled in... the intern program. Well, he is still ten years old. Naturally, he won't be spending the whole time fetching coffee; there's whispers of the return of the most powerful evil psychic who ever lived, Maligula, that required all of the Psychic Six—the founders of the Psychonauts—to bring down some twenty years ago. It just so happens that this psychic tyrant hailed from the same vaguely Eastern European-sounding country as Raz and his performer family and their water-related curse, so Raz might have a past history with this Maligula that not even he is aware of.
Psychonauts 2 is very adamant about being more of the same given the sort of fan fervor to bring it back, though without necessarily resting on its laurels. Quickly reintroducing the four psychic powers Raz picks up in the original game—the versatile Telekinesis, the combat-ready Psi Blast, the traversal-enabling Levitation, and the short-range but deadly Pyrokinesis—the game soon adds another four, awkwardly creating a radial powers wheel that you must constantly revisit to edit your four active powers to match the enemy types or obstacles you're facing. And I mean you do this a lot: since you always need Levitation and Telekinesis, you tend to juggle the other two slots between powers new and old as required. Most of the game's flow remains intact: you're free to explore the Motherlobe and, eventually, the surrounding outdoor areas as a sort of open-world hub between missions, while the "levels"—each of which take place inside someone's mind and tend to be where most of the game's creativity is focused—are more linear affairs that still tend to have a lot of collectibles to find. The game hasn't become any less collectible-heavy, much to my own gratitude and everyone else's no doubt mild annoyance, with the two-step process of unlocking Emotional Baggage, the lore-imparting Mind Vaults, the health-boosting Half-a-Minds, and the ubiquitous Figments. New to Psychonauts 2 is your own intern rank, which increases after enough collectibles are found or story progress is made and confers building points to upgrade your powers as well as open up new inventory at the vendor including healing consumables (recommended, as the difficulty is moderately high owing to its status as a sequel) and pins that confer passive benefits.
Due to the narrative's free-flowing chaotic energy it's never quite clear where the story might be heading next, or which head might be the next to visit. While I've yet to encounter a mental world as cool as that black velvet painting one from the first game, there's still the series trademark of some visually bizarre and striking level design that tends to break up its platforming and combat with the occasional environmental puzzle distinct to its setting. The last world I visited involved having to prepare (sapient) ingredients for a cheap-looking cookery show, with each round carrying an optional time limit that (if met) lead to some goodies: it was a relatively short and honestly annoying level that relied on repetition a little too much, but I'll give it credit for being distinctive and offering a challenge beyond the standard gameplay loops found elsewhere. Speaking of which, I've always given the original Psychonauts a pass for its slightly inaccurate platforming and some frustrating combat that seems a little too liberal with enemy hitbox ranges, so it's a little disappointing that those problems still persist some sixteen years later (which is a wild amount of time between franchise installments, and one the game hangs a lampshade on).
On the whole, though, the mix of powers to exploit various enemy weaknesses does make the combat a little more varied even if it tends to invoke that issue of having to keep swapping your powers around, and platforming-related deaths are rare due to how little health they strip from you. One extremely irksome inclusion, and one that belies how antiquated the game design philosophy behind the game can be, is how dying for real causes you to lose all the collectibles you picked up in that level so far: it's why I'd recommend grabbing a few of those healing consumables, simply to avoid having to collect all those figments and other whoosits a second time. I'd have to check, but it might be the first 3D platformer made this century to penalize the player in such an archaic fashion.
Gameplay irritations aside, Psychonauts 2 is every bit the worthy sequel fans of the original should want. It's simply more of everything, including Double Fine's keen ear for comedic writing honed from Schafer's background with the LucasFilm adventure games, and looks gorgeous to boot. Its cast can be abrasive in a manner that doesn't always engender affection—your fellow kids are all antagonistic brats, while most of the adults are indifferent and condescending—but suits the sort of universe of superpowered jerks that Psychonauts thrives in, with the idealistic and naïve Raz often caught up in someone's scheme or as the butt of a practical joke. The Motherlobe is a frequent joy to explore, especially once you get outside and find little platforming challenges everywhere you turn, and the way everything contributes to the new rank system means that collectibles don't just exist for collecting's sake. While it could always be better—and hopefully more will be on their way at some point in the future—I'm just glad we're still getting these big-budget 3D platformers from all corners and especially from franchises I've enjoyed in the past. This genre might only exist now in some weird throwback sense, but as long as they keep coming I won't complain. (Complain about other stuff though, for sure. What kind of game made in the 2020s wipes collectible progress? Really?)
: 4 out of 5. (So far.)
|< Back to 300: Superliminal||001-100||101-200||201-300||> Forward to 302: Opus: Echo of Starsong|