It may have been 16 years since the first Psychonauts came out for us, but for Raz and his friends it’s only been a couple days. Psychonauts 2 picks up right where the 2005 original (and 2017 VR follow-up The Rhombus of Ruin) left off, and it does so in a way that feels fresh and modern while still maintaining everything that made its predecessor so special – from its strange but lovable characters to the fantastical mental worlds inside their heads. Sure, it’s brought a little bit of that clunky mid-2000s platforming along with it too, but even with a few rough edges Psychonauts 2 is pretty much everything I could have hoped for from this long-awaited sequel.
Those who understandably haven’t played a 16-year old platformer and its short VR-exclusive follow-up will have to get caught up through a charming animated recap at the start of this new adventure. It does an entertaining job of providing the important info needed to make Psychonauts 2 work well enough as a standalone story, one that explores both Raz’s family and the history of the Psychonauts as a whole far more than the specific events of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. That said, this sequel is also littered with important callbacks, exciting character reunions, fun Easter eggs, and a whole lot of juicy backstory that made it all hit harder for me as a long-time fan.
Picking up just the day after Rhombus of Ruin (itself set only a day after Psychonauts), your newly deputized 10-year-old hero Razputin Aquato arrives at the Motherlobe, the headquarters of the psychic spy organization known as the Psychonauts, to learn he hasn’t actually been made a full agent, just an intern. As such, he’s got some more training to do to truly earn his stripes, this time while running around the facilities of the Motherlobe and the wooded area surrounding it. Of course, as with the first game (and without any spoilers), things quickly escalate from there into an excellent story that’s simultaneously high-stakes and deeply personal.
Developer Double Fine has done a phenomenal job of expanding the Psychonauts universe while recapturing that signature “psychic James Bond goes to summer camp” vibe of the original. You may start off in a high-tech spy base, but it isn’t long before you’re allowed outside and given free reign to roam its lakeside exterior, hidden caves, and a nearby campground full of gorgeously stylized redwood trees. That outdoor openness means Psychonauts 2 still offers a heaping helping of Whispering Rock’s folksy feel alongside the fancier interior of the Motherlobe, but it never relies on references or nostalgia alone to impress either. And of course, all these locations are still dotted with collectibles to find, tricky side tasks to hunt down (including another item scavenger hunt), and amusing characters to talk to.
The original’s cast of quirky campers is replaced by three slightly smaller groups here: the adult agents of the Psychonauts, the charismatic teenage members of the intern program that eventually become Raz’s friends, and the entire Aquato family camping out in the nearby woods. Every single character in Psychonauts 2 is delightfully unique, incredibly well-written and voiced, and just an absolute joy to get to know. The facial animations can occasionally look awkward and stiff outside of the more tailored cutscenes, but it’s hard to overstate how fun it is to simply explore these platforming playgrounds and talk to people.
The Aquato family, in particular, is a true highlight of this sequel, giving Raz far more depth and shining a different light on the events of the first game. The fact that Raz abandoned them to join the Psychonauts isn’t really addressed much in the original, but here you get to learn how each of his relatives feel about what happened. That could be his loving mother Donatella, who is just glad he’s safe, his older brother Dion, still bitter that Raz left them (which is fair, given it’s only been a few days), or his older sister Frazie, herself struggling with a secret spurred by his departure. Meeting all these characters and completing small activities like setting up the family circus tent with them is a treat, and the same can be said for just about everyone else Raz meets.
Psychonauts 2 Screenshots
The real world is only half what you get to explore, however, and Psychonauts 2 manages to deliver both physically and mentally. While you aren’t diving into every brain you see (that would be rude), the real meat of the platforming and combat takes place inside the psychic worlds of many of the more troubled characters you meet. And much like the people who house them, those brains and the reflections of their owners’ psyche that they represent are wonderfully creative and consistently surprising across the board.
Levels tend to follow a bit of a formulaic structure, with most revolving around getting three of some MacGuffin before reaching a flashy boss fight with a similar three-hit pattern. That would hurt their novelty if it weren’t for the fact that their awesome art styles, top-notch music, and diverse gameplay mechanics are so different that each one is still a refreshing delight. One moment you might be playing life-size pachinko in a neon hospital casino, while the next you’re cooking anthropomorphic food in a timed gameshow, and after that you’re entering a library book and running across its words in 2D. There isn’t really a bad world among the roughly dozen or so you’ll explore, with a particular standout being a psychedelic music-themed stage where you’re accompanied by a hilarious ball of light voiced by Jack Black.
These worlds also distinguish themselves from the originals’ mental levels by tying more directly into the story across the board. I might remember Psychonauts’s Milk Man and Bonaparte board game stages fondly, but completing those ultimately meant little more than opening a door, story-wise. In contrast, every single one of Psychonauts 2’s levels are tied not just into the psyche of their host character, but to the plot as a whole. Early on, Raz is even forced to reckon with the responsibility of being able to enter someone’s mind and change their mental state, an important conversation that the first game never really had. Moments like this got me more invested in every stage, even the goofier among them.
Both the platforming and combat have also been expanded to be deeper than those of its predecessor, and all of Raz’s animations are brimming with personality. Moving, jumping, and attacking are generally responsive and satisfying, but they can also be a little clunky at times. That might mean classic 3D platforming issues, like not quite knowing if you’ll grab that bar you’re jumping for, or little fighting idiosyncrasies such as enemies not always always responding to attacks like you’d expect. None of these irritations are so bad that I ever stopped having fun, especially since checkpoints are largely forgiving when something does go unexpectedly wrong, but Psychonauts 2 definitely doesn’t have quite the same level of polish as a fellow 2021 action-platformer like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, either.
That all said, both the mental and real worlds are flush with creative jungle gyms to hop your way around. In classic Psychonauts fashion, they’re full of trapeze bars to swing from, trampolines to jump on, and rails to grind – and those are all fun to navigate whether you’re in the treetops of the real world or over the dream-like swamp of someone’s psyche. While most of the mental levels are fairly linear, Psychonauts 2 also loosens the reins occasionally too, presenting multiple paths or problems and letting you decide which order to tackle them (or potentially which to ignore, if you’re more interested in hunting for its plentiful secrets first).
Combat itself is a mix of mashy brawling and more nuanced strategy, depending on the enemies in front of you. This sequel does a great job of expanding the roster of enemies you’ll face, quickly growing past the original’s Censor baddies with flying Regrets that can be shot out the sky, goopy Doubts that will muck up your movement and need to be burned, lightning-fast Panic Attacks that have to be slowed down to be hit, and plenty more. Dodging and spamming attacks can still be effective at times, but I like that most mental adversaries have a specific ability designed to answer them, pushing me to be nimble on the battlefield and constantly swap my strategies depending on what I was fighting. It’s not trying to be Devil May Cry or anything, but that ever-increasing variety throughout the campaign certainly kept combat entertaining.
However, that need to change up your attacks frequently also makes one small shortcoming that tagged along from the original a little more obvious: only being able to equip four of your eventual eight psychic abilities at once, one of which is the all but essential Levitation that you’ll frequently use to sprint and hover-jump. It’s silly that Levitation isn’t always accessible, feeling less like swapping weapons in other games and more like if your basic punch took up an ability slot too. It’s not hard to pause time and change abilities on the fly, but that can get a little obnoxious in the later encounters that cleverly throw multiple enemy types at you at once.
The abilities are all good fun to use at least, with returning powers like Telekinesis being made into a more practical combat tool and impressive new options replacing the less interesting ones of the original. One of my favorite new additions was the Mental Connection ability that lets you hop between points in the air while platforming or pull enemies toward you in combat, as well as the Archetype power that creates an adorable paper version of Raz to assist him. (A cute Easter egg with the Archetype being its voice, provided by Rikki Simons to compliment Raz’s already top-notch performance from Richard Horvitz, a duo that played a similar pair as Gir and Zim, respectively, in the Nickelodeon cartoon show Invader Zim.)
Psychonauts 2 also deepens character progression in interesting but slightly uneven ways. Increasing Raz’s rank by grabbing certain collectibles will provide points you can use to improve his abilities permanently, while the Psitanium currency can be spent on equippable pins to modify them further. The rank upgrades offer a nice bit of simple but satisfying personalization to how you level Raz, giving you control of the order you unlock extras like a dodge attack for your punches or a charge shot for your PSI Blast. Meanwhile pins can grant either sillier or more unique effects, from altering the color of your Levitation ball to changing your PSI Blast from raw damage to a stun effect… assuming you can afford the ones you want.
Simply put, the economy here is a little bit out of whack. You get Psitanium slowly (and trust me, I was trying to collect it), and have to pay to upgrade how much of it you can hold, pay for pricey healing items, and constantly pay for PSI Cores to actually use the rank-increasing PSI cards you find. You can only equip three pins at a time, too, but I couldn’t afford the three pins I really wanted until pretty much the very end of the story anyway. It also feels odd that those three slots are shared between practical pins that can do things like up your damage and jokier options like making Raz dance while standing still. There are certainly cool customization choices scattered throughout this system, I just wish it were more generous so I could have taken advantage of that variety sooner.
Thankfully, the door is left wide open for the completionists who want to buy every single pin or find every last secret in a world covered in them. While completing most of the side activities and hunting down collectibles to a degree I would call “thorough but not obsessive,” it took me roughly 13 hours to reach the credits – and I still have more to find. Without spoilers, you’re given the freedom to finish up anything you might have missed after completing the main story, and some entertaining new conversations even open up with a few characters. That meant the first thing I wanted to do after beating Psychonauts 2 was keep playing.