Psychonauts was a real gem on the Xbox, the type of game that we arguably needed more of. Infact, I was so excited for Psychonauts 2 that I played the original from start to finish before jumping into it. 3D platformers such as this and Beyond Good and Evil (namechecked here as the sequel seems to have sank without a trace – please fix this Ubisoft!) absolutely shone from a genre which was huge in the mid noughties. For me, it was titles like Psychonauts which showcased everything I love about video games.
Fast forward a mere sixteen years and we can finally get our hands on Raz’s second adventure, which as promised has come straight to Game Pass. As Psychonauts 2 follows on pretty much directly from its predecessor, it pays to have the events of the first game clear in your mind. Rather handily then, you’ll immediately be treated to a recap of the story so far, which you can access again at any time from the main menu.
It’s a good job too, because right off the bat lots of characters return as you’re thrown straight into the action. The first sequence acts as a tutorial, reintroducing you to familiar moves and PSI powers as you pursue the ever villainous Dr. Loboto. Raz and the gang have managed to save the head of the Psychonauts, but are now trying to discover who organised his kidnapping.
The platforming gameplay feels tighter and much easier to control this time around. Successfully landing jumps and traversing high areas feels much more within your gift, you’ll only occasionally miss your target tightrope or platform. The wall jump is one of Raz’s new tricks that allows him to reach higher areas in certain parts of the game.
You’ll have a few hub areas to explore, such as “The Motherlobe” (which is Psychonauts HQ) as well as individual levels set within the warped minds of the game’s impressive cast of characters.
At certain points Psychonauts 2 will surprise you by temporarily changing the gameplay by throwing you into a mini-game of sorts. These include crossing the pages of a book, bouncing around in a pinball machine and competing in a timed cooking challenge to name but a few. It’s brilliantly mad and you can never quite be sure what to expect from one level to the next.
The other major element of the gameplay is, of course, the PSI Powers. What I really like is that you retain most of the abilities you learned from the first game which has a nice sense of continuity about it, instead of needing to unlock them all over again. To be exact, you keep five from before, with three slots left for brand new powers.
Telekinesis is much improved this time around thanks to the updated control setup with auto lock-on proving to be an absolute godsend. Also, your Clairvoyance ability seemed like a novelty in the first game, with you hardly needing to use it. This time around it’s integral for finding out key info and battling certain enemies which is very welcome.
The three new PSI powers in Psychonauts 2 are “Mental Connection”, “Time Bubble” and “Projection”. The first works in a similar way to a grapple and allows you to link up different thoughts which are represented as world clouds, as well as giving access to areas otherwise out of reach. The second grants you the ability to slow down time and pass dangerous obstacles, as well as make enemies easier to dispatch. The final ability unlocks a smaller version of Raz who can reach very specific places due to his flat 2D physique. You can draw him into life at any point, and command him to access otherwise blocked off areas and perform certain tasks. Little Raz is incredibly adorable; always chipper with an infectious sense of wonder.
This time around, Raz can spend his stars earned by levelling up on upgrading his PSI powers. This will have a variety of effects such as making them more powerful, last longer or even modifying them in order to give you access to secret areas.
As ever, collecting figments and special items will support you in levelling Raz up more quickly. Psychonauts 2 is full of collectibles which are lots of fun to hunt down. You’re equipped with a comprehensive intern guide which helps you keep track of everything you have collected, including figments, PSI cards, emotional baggage and much more. For the player who loves to collect ‘em all this is the perfect adventure companion. Your guide also holds key information such as maps, the PSI power upgrade tree and details of your primary and optional mission objectives.
Once you are equipped with your full complement of PSI powers, you will be able to backtrack and scoop up the last remaining collectibles from each area. So if you come across something early on that you either can’t reach or access, then make a note as you will most likely have to return equipped with the right ability.
The “Otto-Matic” machine replaces Ford’s shop from the first game, but boasts a lot more for sale. As well as the usual PSI cores and pops the major new addition here are pins. These provide certain buffs when equipped, which can affect specific PSI powers or benefit Raz in a more general sense (such as providing discounts for the Otto-Matic).
Psychonauts tech whizz Otto will also donate a couple of gadgets to Raz to help him along on his adventure. The first is a camera which unlocks a photo mode; this is simple but fun to play around with mainly because the game shows off a multitude of different styles. The second is the Thought Tuner which works in a similar way to the Dowsing Rod from the first game. When equipped a light will blink on Raz’s headband, which directly corresponds with the Xbox controller’s rumble feature. Both will pulse faster as you get closer to the signal source, until you eventually reveal its hidden secrets.
In terms of combat, Psychonauts 2 keeps it pretty simple. Raz can still give his enemies a good duffing up, and dodge attacks swiftly when locked on. However, new enemies such as the Judge, Regret and Bad Mood amongst others force Raz to mix things up, making use of his varying PSI powers to defeat them, preventing things from becoming repetitive for the most part. For example, the Bad Mood enemy will require you to use your clairvoyance ability at the right time to find the source of its unhappiness and turn its frown upside down, so to speak. All in all this varies up the combat depending on what enemies spawn, and there are still a handful of bigger bosses that will require you to figure out which power(s) you need to use to take them down. The final boss is disappointingly straightforward and lacks the creativity of the others, but it’s still an entertaining encounter which feels like a suitably epic conclusion to Raz’s adventure, even if the build up is the more enjoyable part.
Psychonauts 2 looks absolutely fantastic. It’s vibrant, diverse colour palette and variety of settings is utterly absorbing. Current gen technology allows the ambitions set out many years ago to finally be realised. Passing through portals and seamlessly stepping from world to world is a magical experience, and some parts of Raz’s adventure get incredibly trippy, including one fairground ride that is nothing short of mesmerising towards the end.
The game also boasts a brilliant soundtrack, with some themes returning from the first outing along with a handful of new tunes complete with lyrics that are incredibly catchy and compliment the madcap humour of the game perfectly. Once again Psychonauts 2 has a simply brilliant cast of voice actors which do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. They also help to tell a genuinely brilliant story that builds to several false final acts, before it twists away in an unexpected direction.
Aside from everything else, Psychonauts 2 handles the subject of mental health sensitivity whilst managing to entertain at the same time. Thoughts and feelings are well personified, and the connections between characters feel so well crafted and genuine that it’s impossible not to care for them. As a result, you’ll want to chat to everyone you can as interacting with the wacky range of inhabitants is such a pleasure.
I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise, but I absolutely love Psychonauts 2. This adventure expands on pretty much every facet of the original. It’s an utterly charming tale which explores so much more about the Psychonauts, Raz’s family and the world itself. Psychonauts 2 is an absolute must for fans and a brilliant game in its own right. If you haven’t played the first then I suggest you do. It’s also available on Game Pass now.
Psychonauts 2 is an absolute hoot from start to finish. It showcases a lot of what makes video games great, combining skillful and emotive storytelling with inventive gameplay that above all else, is loads of fun. Put simply, it’s the best game I have played this year.
Visit the Xbox Store and go deep into the mind of Psychonauts 2