It’s been more than sixteen years (!) since Double Fine’s Psychonauts first arrived on Xbox. Back then it was a bit of a cult hit which rated well but unfortunately didn’t get into many players hands. It wasn’t until recently that I gave the game a fair run through Xbox backward compatibility and it’s been a genuine surprise that holds up far better than many games from that generation.
While coming into Psychonauts 2 with experience from the first game does help a little it’s not really necessary thanks to a brief recap that fills you in on the details. Considering the years between games it’s a fair compromise. Once again you take on the role of Raz, a young psychic who is now a “member” of the Psychonauts – an organisation whose specialty is to go inside people’s heads to learn truths and set things straight. Only it turns out Raz isn’t actually a member yet, but now that he’s residing at their HQ the Motherlobe (!) he’s got another chance to prove himself again. The Motherlobe acts as the game’s hub and is where the game most closely hews to its predecessor’s campgrounds with areas opening us as you progress plus shop for Raz to buy upgrades. Though not necessary for completion a number of sidequests encourage you to explore it further and there is a lot to see.
Being a 3D platformer involving a character with an acrobatic background you really have to nail the character’s agility in a way that makes it feel natural for the player and Raz handles really well. It’s nice having a game where the character can tightrope walk and it doesn’t involve a minigame to keep their balance. Sometimes it can be hard to judge what mix of abilities you need to cross some of the tricker obstacles – for example your levitation ability let’s you float far but can quit on you at the worst times. Truth is though nothing slowed me down much on the default difficulty and I like the feeling of progress the game provides with a steady stream of achievements too.
With so much time between games it’s impressive to see how much feels the same. The production values are just fantastic and I love how the original art style has carried across seamlessly – the characters look just like their original versions (see comparison at the top) but with an extra level of fidelity that makes them seem almost Muppet like at times. The amount of time that passed could have given the team plenty of incentive to reboot the look and feel but it all works. And that doesn’t even touch on the levels which are themed around the characters which Raz is traveling into the minds of. I can only describe these as astounding with some of the most imaginative, colourful and beautiful environments I’ve seen. One that includes a certain recurring star in Double Fine games is eyeball bursting to say the least. If there are awards for “best level” in a game there’s a few here that’d be contenders. On the audio side all the voice actors are back and there are a huge number of recognisable names in there who are making cameos. The previously mentioned eyeball bursting level closes off with a musical number that pays off nicely.
This last half of the year for Xbox might turn out to be one of the best in a long time thanks to a sheer number of new games that I am enjoying the hell out of. I knew the original Psychonauts was really good, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot, but this is really next level stuff from Double Fine that has sucked me in and has made me realise picking a favourite game this year is no longer as clear cut as before. If joining Microsoft helped them polish the game to be this good I can’t wait to see what else is coming. 🙂
Psychonauts 2 is out now on PC, Xbox and PlayStation. played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.