Psychonauts is a series that has its origins rooted in the middle ground between the end of the original Xbox era, and the beginning of the 360 era. The game itself was good, but not for our modern standards. The game was slow, most things in the game needed this specific item or this specific power up to be unlocked. Nevertheless, the original Psychonauts was a good game, especially for what circumstances the company who made it, Double Fine, was faced with. They were given a great deal of funding from Microsoft to create it, but after 3 years of development, Microsoft cut all funding, requiring the brand-new company to find its funding from elsewhere. It found Majesco, who gave Double Fine the funding it needed at the last second. After all this, the game was finally released in 2005. However, the game had sold so poorly that it sent Majesco into bankruptcy. Double Fine was truly the Sinbad of video game developers.
And so, it’s fitting that the sequel for Psychonauts would face almost the exact same problems. Again, they had an overwhelming budget thanks in large part to another crowdfunding campaign that raised 3 million dollars. Again the game faced multiple delays. Again they almost completely ran out of money. And again, they only got the funding they needed at the last second. (Ironically enough, it was Microsoft, the company that had doomed them years ago, who picked up Double Fine and gave them the funding they needed at the last second.)
After all this, on August 25th, 2021, more than 16 years after the original release, Psychonauts 2 finally released on Xbox.
And for long-time Psychonauts fans, the wait was absolutely worth it.
Psychonauts 2 is one of, if not the best game of 2021, and for good reason. The game boots up and there is an immediate difference between the first game and the second game. The animation is on point. There is so much custom animation and story-telling that the game almost looks and feels like a top tier animated movie. The original Psychonauts looked just like how you’d expect video game cut scenes would look like.
But the sequel? People in the cut-scenes now look more lifelike and emotional, the movement is on point, and all the characters look lively, colorful, and more closely represent their personality than its predecessor.
The actual levels are also very interesting. The minds at Double Fine must have brains shaped like dodecahedrons. They’ll come up with one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard, like, “What if the world….. but bowling,” create the most gorgeous depiction of the bowling dimension imaginable, and make it feel real. In the games, you’re exploring the inner depths of people’s minds. Basically the environment, and by contrast the way you interact with it, is the story. So the game basically slaps you into the mind of the person, drops you right into the middle of the bowling universe and tells you to fix it. That’s the beauty of this game. You go out, you screw around, and you fix the bowling world. The levels are also very visually pleasing and tell the story well.
Now, the combat in Psychonauts 2 is revolutionary. If you’ve ever played a 3D platform fighter before, most of the time you’ll actually be fighting in those games, you’re usually only limited to one or two attacks that you mash to rack up damage, and Psychonauts 1 is no exception. In the sequel however, it takes combat to another level. There are 8 powers in total, not counting melee combat, and 7 of those plus melee can be used for combat. This leads to the player having multiple ways to fight an enemy. Want to stay away from long distances and chip away at their health? Use PSI Blast. Getting pestered with explosives? Use Telekinesis, pull out an UNO Reverse card and throw the bomb back at it. Want your enemies to be closer, more open to a melee attack? Use Mental Connection, which grapples your opponent towards you Mortal Kombat style and stuns them for a short time, leaving them open to attacks. Not every power is a winner, though. Clairvoyance, a power-up from the original Psychonauts that lets you see through the eyes of other people has been greatly improved in that it’s funnier now. But in combat, it is completely useless, outside of one specific enemy that is impossible to defeat without using Clairvoyance. As well as this problem, the way to select your powers to use is also a bit of an inconvenience. To select your power-ups, you open a wheel menu that contains all your weapons. Then, you bind a power of your choosing to the button that you want to activate that power. This is a somewhat boring approach, as this basically pauses the game to make you choose what power up you want. But the combat is still amazing in spite of these issues, and if it were perfected, it would be a revolutionary mechanic and something for other 3D platformers to take notes on.
Overall, this game is my personal favorite from 2021. Psychonauts 2 is an amazing experience with amazing looks, story, music, combat, comedy, environment, and handles some really brutal topics very well. It’s not a perfect game, but the fact that it is pretty close is enough said for anyone looking for their next story game. My final score for this game is 9.3 out of 10.