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Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2

Tim Schafer and co have done the impossible and have delivered a superior follow-up.

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The video game industry really can be a cruel beast sometimes. Despite being one of the most original and creative platformers of its generation, Psychonauts sadly fell into obscurity and it struggled to generate much buzz upon release. Many fans tearfully accepted that a resolution to its cliffhanger ending would likely never arrive, but fortunately, the seemingly impossible ended up happening. Due to platformers surging in popularity and audiences coming to appreciate the game in hindsight, a sequel was eventually greenlit and revealed in 2015. Six long years have passed since then and Psychonauts 2 has made an arrival.

The story this time follows directly after the VR spin-off Rhombus of Ruin, with events taking place just one week after Raz foiled Coach Oleander's evil plans at the end of the original.
Here our protagonist and the rest of his fellow psychic agents are on a mission to delve deep into the twisted mind of Dr. Loboto to try and find out just who put him up to the task of capturing Psychonauts head Truman Zanotto. Whilst exploring, the group make two harrowing discoveries. Firstly, it appears that there is a traitor lurking within the organisation, as Loboto's mind has been rigged with boobytraps, and it's also brought to light that the evil dentist's recruiter plans to bring a psychic villain known as Maligula back from the grave.

Right off the bat, praise needs to be given here to both the game's script and cast of characters. The writing here feels comparable in quality and approach to Ratchet & Clank, as it often dabbles in the absurd and features many subtle adult jokes. The script is genuinely funny, and the cast knocks out of the park with their performances even 16 long years after the release of the original game. I will say that I was hoping to see a bit more of characters like Sacha and Coach Oleander, who had much more of a prominent role within the original, but the new additions to the cast here are still equally as excellent.

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The recurring mental worlds here are just dripping with creativity and they expertly work to capture each character's inner struggles. I was impressed by how diverse each different world felt and how many gameplay styles Double Fine was able to cram in. In one stage I was scrambling to prepare dishes for a trio of puppets judges, in another I was rolling on a giant bowling ball inside a world occupied by human-like germs, and another had me complete mini-games such as a race along a heartbeat monitor within a casino. The variety here is plentiful, and I was always excited to see where the game would take me next.

The original Psychonauts is still one of the best platformers I have ever played, but one of its greatest shortcomings was its shallow combat system. The combat has been greatly improved upon here as your psychic powers now have more of an active role and there is a greater variety of foes that you'll encounter. Rather than just punching enemies until they fall to the ground you can now PSI Blast them from a distance, throw objects at them using Telekinesis and use Time Bubble to temporarily slow down their movements. Some enemies even have weaknesses to certain powers, which pushes you to be strategic with your use.

Psychonauts 2Psychonauts 2

The selection of powers you have access to are largely the same, but unlike the original, the bulk of these are unlocked from the get-go and they all have their own skill trees. As you improve your Agent Rank by collecting PSI Cards and Figments of Imagination, you'll earn points that can be spent on improving your different powers. Each power has four upgrades and these can make them more potent and give them secondary effects. When I upgraded my Pyrokinesis ability, for example, I was able to improve its damage and field of attack.

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The cast of enemies that you'll face this time is much more diverse and they are tied to the characters own mental struggles in really clever ways. In one mind I occupied, the character was suffering from mood swings and I had to use Clairvoyance to see their bad moods from their perspective and literally destroy the root of the problem. Another example of this was that I had to fend off one character's pain attacks that would trigger at any random point. The enemy acted just like a physical manifestation of panic attack, as it attacks really quickly and unpredictably and it attempts to overwhelm the player by splitting into several copies of itself.

Whilst it's undoubtedly a more polished product then the original (I'm still having PTSD flashbacks from the Meat Circus world), there are still a few shortcomings here. Having to keep pausing and allocating the powers you want to use to the shoulder buttons is tedious and it really breaks up the flow of the action. I get that the list of powers is plentiful, but there must have been a more streamlined way to flip between abilities rather than having to keep pulling up a menu. The core platforming can also feel a little clunky here at times. When swinging on rails, I'd always find myself changing direction rather than spinning to build momentum and I even found basic actions like wall jumping to feel unreliable.

Not only is Psychonauts 2 a superior sequel, but it is one of the best platformers that I have ever had the pleasure to play for review. It's many mental worlds are just brimming with creativity with regards to their designs and depictions of mental health struggles with no two feeling identical. The combat has also been vastly improved from the original with your psychic powers playing more of an active role and there being a more varied cast of enemies to fight. That said, it falls just short of perfection as switching between powers does still feel a little clunky and some core elements of platforming feel rough around the edges.

Psychonauts 2Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2
09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
The mental worlds are filled with creativity, combat has been vastly improved, its writing and depiction of mental health struggles is really clever.
-
Switching between powers is clunky, some platforming elements need refining.
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Psychonauts 2

REVIEW. Written by Kieran Harris

Tim Schafer and co have done the impossible and have delivered a superior follow-up.



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