Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Psychonauts 2 (XBS, XB1, PS4, PC) Review

Let's wrap up the month here with one final review. It's for the long-awaited sequel to one of developer Double Fine's most beloved games, Psychonauts. Considering how many of Double Fine's games are beloved, that's quite the title to achieve! It's Psychonauts 2, and SPC has its review live on the site for you tonight!

One fine--ahem, double fine--platformer

It's been a 16 year journey, but finally, FINALLY fans of the original Psychonauts have the next full-length chapter in Razputin's psychic saga. For those like myself who never got to partake in the original game, Psychonauts 2 is just as inviting to new players as it is to veterans of Double Fine and Tim Schafer's 3D platformer magnum opus. Of course, those who have played the first Psychonauts will discover a deeper appreciation for the characters and world than those who have not.

Either way, with Psychonauts 2 and with Xbox bankrolling part of the development of the game, Double Fine's latest title is not only one of the developer's better games in its multi-decade history, but it's also one of the finest games released this year.

Psychonauts 2 picks up where the original Psychonauts and the VR-only follow-up Rhombus of Ruin left off story-wise. Fortunately, if you haven't played either of these games, the opening cutscene is essentially a colorful and comical summary of the events from those two titles. It serves as a wonderful primer that eases newcomers into the Psychonauts world. 

The Psychonauts enter the mind of Dr. Loboto in order to discover the true identity of the person or persons who tasked Loboto with kidnapping Truman Zanotto, the Grand Head of the Psychonauts. Probing around and investigating inside Loboto's mind reveals a shadowy figure, whom one of the Psychonauts agents notes is the terrifying Maligula. A group called the Deluginists wants to revive her. Not just that, but in Loboto's mind, Raz discovers that there is a double agent within the Psychonauts. It's up to the Psychonauts to prevent Maligula's revival as well as find out who the double agent is before it's too late.

As one might expect from a Double Fine-developed game, Psychonauts 2's story is full of whimsical, eccentric characters that are a delight to interact with. The dialogue is full of punchy humor and witty writing, routinely making this particular player and review writer laugh more than he expected to. Conversely, Psychonauts 2 also goes into some deep and occasionally dark territory, too. There are some tender, poignant moments that were pleasant surprises to experience as well.

It's a big world out there, Raz. Feel free to take it all in and explore!
Psychonauts 2 starts out relatively linearly with set levels done in a specific order and one main hub. However, after a couple of levels or so in the rearview mirror, the game opens up considerably. There is an unexpected amount of freedom available to players, offering a duo of new, expansive hubs, the ability to tackle the main quest in any order, and plenty of content to sink one's teeth into. It's never overwhelming, however.

The "eyes" have it in this truly trippy (but wonderful) world.
In Psychonauts 2, Raz enters into the minds of various characters in order to sort out their thoughts as a means to help them get back on track. Well, that's except for one early case within the game, of course. The worlds in Psychonauts 2 were always exciting to see. I never knew what to expect when Raz would pull out that door into a character's mind and then leap inside, and the surprise was always a welcomed and riveting one. Whether entering a hospital turned casino for high rollers, delving into a world based off a hellish, nightmare version of a cooking competition, or traveling through a literal tour of the five senses complete with trippy, far-out visuals, Psychonauts 2 delighted with every new world that myself and Raz were introduced to. Every new world was a new opportunity for Double Fine's level designers to wow and amaze, and they seldom, if ever, missed the mark.

Out of the way, ladies and germs, Raz is coming through!
Each world sports its own series of collectables to acquire, all optional. There are Half-A-Minds to find (understandably when two halves are collected to form a full mind, Raz's health increases by one brain), Memory Vaults that regale players with lore regarding the character whose mind Raz is in, Nuggets of Wisdom that level up Raz's psychic rank, Emotional Baggage that requires Raz to find the corresponding tag for each piece of literal baggage, and Figments, which are the most plentiful collectable to find in worlds. Some Figments are just maddening to find when there are 200+ scattered throughout a world that is split up between various parts. I would have liked--nay, loved--to have seen a "Figment Finder" of sorts that beeps when Raz is near one, for example.

Though with the Psychonauts he starts as a modest intern, Raz is quite the capable psychic. In the beginning of the game, he's equipped with a small amount of abilities, such as Telekinesis, allowing him to interact with or pick up and throw objects. As his adventure progresses, he obtains a whole slew of psychic abilities that are great in a pinch in and out of battle. There is the PSI Blast, which shoots fireballs out at enemies and can hit faraway objects in order to activate them. There is the Levitation ability, allowing Raz extra height and distance in midair after jumps, or allowing him to ride on a ball of mental energy. Later abilities are even cooler, particularly one late-game psychic maneuver that is as equally fun as it is comical to use. I won't spoil it, however.

While Censors love to literally stamp out threats, some foes love to bully poor Raz from afar.
As Raz finds collectables in worlds, his psychic rank increases. With each level increase he earns skill points that can be spent to upgrade his psychic abilities. For instance, with Pyrokinesis' initial version, it erupts in a small sphere. As Raz upgrades this power, not only does the range grow but so does the effectiveness, burning enemies for much longer, damaging them over time. In order to fully upgrade every psychic power in Raz's repertoire, players will have to essentially collect everything in the game's worlds. Seeing as how enjoyable the platforming is and how clever the level designs are in Psychonauts 2's worlds, offering an abundance of clever, fresh ideas and obstacles to interact with, that's not exactly a bad thing. 

Mental Connection allows Raz to move from one stray thought to another
to reach new heights and otherwise inaccessible destinations.
These psychic moves work in battle just as well as they do outside. Raz can use his Telekinesis to pluck weapons like hammers or bombs right out of an enemy's grasp and chuck it back at them, while his Mental Connection ability can grab foes and either bring Raz closer to them or them closer to Raz. Raz can roll to evade enemy attacks, and then let loose a flurry of kicks and punches to slowly whittle them down in health. 

If battles get too boring or frustrating (and they just might),
there's no shame in turning on an accessibility feature or two.
Though, it is safe to say that while the platforming in Psychonauts 2 is of a stellar enough quality, combat is where the game is at its weakest. There is a lack of visual feedback for enemies taking damage. They simply stand there and take hits with your only visual cue being their teeny-tiny, depleting health bars. Further, the combat controls feel a bit slow and laggy, inelegant, and at times downright frustrating. Fortunately, if battles prove to be too much of a nuisance, you can turn on an accessibility feature to make fights more fun, enabling enemies to take more damage and output less onto Raz. Otherwise, whenever a battle scenario started, I would occasionally let out an audible sigh. By far my least favorite part of this otherwise excellent game. 

While regular battles are nothing to make a positive note of, it's the boss battles, that like the platforming worlds, are insanely clever and well done. This is one part of Psychonauts 2 that would not have been possible or included without Microsoft's backing. Whether you're dealing with the oversized neon Luctopus who has death in the cards for poor Raz, or battling a trio of judges hellbent on making Raz fail their cooking show with one last ditch boss battle, these fights are fun, massive, and marvelous. 

There's nothing lucky about Raz being in the Luctopus' sights,
but it sure does make for an entertaining boss battle.
Psychonauts 2 looks absolutely wonderful on the Xbox Series S version of the game. The game's performance is stellar running on the S, and technical issues were at a minimum. Load times were insanely impressive, seldom taking more than five seconds to switch between worlds or hubs. The latter offers fast travel between underground tunnels to get around Psychonauts 2's hubs quickly. The voice work feels suitably Saturday morning cartoon-like, and it's masterfully done. Masterfully done as well is the soundtrack, which brings whimsical orchestral sounds that were reminiscent of Rare's composers' works, rock-based anthems, and simple but truly effective bops. 

Psychonauts 2 is quite the looker running on Xbox.
Few games lately have made me want to put forth the effort to complete them 100%, but Psychonauts 2 was certainly one of those games. Outside of battles, occasional obnoxious invisible walls, and platforming pitfalls due to some depth perception issues, Psychonauts 2 offers a plentifully polished game. It's hilarious one moment, tender and poignant the next. It's the type of game that gave me a bittersweet feeling upon completing it. On one hand, I got to experience a (doubly) finely crafted game. On the other, I just hope it won't take another 16 years to see a sequel! 

[SPC Says: A-] 

No comments: