It's been a weird year for video games. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that one of 2021's weirdest releases looks set to be one of its best. With Psychonauts 2 ready to release on August 25, developer Double Fine and publisher Xbox Game Studios gave us access to a huge chunk of the game to play. The build was supposed to run for around four hours, but we ended up sinking double that into our Xbox Series X playtest. That's because Psychonauts 2 is the sort of game that arrests the attention of anybody that sits down in front of it and refuses to let you go free.
Double Fine has an exceptionally crafted and utterly outrageous game on its hands here, following former circus acrobat and interning psychic investigator Razputin Aquato as he attempts to help the Psychonauts agency avert a psychoactive catastrophe. Between the staggeringly detailed levels, sharp writing and animation, and super-tight platforming and combat, it's clear that Psychonauts 2 is going to be something we're talking about for a long time. Don't believe us? Here's six reasons Psychonauts 2 is clearly going to be one of the best games of 2021.
It's a greet feeling platformer
Psychonauts was the debut production for Double Fine, the studio formed by Tim Schafer and other members of the legendary LucasArts team that helped bring you Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango. Double Fine has grown a lot in the last 20 years and that maturity is reflected in the way Psychonauts 2 handles. What we have here is a competent and capable platform-adventure game that is able to capture our collective nostalgia for genre games of the '90s without feeling beholden to their limitations. Acrobatic movement feels within your control and the camera is easily teased around truly imaginative environments. Psychonauts 2 strikes a fine balance between challenging traversal and joyful exploration, making it an utter delight to immerse yourself in.
Its levels are out of this world
We wouldn't blame you for being unfamiliar with Psychonauts. It's a 2005 cult classic (translation: a game that few played at the time, but those who did fell utterly in love with it) that got lost in the transition between the Xbox and Xbox 360 generations. The only thing you really need to know is that Psychonauts' game worlds are built with an imagination untethered from any external logic, and that's something this sequel runs wild with. Raz has the ability to dive into people's minds and so each level is completely tailored to their unique brainscape, inner demons, and emotional baggage. It brings this sense of exaggerated creativity to Psychonauts 2 – you never know where you'll be going next or what you'll be doing when you get there.
Places to be and people to meet
Psychonauts 2 is a generous game. Each of the three brain worlds we were able to play through has a different art style and soundscape, new movement mechanics and combat systems, as well as interesting characters to meet and weird situations to navigate. On top of that, there's also the Motherlobe to explore – the Psychonauts headquarters that serves as an expandable hub area. It's here where you're able to advance the plot, upgrade and customise Raz's psychic powers, and check in with all of the colorful characters that occupy this twisting space. Raz can dive back into any completed mindscapes too, with your advancing psychic powers opening up new opportunities and collectibles to find in previously explored areas. There's a lot of game in here.
The game is genuinely funny
Psychonauts 2 is really fucking funny. The thing is, I couldn't point to any one joke as evidence of that because humor is weaved into the fabric of Psychonauts 2's being. The writing is sharp, of course; Psychonauts 2 has echoes of the off-kilter spirit that helped define the LucasArts era of adventure games. But there's more to it than that. Comedy flows through everything, from the enemy descriptions and outrageous scenario design, to the perfect line deliveries from the voice actors, to the animation of characters and the way they interact with their environment. There's an improvisational nature to Psychonauts 2's design and execution that I really admire. Within minutes of picking up the controller, Psychonauts 2 had me quietly chuckling to myself and that never let up. Modern games rarely register so many laughs-per-minute.
It's got a real '90s Cartoon Network vibe
I think it can be easy for people (myself included) to fall into this trap of claiming that any video game that arrives with spirited characters, a colorful design, and carefree adventuring as evoking the spirit of old Saturday morning cartoons – the same praise was heaped on Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart earlier this year. The thing is, Psychonauts 2 captures a particular vibe – it's of that era where off-kilter Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and FOX Kids programming reigned supreme. There's a carefree irreverence built into Psychonauts 2's presentation, with its humor and themes walking that perilous tightrope of being overtly kid-friendly but secretly designed to appeal to the adults that are forced to watch over-shoulder. With its broader narrative, small character dramas, fun action sequences, and bespoke levels all colliding without friction, Psychonauts 2 really does feel like you're in charge of a cartoon from the late '90s and early '00s.
Psychonauts 2 is fearless
I was surprised by a lot of things in my time with Psychonauts 2 – the cinematic nature to its presentation and the tight handling of both platforming and combat, primarily – but the one thing that has really stuck with me is just how damned confident it is. Psychonauts 2 opens with a mental health advisory, warning players that the game contains "artistic interpretations of serious mental health conditions including addiction, PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, and delusions." While each of us experience these things differently, and will have different reactions to the way Double Fine has presented and handled the subject matter as a result, I know that the way Psychonauts 2 explored the perils of addiction and negative thought attribution cycles – as well as the twisting, all-consuming nature of panic attacks and anxiety – really resonated with me.
Psychonauts 2 deals with difficult themes carefully and yet without reservation, approaching each of the brain levels – a reflection of the state of mind of the person you are encountering – with empathy and without judgement. Barely an hour would go by without the game forcing me to think a little more broadly about the situation the game had placed me in or my own experience in life. I'd be laughing away at some outrageous personification of addiction or anxiety, only for a line of dialogue or metaphoric sequence of play to leave me momentarily breathless. That's part of the appeal, and genius, of what I have played of Psychonauts 2 so far: it's imaginative, intuitive, and very funny, but it's also fearless in its embrace of its subject matter. That's a rare quality to be found in a AAA game, and I can't wait to see if Double Fine can maintain that balance throughout the entire experience with it releases for Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, and PS4 on August 25, 2021.
Check back in with GamesRadar all week for more on Psychonauts 2. In the meantime, we ask Double Fine studio head Tim Schafer whether we should expect Psychonauts 3 or something else entirely.