Psychonauts 2 is a time sink. Now that's a phrase laden with negative connotations, an expression typically associated with the type of always-online and open world experiences that show little appreciation for your attention. Just so we're all clear, that's not what's going on here, as developer Double Fine has delivered a generous and expansive adventure full of heart and humor. Psychonauts 2 is a time sink in the truest sense, in that your time will sink into the ether as you play. Minutes will turn to hours with ease, and before you know it, the credits are rolling and your cheekbones are sore from all the smiling. Double Fine's psychodyssey defies all expectations.
And what expectations they were. Psychonauts 2 is an unlikely sequel to a cult classic that was released in 2005, funded by fans in 2015, and published in 2021 by a platform holder that almost killed both series and studio back in the waning days of the original Xbox generation. (Microsoft was set to publish the original Psychonauts as a platform exclusive, dropping the title as it turned its attention to the Xbox 360, throwing Tim Schafer's new team into turmoil.) Double Fine has walked a winding path to get here and that's reflected in the consistency, quality, and unabashed weirdness of the overall experience. Psychonauts 2 is what you get when a talented team has no choice but to go all-in on the hand it has been dealt by the house.
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Release date: August 25, 2021
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
That resolve is palpable in one of Psychonauts 2's earliest missions. In it, Razputin Aquato – circus acrobat turned Psychonaut-in-training – tumbles into a stage that seamlessly combines the perilous energy of a high-roller casino with the latent trauma of a hospital ICU. The world itself is a reflection of Agent Forsythe's shattering psyche, a funhouse exploration of addiction and anxiety, after Raz accesses his mentor's mind and inadvertently severs her mental connection between risk and reward. It's a high-risk level for Double Fine; Hollis' Hot Streak features bespoke artwork and soundscapes, purpose-built platforming and mini-games, and numerous opportunities for quiet concession and contemplation. The reward is massive; it's heartfelt and humanising, full of moments that are uniquely Double Fine, and action that would struggle to be replicated outside of the narrative conceits made by Psychonauts' premise.
The same can be said for each of the brains that you astrally project into and attempt to repair. They are abstract, absurdist, self-contained adventures that feel perfectly placed and paced. Playacting a celebrity chef in a cooking show, filmed before a live-studio audience of anthropomorphic ingredients, feeds naturally into a Marble Madness-inspired sprint through a filthy bowling shoe – the former encapsulating the antagonistic energy of Hell's Kitchen and the latter nailing the trippy visuals of the head-trip from The Big Lebowski. A Brain in a Jar, voiced by Jack Black, becomes your guide through late '60s psychedelia. Just as the comic vibes begin to fade, you'll tumble down the rabbit hole of alcoholism and isolation. Crawl out of that nightmare and you'll fold into a delicate papercraft world of self-reflection and actualisation. It's impossible to anticipate where Psychonauts 2 will send you next or what it will have to say when you get there – about the human experience or our connection to those that occupy space around us.
Speaking of space, part of the magic of Psychonauts 2 is how it finds enough of it to let you decompress between bouts of precision platforming and combating the literal manifestation of inner demons – doubt, regret, panic attacks, and more, ready to be quashed by Raz's psionic abilities. Three generous hub areas keep our young intern occupied between missions, letting Raz explore the realm of psychic infiltration he has stumbled into, take on assignments for extra credit, and interact with a colorful cast of characters. I was so desperate to spend more time with the other Psychonaut interns that I found myself wishing I could squeeze just one final line of dialogue out of each of them before the end.
Double Fine has done a fantastic job structuring explorable hub areas like The Motherlobe and The Questionable Area – as visually beautiful as they are dense with distractions. Embark on one side quest only to find it feed into another, which in turn will throw you into conversations you'll be only too happy to have, all as you're encouraged to track down a seemingly endless array of collectibles. There's always something in the world begging for your attention and you'll be happy to surrender it.
Those collectibles also function as a resource that helps Raz rank up, upgrade abilities, and purchase pins to augment his powers. While chasing upgrades for Telekinesis, Psi-Blast, and Pyrokinesis are essential to keeping pace with the lean difficulty curve, the rest can feel a little expendable. The pins, which can be mixed and matched for different results, felt especially needless, particularly when you do need a little boost. Boss battles born out of emotional baggage are undoubtedly the only part of Psychonauts 2 that you could reasonably label as lacklustre, lacking the inventiveness and imagination that the rest of the experience wields so decisively.
Perhaps that's the problem; Psychonauts 2 is such a generous and confident package of platforming action, puzzle solving, and consciousness-expanding exploration, so much so that even the smallest dip in quality can feel oversized. Your mileage with the boss battles and upgrade system may vary, but you should know that Psychonauts 2 is a head trip from start to finish. It's a psychedelic theme park ride through boundless imagination, invention, character, and humor. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart may have helped set a new standard for the 3D platformer, but Psychonauts 2 just defined it.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X with a code provided by the publisher