(Available for Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC)
(Xbox Series X and S version on an Xbox Series X used for review)
After 16 years of waiting, a successful Kickstarter campaign, and Xbox Game Studios buying the development studio Double Fine, Tim Schaffer’s long-awaited sequel to his platformer hit Psychonaughts, is finally available. Psychonaughts was a game which had you play as Razsputin (or Raz for short), where you had to sneak into a summer camp for psychically gifted kids, ran by a group of government psychic agents. This was all after Raz ran away from his psychic hating family in the circus, and became a Psychonaught. The levels are about diving into the minds of people to solve their problems and heal their emotional troubles. The levels are very creative and dreamlike with interesting ways to interpret people’s psyches, and the aesthetics inspired by Tim Burton films gives it a look that doesn’t sit well with a lot of platformers. That didn’t sell too well but gained a cult following over the years leading to a few releases on PS4 (don’t get this version unless you have a choice. It is an emulation of the not so good PS2 version), Xbox One (which is available on Xbox Game Pass) and PC release on Steam. Psychonaughts 2 has been much longer in development than many expected, as the developers constantly added new ideas, trying to perfect the ideas they put in. It finally has released and is very much a similar game to the first, though it is beginning to feel like everything has been taken up a notch. Most of the psychic powers from the first game are back, and the majority of the cast return to reprise their roles, though there are some cool new cast members added to the mix.
- Story: The game takes place immediately after the events of the first game but there is a catch up of the first story in the introduction, so I wouldn’t worry about getting lost (though feel free to play the original before doing this one if you insist on it). As a result, I won’t go too far into story details since I don’t want to spoil elements of either game. I will say, that the game involves Raz dealing with the aftermath of the first game and heading to Psychonaughts HQ to work his way through the intern Psychonaught program, and identify the mastermind behind the events of the first game, as well as uncovering a mole in the organisation. Raz once again is also uncovering trauma by diving into people’s mind, and how we get from each level makes the story feel organic and the levels once again really aid in story progression and character development. I wasn’t surprised that the storytelling was good, but I was really surprised how it somehow feels like an improvement over the original and similarly to that game; when you complete each one you feel really happy that the character you’ve gotten to know has taken the first step to helping their lives, which is important given that Psychonaughts deals with some quite heavy subjects. It’s a genuinely touching story at times and really feels like the sequel story we wanted. Plus, it’s incredibly funny with some excellent jokes throughout it, and they know when to use them and when not to use them so they don’t feel out of place.
- Controls for platforming: I have some minor issues with combat so that’s why I decided to make a slight distinction, though the controls feel great. This game is great for exploration and doing platforming challenges and it works so well considering the controls feel fine tuned to the gameplay. It’s very hard to describe but trust me it feels like a game where it was tested over and over again to make sure every little bit of these controls felt right
- Level design: This is where the genius of the game really lies. The levels are not only once again incredibly creative but they also tie in well to the character that Raz has dived into. There’s actions such as diving into the life and regrets of someone who has alienated themselves by traveling across a sea to find seeds to grow plants, or to reawaken the senses of a character by reuniting a band where each instrument is played by a different sense like hearing or touch. That level was made like a 60’s psychedelic music festival as a tribute to Yellow Submarine, and features a guest appearance from Jack Black. I don’t want to spoil all of them but you’ll be doing things like traveling through a librarian’s books, which display the different sides of her history or, taking part in a casino-turned-hospital to show the regrets and anxiety of failure, of a certain character. I can’t stress how clever it is and my descriptions really don’t do it justice, you really should just play it. Whilst all the levels have some degree of repetition, there’s also a lot of unique ways to play each of these levels and they had a good mix of challenges. I think one of my favourites would be the level that was a parody of cooking shows, featuring Raz and his friend. The pair had to impress the judges with their cooking via timed platforming challenges, using audience members (which were foods such as eggs, watermelons, etc) as ingredients. I enjoyed this since it had a lot of challenge and forced me to think on my feet about how I would approach it. The hub world this time is Psychonaghuts HQ and it is amazing how much fun I had exploring the environment especially when I got access to the woods surrounding it, since it provided tons of variety of locations to move around and explore. There are tons of hidden secrets and collectables to get in levels and the hub World, so it really is worth looking and exploring.
- Art style: Tim Burton films have always been brought as inspirations for Psychonaughts, and that comparison is justified, but if there’s anything the games remind me of it is old nickelodeon cartoons like Ah Real Monster and Invader Zim (the latter of which is especially evident considering Richard Steven Horvitz is the voice of Raz). I really love the art style of the first game which really had it stand out from games around the time. This has been repeated with Psychonaughts 2 which updates the style for modern hardware very well. Graphically the game looks great, not Ratchet and Clank levels of good but that’s understandable given this must hit PS4 and Xbox One. The developers should be proud of themselves because with the way this game looks, they really proved how timeless the concept and art style is. Plus, the textures of the graphics really hit what they’re aiming to with the feel of certain environments, and works well with the ‘cartoony’ look.
- Frame rate on Xbox Series X and S: Out of all the consoles, it’s the enhancements made for Xbox Series X and S, that make it the definitive version for consoles (though the PC version is even better if you have the hardware and monitor to run it). On PS4 and Xbox One, it hits a maximum frame rate of 30 FPS giving the impression that the PS4 was an obligation from the Kickstarter fundraised that became an afterthought following the Microsoft purchase, given that the framerate doesn’t increase on PS4 Pro or even when played on PS5 (which currently has a native version). On Xbox Series X it can not only play in 4K and hits 60 FPS, but also if you have a tv that supports at least 120HZ playback, it will play at 120FPS provided you select it in the settings. Really recommend as this was a great way to play the game since the performance is great, and it had absolutely no frame rate drops that I spotted. I really would not want to play the game at less than 60fps but if you have no other option, I imagine it’ll play fine enough.
- Combat: This feature is fine and gets the job done but it doesn’t feel entirely thought out. For example, there was one enemy type that seemed weak to my Pyrokensis attack, but later it just seemed like almost any attack was as effective and whilst the combat increases as the game goes on, and you get more powers (which you map to the trigger of your choosing at any time) but early on it feels rough. For example, the Telekinesis made for grabbing stuff and throwing at enemies was a bit unreliable and I only really used it against Judges, to throw their gavels back at them. I liked the Psi Blast to attack enemies and the Time Bubble to slow enemies down, so I would use them most of time. The enemy variety is also good and creative such as the Censors, the Bad Moods and the really annoying Enablers that heal enemies (take them out first). The controls are alright for it, but it just doesn’t feel as well-crafted as it was for the platforming, though as I said it gets better as the game goes on it gets better.
- Post-game: The post-game is fine and serves as a nice epilogue but it’s really only there for serving 100% completion. I can revisit levels but I wouldn’t have minded an optional boss. There is some stuff locked behind the post-game, so I won’t complain about it for the most part.
- Pop in issues: This was a real issue for me. Even on Xbox Series X which is the most powerful home console on the market the game had pop in issues and I could visibly see the graphics loading in a very visible way. Not helped by the fact it was very visible during cutscenes when I’m zoomed into to the characters and environments. It’s not the worst, I’ve seen way worse than this, but it would be disingenuous not to point it out
Psychonaughts 2 is a fantastic platformer with some of the best level design, great art style and a great story. It really feels like it can stand with some of the great 3D platformers including this years Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. If the combat was a bit better I would be a bit happier, but it’s by no means bad. The only major issue I had was that the game suffers from bad pop-in that effects the graphics, though again I’ve seen way worse and it doesn’t happen too often. I do wish there was better frame rates on Xbox One and PS4 for owners of those consoles, since they do have models capable of 60 fps but that didn’t affect my score since I didn’t play those versions. The word Experience is thrown around a bit too much (including by myself, I accept that) but in this case it really is an experience that not many other games are achieving and is a big boost for first party games on Xbox. Well done to Double Fine Studios, it took a really long time and I was worried about it, but you’ve done yourselves proud and it was well worth the wait.
The game is on Xbox Game Pass so if you’re subscribed you can download all but the PS4 version as part of your subscription with no extra cost at this point in time. It’s digital only right now unless you were a Kickstarter backer, but it doesn’t take up too much space on your hard drive. It’s full price so I would really suggest signing up to Xbox Game Pass right now if you have an Xbox or PC since not only will you get this game, but almost every Xbox first party release on release day, and will cost £15 a month for over a hundred games, as opposed to paying £50 each time. Get used to seeing me say that a lot in the future, I really am happy with my Game Pass subscription right now.
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