Troubled minds are your jungle gym in Double Fine’s smart, funny, near-flawless platformer.
Double Fine’s Psychonauts 2 was a long, long time coming. The original adventures of Rasputin “Raz” Aquato, who runs away from his family of circus acrobats to crash a summer camp for psychic kids like him, debuted on the original Xbox in 2005. Once Double Fine regained rights to the game in 2011, it was ported to Mac and Linux, giving a bigger audience a chance to fall in love with its quirky sense of humor and innovative storytelling.
Crowdfunding for a sequel began in 2015, and the original release date of 2018 slid steadily forward until it finally arrived on consoles and PC in 2021. Roughly six months later, its promised Mac port has arrived at last — and happily, it’s worth every second of the wait. Psychonauts 2 revives everything that made the first game great, deftly fixes almost all of its predecessor’s flaws, and delivers a dark, witty, compelling adventure that surpasses the original.
Bottom line: Psychonauts 2 is an outstanding narrative platformer that has finally gotten its solid, sturdy Mac port. No matter where you play it, though, you’ll be getting a funny, excellent story.
- Fun, imaginative gameplay
- Great sense of humor and an absorbing story
- Hours of fresh and interesting challenges
- Runs superbly on Apple silicon despite being an Intel native app
- Occasional glitches and frame-rate slowdowns
- Slower performance on Intel Macs
- Combat sometimes feels tacked-on to the rest of the game
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a copy of the game purchased by the reviewer, who backed the game’s original crowdfunding project.
Psychonauts 2: Story, gameplay, and presentation
|Developer||Double Fine Productions|
|Minimum Requirements||macOS 10.14 or later
Core i5 processor or greater
|Play Time||16+ hours|
In the off-kilter world of Psychonauts, the titular organization is an elite team of psychic spies that 10-year-old Raz longs to join. After foiling a plot to steal his fellow summer campers’ brains to power a psychic weapon in the first game, and helping to rescue the kidnapped head of the Psychonauts in its VR semi-sequel, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, Raz thinks he’s finally made it. But his hopes smash headfirst into a series of obstacles.
Some are small, like getting dumped into the Psychonauts’ intern program with a bunch of jerky teenagers. Others, like the creepy cult that’s trying to bring back history’s most notorious psychic supervillain with the help of an unknown ally inside the Psychonauts, are a whole lot bigger.
Psychonauts 2 nurtures narrative seeds planted way back in the first game, carefully growing them into a more epic, emotional, and higher-stakes story. If you’ve played the original, jumping back into the sequel feels seamless. If you haven’t, a quick, amusing intro sequence will catch you up on everything you need to know to enjoy this game.
Bad news: Someone’s trying to resurrect the psychic witch who cursed your entire family. Worse news: The other interns won’t stop making fun of you.
In Psychonauts 2’s impressively huge “real world,” you’ll hunt for prizes, power-ups, and side quests in the Psychonauts’ headquarters, along with other areas that open up as the story progresses. But the actual “levels” take place when you enter the brains of various Psychonauts members whose histories intersect with the villain’s. Like the first game, these mental landscapes represent each character’s dreams and fears, and playing through them reveals their personalities and develops their stories in astoundingly creative ways. You’ll trip through a rock n’ roll land of candy-colored psychedelia, spin a roulette wheel of babies in a hospital-turned-casino, race the clock competing on a sadistic cooking show, and so much more.
These levels are frequently funny, with killer dialogue and a gleeful willingness to poke fun at the game itself and the threads it carries over from its prequel. But they’re also built from a deep empathy for each character’s struggles with mental health, which gives the game a surprisingly poignant emotional punch. Layers of deft symbolism help the story tackle serious issues without getting overtly grim or explicit. Unlike the first game, each of the minds you explore tie directly into Psychonauts 2’s larger plot, which helps this installment feel more cohesive.
Lead designer Tim Schafer and his team wisely give you nearly all the powers you earned in the first game right from the start, devising creative ways for you to use them rather than excuses for their absence. And where the first game featured sudden, profanity-inducing spikes in difficulty, Psychonauts 2 stays consistently challenging without ever getting too frustrating. There are still tons of goodies to hunt for in the real and mental worlds, but doing so isn’t quite as hard this time around, making those searches feel less like a grind.
I do wish the game wouldn’t tease you with areas in various levels that you literally won’t be able to reach until much later in the game. If you’re a completist, you’ll have to revisit minds to find all their secrets, though you don’t need to do so to advance the story.
The game rewards creative play. If you stop to wonder, “Could I maybe…?” chances are you can, and it’ll turn out awesomely.
Enemies brought over from the first game, like the ever-present Censors trying to stamp you out for not belonging in someone else’s mind, keep their original, simple character designs and animation. But the game’s new enemies look gorgeous, with tons of personality and fluid, lively animation. Cleverly, the best way to defeat each opponent often ties into the mental metaphors behind them. You can slow down a twitchy, overwhelming Panic Attack in a time bubble to pummel it into submission, or use telekinesis to steal the Judge’s massive gavel and judge him right back. The only bad habit Psychonauts 2 hasn’t shaken from its predecessor is both games’ penchant for randomly throwing combat sequences into the middle of levels that were already perfectly varied without them.
Overall, this game feels massive. Every time you think you’ve found its limits, some vast new area opens up, or a new challenge or level appears. You can tell the team behind Psychonauts 2 poured every second of its lengthy development period into the finished product. The result will keep you playing hours after you vowed to shut the game off and go to bed, because you just can’t wait to discover what comes next.
Psychonauts 2: Mac performance
Psychonauts 2 is Intel-native only, but thanks to Rosetta emulation, the game performs amazingly on Apple silicon. I tested Psychonauts 2 on a 2017 iMac with 24GB of RAM and a discrete graphics card, and on a stock M1 Mac Mini with 8GB of RAM, and the game ran just shy of perfect on the M1. Graphics look great, with subtle textures and realistic lighting enhancing the quirky, handmade feel carried over from the first game. And aside from a handful of dropped frames on very rare occasions, the M1 kept the action fluid and responsive. Meanwhile, my older Intel Mac — built two years after the game began production — notably wheezed, with great visuals offset by frequent herky-jerky stutters.
Psychonauts 2 is Intel-native only at launch, but you wouldn’t know it from how well the game runs on Apple silicon.
The game’s performance doesn’t entirely spare you from frustration. Whether you’re using Apple or Intel chips, Double Fine warns that the game will take nearly as long to load the first time you start it up as it did to develop in the first place. I’m kidding, but only just. The M1 mini and its SSD chewed through that tedium in a couple of minutes, but my Intel Mac took at least a half hour. Luckily, after that initial mountain to climb, the game loads faster and faster each time, until my M1 was starting it within seconds.
Weirdly enough for a game owned and published by Microsoft, Psychonauts 2 at launch doesn’t entirely support Xbox controllers on Mac. While most inputs work, the button that triggers the map feature — an essential part of the game for upgrading Raz’s powers — doesn’t, and the game’s interface doesn’t give you any clues to find its keyboard equivalent. (It’s the “M” key, by the way.) Double Fine says Playstation controllers work fine, although I hope the irony’s not lost on them.
At one point, I also ran into persistent crashes when trying to re-explore one particular section of the game’s first level, though they cleared up when I returned much later in the game. Since I didn’t encounter those crashes on the first, narratively crucial playthrough, I’m willing to forgive that glitch for briefly keeping me from shaking every last hidden secret out of the level in question.
Psychonauts 2: Should you play it?
At nearly $60 — roughly twice what I pledged for it six years ago — Psychonauts 2’s price tag seems astronomical compared to most other Mac games. But if you decide to pay up, you’ll absolutely get your money’s worth.
Psychonauts 2 stuffs heart, laughs, and adventure into every crevice of its narrative, wrapping its wonderful creativity and variety in a thoroughly polished package. The original ranks as one of my all-time favorite games, and I couldn’t be happier to discover that its sequel is somehow even better.
Bottom line: With tons of action, a delightful mix of humor and pathos, and hours upon hours of challenging exploration and experimentation, Psychonauts 2 offers players a deeply satisfying experience.