The road to a new Psychonauts game has been a long and uncertain one. Double Fine’s inventive 2005 3D platformer has a reputation for being constantly considered as one of the most underrated games ever made and is easily one of the best games in the genre, with its mature story masked underneath a quirky and charming art style, a common trait among creator Tim Schafer’s games. A critical darling upon its release, Psychonauts missed sales expectations by a mile upon its release, and Double Fine Production’s plans for a sequel were quickly shelved. The project would come in and out of the concept stages a couple of times until 10 years later when Psychonauts 2 was finally funded through the crowd-funding service Fig. Following the success of the crowd-funded project, Sony approached Double Fine to develop a PlayStation VR title, and now Psychonauts fans have the first official continuation of the story since the original game, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. The idea is perfect. Take a game like Psychonauts, which involves travelling into people’s minds to discover their deepest secrets and help them overcome them to gain their help and put the player directly into the perspective of the protagonist, Raz. Licensed PlayStation VR games such as Batman: Arkham VR have been a great showcase of what it’s like to step into the shoes of fictional characters, so do more niche characters like Razputin Aquato get the VR love they deserve?
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin picks up almost directly from where the original game left off, with Raz now an official Psychonaut on his way to rescue the Grand Head of the Psychonauts (and the father of his girlfriend, Lili), Truman Zanotto, who has been kidnapped and is being kept in the Rhombus of Ruin (which is essentially two Bermuda Triangles right beside each other). Raz is joined by Lili, Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello and Coach Oleander, and upon entering the Rhombus of Ruin, Raz and his team are separated, and now he must navigate through the mysterious Rhombus, regroup with his team and save Truman Zanatto, while also discovering just who kidnapped him.
As somebody with fond memories of playing Psychonauts at a young age, putting on my VR headset and finding myself within the Psychonauts universe not only for the first time in so long, but in such a brand new way, was truly special. Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin does a brilliant job at tieing the first and upcoming second game together by treating it as if the player never left to begin with. The four hours it took me to finish the game felt like it was doubled thanks to the return of Tim Schafer’s brilliant writing with a great focus on the returning characters, including one I didn’t expect to see at all. Somehow after all this time, the main characters still manage to get more development, and it’s just a pleasure seeing them interact with one another once more. The game also takes the opportunity to reference their inner turmoil as seen in the first game, showing that these are still the very same characters that we saw 10 years ago, something that can easily be lost in such a long gap between games. It also ends with a big teaser for Psychonauts 2, telling us a lot about what the game will entail.
It’s very obvious that some of the older employees at Double Fine put their point-and-click adventure game knowledge to work for Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, as the game plays as what is essentially a shorter VR version of one of the LucasArts games of old, albeit with a way bigger emphasis on puzzles. Raz spends most of the game out-of-body, meaning traversal is actually done by switching between the minds of other people and creatures, emphasising the detailed 3D environments. Through doing these, when he needs to free one of his friends, Raz can switch to different NPCs to interact with objects close to them to help him solve puzzles, such as taking over the mind of a rat to put a flea into a small music box and then taking over the mind of the flea to clean out the inside of said music box to make it work again…to be exact. It’s not all just pointing and clicking though. In addition to his Telekinesis which he can use to move things, Raz’s other returning abilities include PSI-Blasting to destroy items, Pyrokinesis to light them on fire or heat them up, PSI-Poke to generally interact with his surroundings and Clairvoyance to switch between the minds of other people and creatures. These all add together to create largely dynamic puzzles that had me scratching my VR encased head more than once to solve. I did find some trouble with resetting my head’s position as much as I tried, and there were times when I was in clear view of the PlayStation Camera but found myself becoming nauseated because the game would move me around uncontrollably even though I was sitting in place, so there does seem to be some motion tracking problems at play here.
The game runs on the engine that will be used for Psychonauts 2 and uses the same art-style which took a while to get used to in VR (by which I mean it scared the heck out of me at first), but after a while I took in the novelty of seeing Lili, Sasha and Milla right in front of me. I never exactly thought that the first game was necessarily pretty, it had an art-style that looked nice on paper and certainly didn’t look bad in the game, it just didn’t exactly look very good. It added to the quirkiness of the game though, but thanks to the power of the PS4, I can safely say that this is the first beautiful looking Psychonauts game. The game also sticks at 60fps, which all PlayStation VR games are required to. Some of Peter McConnell’s soundtrack from the original game is re-used here but doesn’t feel out of place, and the new theme song is great (by the way, this is the first VR game to have a James Bond/Snake Eater-style opening to my knowledge).
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin offers fans of the first game an incredible VR experience and a great new adventure in this familiar world with even more familiar characters, all written just as great as they were back in 2005. Despite having some motion and head tracking problems, Rhombus of Ruin contains fun point-and-click gameplay that fans of most of Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s other games will find themselves right at home with. The game feels like a necessary instalment in the series to act as a bridge between the first game and its upcoming sequel and arguably never feels like a gimmicky VR cash-in, especially since virtual reality works so well with the world of Psychonauts.
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: 21st February 2017