Releasing back in the dark mists of 2005 on PS2, the original Psychonauts was quite the breath of LSD-infused air when it touched down on Sony’s second generation home console. Casting players as Raz, a young lad who joins a bizarre spy agency that specialises in psychically powered espionage, Psychonauts wrought an impressive hybrid of platformer and adventure, as players leveraged Raz’s abilities to possess other characters and solve puzzles.
Coming from a lineage of that calibre, you might well wonder how on earth they’ve managed to transplant Psychonauts platforming beats into VR, and the answer is simple; they haven’t. Rather than attempt to squeeze the figurative square peg into an equally figurative round hole, Double Fine Productions elected to instead pull deeply from their storied history as former Lucasarts talent, wrapping a charming, though content light VR experience around the point and click mechanics for which Tim Schafer and company have been known for.
A refreshing point and click adventurer for PSVR
Once more casting players as Raz, Rhombus of Ruin has our intrepid Psychonaut solving the mystery of his missing fellow crew members as their ship stumbles into the titular Rhombus of Ruin; an appropriately Double Fine take on the Bermuda Triangle. As was the case in the original Psychonauts, Raz gets things done by diving into consciousness of others, though here, shorn of the platforming beats that defined the 2005 cult classic, players must instead use the VR headset to comb the environments for clues to solve puzzles in order to proceed through the game.
The end result is that the player begins to daisy chain between the various consciousness of each character in the game, assuming their unique perspective to uncover some hint to propel events forward. One such example of this is a console that opens a door but its various buttons and dials all look like they come from the Fisher Price school of manufacturing; looking both at once immensely childish but also frustratingly abstract. The code needed to operate this console however, just happens to be in the possession of one of Rhombus of Ruin’s many dunderheaded guards, necessitating the player to hop into their grey matter and read the code.
In this sense, the act of inspecting the environment for clues to enable progress in other areas of the game world, feels like a natural progression of adapting the point and click mechanics that have been pioneered by early Lucasarts titles such as Loom and Secret of Monkey Island into VR. The other consequence of Rhombus of Ruin’s relatively esoteric design is that there is no movement in the VR space; instead every consciousness you inhabit is rooted to the spot or often sat in a chair (as Raz usually finds himself), so the total lack of motion not only neatly sidesteps potential player vomit fountains, but also ensures that Rhombus of Ruin is a decent entry level effort for folks unfamiliar with the immersive charms of PSVR.
Speaking of acting as an entry point, Rhombus of Ruin does a good job getting new folks hooked on Psychonauts particular brand of eccentric comedy and interesting, character rich narratives. Set between the original Psychonauts and the forthcoming Psychonauts 2, we’re given a great insight into the characters (all of which are voiced by their original voice actors no less) and their relationships with one another. But more than that, Rhombus of Ruin familiarises the player with Double Fine’s wonderfully offbeat sense of humour, boasting comedy that errs as much on the satirical, as it does on the gleefully amusing, a fact that it is frequently borne out by Raz’s ongoing commentary as he hops from one consciousness to another.
Visually too, Rhombus of Ruin gives a more than decent account of itself as it does a cracking job of replicating Psychonauts unique style, as the misshapen character forms and cartoon-like environments make the trip over to PSVR unscathed; their charm arguably amplified by the immersive qualities afforded by Sony’s Virtual Reality headset.
Low difficulty and longevity
The thing is, while the core concept of Rhombus of Ruin, specifically that shifting into VR of the point and click adventure mechanics that has for so long been the enduring hallmark of Double Fine’s founders, has been masterfully done here; there just isn’t enough content to really show if off. Indeed, the roughly two hour duration coupled with the total lack of a fail-state and incentive to return once the credits begin their roll means that Rhombus of Ruin is done and dusted before it ever really gets started.
Another issue which compounds the overly brief duration is the puzzles. Frequently veering towards over simplicity, the myriad of conundrums in the Rhombus of Ruin simply require you to switch perspectives and use the default telekinetic ‘prod’ command to interact with various elements in the environment. More disappointing still perhaps, is the fact that Raz actually has a number of powers at his disposal such as pyro-kinesis and more, but far too often, the game fails to properly use them to any sort of satisfying degree.
Then there’s the issue of how it all actually ends. Once the boss at the end has been vanquished, the game just ends, failing to not only set up a meaningful bridge from the original Psychonauts to its forthcoming sequel, but also serving to render the Rhombus of Ruin as more of a footnote excursion, rather than a truly bonafide entry in the series.
If anything, the main emotion you’re left with at the conclusion of the Rhombus of Ruin is one of wanting; simply, you just wish that there was more of it to enjoy. As it is, Double Fine’s trip to PSVR land feels far too brief, and the hints at greatness which are liberally sprinkled through its meagre duration simply leave you pining for what might have been if the developer fashioned a more substantial version of the unfortunately slight offering we see here.
As it is then, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin can be completed in a single sitting and offers little or no incentive to return with an abrupt ending that arguably jars more than it satisfies. Measured in pure charm and a willingness to transmute the point and click adventure into a VR play space however, Double Fine’s latest could well prove not only a good introduction to the series for newcomers, but also a sufficient stop-gap morsel for some eagerly looking toward the looming Psychonauts 2.