Psychonauts was an unforgettable favorite of mine on the PlayStation 2. Developed by Tim Schafer after he left LucasArts, it was a creative and whimsical adventure about a boy who runs away from the circus to join a summer camp for psychic children. It's concept of jumping into the minds of various people to help sort out their minds and emotional baggage created a smorgasbord of unique level design. Well, except perhaps for the infamous Meat Circus. If anything deserved to get a sequel, it was Tim Schafer’s beloved cult classic. Thanks to the power of Fig, a new game funding game platform, we’re finally going to get the continuing adventures of Raz the Psychonaut.
Rhombus of Ruin is not that sequel. Rather, it is a middle chapter, a sort of self contained Psychonauts 1.5. It picks up where the first ended, with Raz being informed that the leader of the Psychonauts, Truman Zonato, has gone missing. Psychonauts/Camp Counselors Sasha Nein, Mia Vodello, Coach Oleander, along with Lilly, fellow camper, Truman’s daughter, and Raz’s girlfriend, track down Truman to the Rhombus of Ruin, a Bermuda Triangle-like place where a massive collection of psychic energy causes everything that travels near to be drawn inside against their will. Our heroes discover a disused Psychonauts research facility has been taken over by a mysterious organization that is using Truman to uncover the Rhombus’ secrets.
Double Fine designed Rhombus to be a PlayStation VR experience, so instead of being an action platformer with adventure game-like elements, you’ll primarily use the power of Clairvoyance to jump between people and sea creatures in order to solve puzzles and help free the party from their induced psychic states. This usually involves pushing buttons, manipulating objects, and setting stuff on fire, which is always fun. There's no real sense of danger because everything exists to keep you moving forward. There's barely any combat to speak of and not once do the characters feel like they are in mortal danger. Taking away dangerous enemies leaves plenty of time to focus on the game’s many puzzles.
The puzzles in Rhombus of Ruin are pretty straightforward, though sometimes they don't feel intuitive. They are also not all that original, which is a bit of a bummer considering how imaginative the world of Psychonauts proved itself to be. There's an adventure game-like puzzle that involves combining different objects, using Clairvoyance to jump into different positions in order to see obscured passwords. There's even an old-fashioned slider puzzle. I found that the game seems to lack the details that made the original game so magical; that Double Fine seems rather restrained and played things safe given the limitations of the medium. Resident Evil VII has become the high water mark for what VR is capable of, so it's a little disappointing to see that Rhombus of Ruin doesn't really do much with the hardware.
It's only at the end where Rhombus of Ruin recaptures the spirit of the first game. When a familiar face returns to harass Raz, getting a chance to fly into his head is the most tenable and entertaining link to the original game. It is a shame that Rhombus saves its most enjoyable moments for the end of the game. It presents a new spin and presentation of a character’s locked up memories (with the same emotional stabs that Psychonauts was really good at achieving) that I really hope finds itself in the new game. And just when it's getting really good and familiar and promising, it's over and back to the same brain hopping puzzle solving gameplay style.
Though the playable content of Rhombus of Ruin doesn't quite match up with that of Psychonauts, at least the Scott Campbell aesthetic, music, and voice cast make up for that deficit. The game does some cool tricks while jumping into people's minds, namely getting to see the world from their warped perspectives. The original cast is back, especially Richard Horvitz reprising his role of Raz. It's fantastic to see them all back together again and everyone sounds the same as if the original game had been released last week. It's amazing and it made me so happy.
Psychonauts Rhombus of Ruin has its feet firmly planted in foundation laid by the first game - as it should. Though it is trapped within a medium that is still trying to find steady feet, Rhombus at least has the heart and spirit of what made Psychonauts so enthralling. It's a fun and delectable morsel designed to satiate the palate until the second game comes out. While it does excite me for Psychonauts 2, it's only because I know that a console game will let Double Fine’s imagination soar much higher than the VR platform would let them.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.