A fun, intuitive VR adventure with a great story.
Not only is Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin a great story that bridges the gap between the 2005 original and the upcoming sequel, but it’s an entertaining, intuitive VR adventure game to boot. Written by renowned adventure game designer Tim Schafer, Rhombus of Ruin is every bit as funny, charming, and personable as the first Psychonauts.
Reuniting with Raz, Lili, Milla, and Sasha was fantastic, especially given the new dynamic of seeing the kids as recent graduates of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, and now equals with their teachers. I really loved watching Raz and Lili’s cute, awkward relationship grow, as well as gaining a bit of insight on what the new threat in Psychonauts 2 will be.
That said, the immediacy of the story and complete lack of introduction to who the characters are will make the events carry little weight for newcomers of the series, as well as folks who might not’ve played Psychonauts in over a decade.
Rhombus of Ruin implements the same first-person, node-based movement of VR games like Batman: Arkham VR. In essence, you can look around in all directions, point to various predetermined spots in the environment, and warp to them to survey the environment from a different angle. This works really well within the fiction of Psychonauts, because over the course of the three-hour adventure Raz uses his Clairvoyance ability to mentally project himself inside the bodies of other characters/animals in the world. This gave me a slew of unique perspectives from which to view and solve puzzles without leaving me disoriented or nauseous, even in the slightest.
Rhombus of Ruin pulls a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, in that it shows you all of your cool powers from the start before stripping them all away for plot reasons and making you recover them one by one. It provides a nice dangling-carrot element that propelled me forward since I always wanted the next fun ability. There’s a playful nature to using these abilities from a first-person VR perspective that I really appreciated. Whether it was using Pyrokinesis to set some books on fire and see how the characters reacted to my chaos or using Telekinesis to toss objects across the room, I found myself lingering in scenes just to see what sorts of optional trouble I could get in. I really appreciated the fact that Rhombus of Ruin responded to my weird decisions.
While the simplistic controls make for a smooth VR experience, it also means that the “puzzles” that impede you in the world just barely fit the definition of the word. Interacting with the environment is accomplished by just looking at an object to target it and then hitting the corresponding button on the DualShock to initiate said power. And, unlike some of Tim Schafer’s classic adventure games like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle, at no point was I stumped by any of the mental hurdles placed in front of me.
My one big disappointment with Rhombus of Ruin is that it’s so centrally located around one area — a Bermuda Triangle-esque underwater wreckage of vessels — and doesn’t display the diversity that made me adore the original game. Most of your time is spent underwater or in submerged vehicles, save for one awesome trip into the mind of a familiar character. Compared to the first game, which had us popping from Vaudeville theaters and Napoleonic board games to psychedelic discos and abstract recreations of the JFK assassination, Rhombus ironically feels one dimensional. I really wish it would’ve let me pop into the headspace of more of characters that I’ve loved and missed for the past decade.