Digital Gems is our weekly column where we highlight contemporary and classic downloadable games that we think are worth your attention.
I remember the announcement for Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin so clearly. There was Raz, with a virtual reality headset strapped to his skull, floating in the air like the cover of a certain issue of Time magazine. But since then, I've wondered what the project would entail, and how worthwhile it would be. Luckily, after profuse dusting off of my Playstation VR, I was able to play Double Fine’s latest offering over the weekend, which is out today on Playstation VR.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a VR game less in line with the Psychonauts you’re likely used to playing. Instead of taking on the action platforming of its namesake, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin instead looks elsewhere: to writer and pioneer Tim Schafer’s past in point-and-click adventures. The end result is a quick adventure, falling under two hours in length (or maybe closer to an hour, but heck, time is a lost concept in VR).
At the end of the first game, we see Raz embracing his newfound status as a fully-fledged member of the Psychonauts (psychic secret agents), and Rhombus of Ruin's VR point-of-view gives you the agency to see that dream of Raz's fulfilled. I noted that Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin has more in common with point-and-click adventures, but I should probably amend the phrasing of that. In a way, it's a lot more like a gaze-and-click adventure. As returning hero Raz, you have the power of clairvoyance, which means you can seamlessly enter others’ minds to gain vantage points (from fish to acquaintances). You do this in the most simple of ways: you look in the direction of them, they glow, and with the press of a button, you transfer to their point-of-view. From the minds of others, you can telekinetically zap things, shake things in mid-air, and even set toilet paper on fire.
Clairvoyance in Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin lends itself to a surprising trick that I haven't seen explored much in VR (and as someone who formerly covered daily VR news for a living, this was a shock). As to not spoil a story beat, Raz finds himself traveling to a number of creatures over his time in the desolate Rhombus of Ruin, from the brain of a jellyfish to the smallest dollhouse imaginable. In a field with dozens upon dozens of "empathetic" and "immersive" documentaries and games, Rhombus of Ruin is the first VR project to actually make me feel like I'm in someone else's shoes.
Overall the game is pleasant, should you be longing to return to the quirky characters of the 2005 Playstation 2 cult classic that is. (If you’re not already a fan, I doubt you’d find much here.) The Richard Horvitz-voiced Raz is back in full-force, as are his band of tutors and his “girlfriend” Lili. The VR game picks up literally right where the first game left off: with Lili’s father, the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, kidnapped, and Raz and the gang venturing out to rescue him.
The game’s story bridges the gap between the first game and its impending sequel. You confront familiar characters across the bite-sized game, as your Psychonauts jet crashes into the ominous underwater Rhombus of Ruin. The Rhombus of Ruin is a place of intrigue with its Rapture-esque domed windows and sea-bound critters (there's sharks). The puzzles you solve over the course of the game won’t stretch your noggin as much as something like Grim Fandango once did, but it still makes for an enjoyable challenge in the VR space.
In short though, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin feels the most like a proof of concept. It shows that yes, these characters are still fun to pal around with and you should probably be excited for Psychonauts 2, and yes, being a literal Psychonaut in VR is as neat as it sounds. But with a story so fleeting and puzzles so simple, it fails to wholly capture the magic of the point-and-click adventures it reminds me of.
I often jokingly refer to my Playstation VR as my Rez Machine, as there’s—honestly—not much for the VR headset other than that synesthesia-inducing game. While I enjoyed my time with games like Thumper and SUPERHYPERCUBE back in October after the system officially launched, after the first month I stowed the headset in a far off cabinet. It only re-emerged on Sunday afternoon, when I figured I should give Psychonauts’ VR romp a try. In terms of the Playstation VR’s entire catalogue, I’d cozy Double Fine's latest experiment alongside Thumper, SUPERHYPERCUBE, and Rez Infinite as the best available for the platform, despite its brevity. If anything, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin made me thirst for more simple story-driven, point-and-click adventure-reminiscent games for VR, whether it’s a Schafer-affiliated one or not. Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.