Psychonauts is a beloved game most of us never thought would get a sequel, let alone two of them. Yet that’s where things stand, with Double Fine’s PSVR exclusive Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin existing purely to bridge the gap between the first title and the forthcoming sequel. In the opening moments, all the love I felt for the 2005 cult classic came rushing back to me. Coming face-to-face with Lili and Milla in first-person was like seeing old friends for the first time in twelve years, looking better than ever.
Unfortunately, that moment of elation was fleeting. While more Psychonauts is something I’m still on board for, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin feels like a half-effort on part of Double Fine. To say nothing of the middling gameplay (more on that later,) the writing here is lacking by usual Tim Schafer standards. This is the mind behind some of my personal favourites, and while his love for oddball whimsy and humorous non-sequiturs is still on full display, it feels neither whimsical nor humorous here. In the entire two-ish hours of playtime, I might have chuckled once, but I forget. For me to remember hilarious moments from a game that came out over a decade, and to recall barely anything from something I just played is sad – especially considering how great these characters can be.
The narrative itself could be summed up in a sentence or two, so it suffices to say that it primarily concerns Raz, Lili, Sasha, Milla and Oleander going to rescue Lili’s dad. Fans may recall that being the cliffhanger to the first game, and while getting that closure is certainly nice, the whole thing really does feel like a middling epilogue. Frankly, I would’ve rather played through this bit of plot in the proper sequel, not in a one-off VR title with entirely different mechanics.
But perhaps I could’ve forgiven some middling writing if those mechanics were at least interesting. However, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin suffers from the same thing many VR titles do, in that its mechanics basically amount to a glorified tech demo. Players sit in stasis, looking around linear environments before they click somewhere to move, then do it all over again a few dozen times. There are a few interesting puzzles thrown in, sure, like guiding Lili through an engaging box puzzle, or a climactic final boss that takes place in a shower. Plus there’s some basic satisfaction to using telekinesis in VR, which is something I really hope more games capitalize on. Let’s get on that Second Sight sequel, eh?
But some satisfying bits can’t make up for the rest of the game, which is an exercise in overwhelming tedium. There were several instances where I had to wait to move around because the movement points hadn’t spawned yet. Sitting around and waiting in VR is marginally more interesting than doing it in a traditional game, but at the end of the day it’s still just sitting around and waiting, which isn’t much fun at all.
It doesn’t help that the mechanics don’t always work as intended, either. To interact with objects, players have to guide their head towards said object. Problem is, there’s no reticle of any sort, leaving players to guesstimate where they need to look. This would be fine if it behaved in a consistent way, but it simply doesn’t. Objects often didn’t become highlighted when I was staring straight at them, and I had to exploit weird angles to progress to the next point. In other words, when this game isn’t dull, it isn’t working as intended. This issue reared its head most in two levels, the most egregious one involving a crowded concert hall, where it was next to impossible to fenagle the controls enough to get pick up a mermaid fin I needed to progress.
None of this is to say Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a particularly awful game, because it isn’t. There are some decent ideas here, the visuals are attractive, and seeing one of gaming’s most memorable casts again is a real treat, as is the brief introduction of the fantastic Darin De Paul as Lili’s father. Yet the whole package is overwhelmed by a stifling atmosphere of tedium and slipshod execution, a middling take on an exceptional property. Both the writing and mechanics aren’t up to snuff to usual Double Fine standards, and after Resident Evil VII’s fantastic use of the medium, it’s kind of difficult going back to this same-y sort of VR experience.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is something that diehard fans might want to check out after a price drop, if only to get the original’s cliffhanger wrapped up at long last. But twenty bucks is a lot to ask for what’s included, especially when there’s a decent selection on the PSVR at this point. My advice is to pick it up on the cheap right before Psychonauts 2 releases – or just read a synopsis.