E3 2016: Psychonauts Haven't Lost Their Charm in Rhombus of Ruin

The Psychonauts are coming back with a light, friendly VR puzzle game to lead neatly into its sequel.

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Double Fine has no shortage of memorable settings and characters, which is why it's so strange that the studio has been relegated mostly to one-offs with only a few sequels to their name. Their fans tend to appreciate the constant well of creativity, but they were still happy news to find that Psychonauts was coming back--not just as a crowdfunded sequel but with a PSVR anthology story that fills in the gaps between the two. 

Having now stepped again into Raz's tiny shoes, it's clear that this project is more limited in its scope, but its charm and personality more than make up for that.

Rhombus of Ruin is a puzzle game at heart, not a platformer, and to that extent it places you in stationary positions. Raz can interact with the world in various ways, but only as much as he can see from any living being's vantage point. Double Fine's Greg Rice mentioned that helps stave off the design problem of motion sickness, but I'm sure that controlling a player's movements helps with puzzle design too, especially since some of the puzzles are crafted around using psychokinesis to move objects.

The demo was short, and knowing the solutions would make it shorter still. It picks up immediately after the original Psychonauts, with Raz and his companions on a ship heading off to find Lili's father. It gives a quick refresher for anyone unfamiliar, and works its recap into the story in a playful way that made me laugh aloud. From that point, it was more-or-less a game of interacting with anything that glowed when I looked at it, from invading the inner thoughts of my friends to telekinetically passing some toilet paper to one of them in the bathroom.

It uses a standard PlayStation controller to accomplish this task, so it's not attempting to feel fully immersive. I was always kept aware that I was playing a video game. That may be partly because the large PlayStation controller diagram sat conspicuously in the center of the ship, popping up with nuggets of information on special powers that could be used to forward the sequence of puzzles.

Psychonauts in The Rhombus of Ruin was not often laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it carried itself with a kind of pleasant cartoonish quality that's missing from many modern games. Hearing the witty banter and turns of phrase were enough to make me smile, and that's all I needed. 

And it wouldn't be a Psychonauts game without a cliffhanger of an ending. This is only the tutorial area, but it ended with a bang that I'm sure will play into the larger plot. All of the areas will have Raz remaining motionless and jumping around with his powers, with a variety of explanations for why he can't move. It seems Double Fine recognizes the absurdity of the limitation, and is choosing to address it with tongue-in-cheek.

Psychonauts isn't a game I expected to see a sequel to, much less two, but it always had plenty of room to grow. My short sample of Rhombus of Ruin was light and quick, but it showed once again why these characters and this world has remained so popular.


This Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin preview was based on a pre-release PSVR demo of the game at an event where transportation and accommodations were provided by Sony.

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