Psychonauts In the Rhombus of Ruin Will Crack You Up [PSX 2016 Hands-On]

Everything about Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin sounds ridiculous. It’s a console-exclusive virtual reality-based sequel to Psychonauts that will lead into the upcoming Psychonauts 2 -- each component feels like a direct thumb in the eye to doubting Thomases of every stripe. But the democratization of gaming tools and the wide-reaching nature of the internet means no franchise is ever truly dead, and thus we have a playable demo for a new Psychonauts game. Always bet on Schafer, I guess.

I’ve never played the original Psychonauts, so I expected to be completely lost -- thankfully, that wasn’t the case! I’m sure returning fans will get more from seeing these characters back in action, but I got what I needed from the demo’s opening crawl. Series protagonist Razputin has psychic powers, he’s become an official Psychonaut, and he’s off to rescue his sort-of-girlfriend’s father. Simple! The airy, upbeat tone of the game plugs in the holes and kept me invested. If the characters are likable enough, I don’t need to know anything beyond the absolute basics.

Rhombus of Ruin is very funny, as you’d expect from a new Double Fine adventure game. Even when I had to hear some lines more than once, I still chuckled. The one-liners feel effortless, delivered with the kind of confidence you rarely see from “funny” video games. There’s no bite or snark associated with the jokes; they’re just strong goofs, like a crack about the nitty-gritty of parallelograms. I’ve always put Double Fine in the same box as Pixar -- both studios make stuff that engages audiences of all ages -- and Rhombus of Ruin is further proof. If you have a kid old enough for virtual reality, they’ll be old enough to laugh along with Rhombus of Ruin.

Since virtual reality still hasn’t quite figured out how to incorporate free locomotion without giving the player motion sickness, Rhombus of Ruin locks the player to a set perspective, almost making it feel like an old-school point-and-click adventure. Razputin can use his psychic abilities to see the world from another person’s eyes, essentially serving as multiple fixed camera points. You switch from person to person, looking for different interactable objects to prod with your psychokinectic abilities.

Although the puzzles felt less obtuse than your average Double Fine game, that may be a result of playing the game in virtual reality. If there was full 3D movement, or even if you were playing the game from a point-and-click perspective, I imagine you could breeze through the demo. But since Rhombus of Ruin only presents a handful of perspectives, most of the challenge comes from
sussing out the right pair of eyes and figuring out what to do once you get there. This makes Rhombus of Ruin feel like it was designed specifically for virtual reality, rather than a game that could hypothetically work on a standard television and controller.

I hope Rhombus of Ruin takes advantage of PlayStation VR beyond the fixed camera puzzles. There was some additional detail in the demo I saw, like a ‘Henry the Hippo’ comic book you can read by physically leaning in towards the magazine, so I hope that’s a sign of things to come. Throw some jokes that are just out of view of the player! Make me really strain my neck looking for some easter eggs! The player will always be in one place, thanks to the fixed cameras, so there should be less guesswork involved.

There’s a lot to like about Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, including the fact that it exists at all. It’s funny, well-designed, and feels like an essential addition to the PlayStation VR lineup. Hopefully the full game lives up to the demo’s promise -- if Rhombus of Ruin is this entertaining, that can only mean good things for Psychonauts 2. I know that’s kind of a cop-out, but I have no reason to be cautious. If you feel confident in Double Fine’s track record thus far, then put your mind at ease. Double Fine is still making Double Fine-ass video games, except you play this one with a screen directly in front of your eyeballs.