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Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Review (PSVR)

Twelve years from Double Fine's acclaimed platformer, Psychonauts, released to worldwide acclaim; Tim Schafer and his team have finally brought us a continuation of Raz's journey - Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. Let's find out if this PSVR exclusive is worth your attention.....

Pyschonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Review (PSVR)

INTRO

It fair to say that fans of the action platformer, Psychonauts, have been waiting quite a while for the next chapter to the classic story. Unfortunately, they will still have to wait at least another year for a true numbered sequel; but to help you pass the time Double Fine have developed a bitesize chapter set between the events of the original and the 2017 (hopefully) instalment. Furthermore, Rhombus of Ruin is exclusive for the PSVR, but still remains canon and features all the main beloved characters – no mention of spin-off anywhere. I believe for both longtime loyal fans and newcomers; Tim and his team have crafted a delightful experience that doesn't boast value but oozes the unmistakable charm the studio is recognised for.

You can purchase it on the Playstation Store for £15.49/$19.99

STORY

Pyschonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Review (PSVR). Using Razs' powers on the ship.

So, the story is kinda a big deal with anything that Double Fine touch. It's their unmistakable charm and wit within the larger than life worlds they build and the characters they bring to life. Luckily, much of this has already been created in the original, but it's reassuring to know that this universe still glows with heart and can be experienced by both gamers from the past and those ready to join Raz for the future. This is still very much centred around storytelling, despite being tied to VR and more surprisingly balances its narrative alongside its gameplay – not just a cutscene you can look at with different angles.

With that in mind, I'll keep the major details of the plot for you to enjoy – because if you value story, then you'll probably want to uncover it on your own terms. It takes place mere moments after the events of the first game, following the quest of Raz, Lili, Coach, Sasha and  Milla as they attempt to track down and rescue Truman – the grand head of the Psychonauts. Over the next couple of hours, you will travel to the perilous Rhombus of Ruin, (think Bermuda Triangle), explore the underwater wreckage, meet the fish people and solve puzzles. All of which leads you closer to finding the true purpose of Trumans' capture, and whom exactly is behind it. The narrative here is great and flows with such ease and due to smart writing and excellent voice work; I constantly found myself taking my hands off of the controller to stop and listen to every line and uncover each small thought each character has. Not only is this dialogue superb, but the location itself is utterly beautiful. Providing the backdrop for a variety of great story moments trigger just when they need to – keeping the pace going. Even with the very short amount of time here, the main reason to keep pushing is the unparalleled storytelling.

For newcomers, simply have a quick read of a summary of the previous plot and jump in. I urge you not to be put off by the fear of continuity – this small chapter stands as a slice of greatness from Doube Fine's imagination. For fans, the return of the beloved characters from years back will no doubt bring smiles to your face. Not only is it enough to tie you over till the true sequel, but it doesn't feel unnecessary and continues canon thoughtfully- providing new revelations and familiar story beats throughout. 

GAMEPLAY

Pyschonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Review (PSVR). Rescuing Truman from the fish people.

Rhombus of Ruin has been heavily altered to become a completely intuitive VR experience, resulting in a major departure of gameplay perspective and focus for the series. Instead of a third person platformer, ROR is a first person story driven adventure game; with light puzzles and an emphasis of perspective shifting through its levels. As Raz and his power as a Psychonaut, you can hop into other minds at will. At first, this is for engaging with your allies and gaining insight into their well-being, but when our heroes are separated and hypnotised Raz will need to transfer from foe to friend and solve puzzles to free each of his comrades. As you progress you also unlock additional helpful powers such as fire and telekineses.

If you're not moving from point A to B via mind transfer between fish, you will be trapped inside a room finding a way to wake your friend from their hallucinations. As there is no movement other than your head, shifting around the room through the freaky fish people is required. Once inside a room, it will be clear that the only way out is to solve a collection of puzzles – classic Double Fine. Puzzles require button presses, item combinations and physics based alterations. Unlike previous titles, the puzzles are surprisingly manageable and not requiring note making or abstract outside-the-box logic. I got stuck once, but if we're being honest it was my stupidity. For veterans, the difficulty will probably feel too easy, allowing you to power through with no sweat. But for myself, I felt the more story focused elements were greater realised and it's good to remember despite the lineage, the original release wasn't a point and click puzzle game. After each 'aha' moment, Raz will do his best to escort each of your comrades back to safety. This structure repeats for each one of our four companions, it's not until the final climax that it breaks the mould and delivers its true potential – but sadly with just 20 minutes remaining.

The final section is actually so impressive, that I truly want you to experience as it happens. (this isn't lazy writing I promise you) What's important, though, is what this final act does with scale – more than most others. Particularly with the obvious advantage of VR. From a towering boss fight to a creepy memory sequence, this is when ROR seriously shines and becomes incredibly mesmerising. Perhaps this is partially due to the complete absence of puzzles or the need to quickly shift perspectives around a room, which seems odd when the majority of the game seemingly priorities this. I've never seen a VR title use scale, and the change of scale so well.

GRAPHICS

Pyschonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Review (PSVR). Saving Milla from hypnosis.
Unlike many studios working on virtual reality, immersion and high fidelity graphics is not a priority for Double Fine and never has been. The art and design of the developers bring these colourful worlds and its characters to life. Yet again, they prove you don't need realistic mud splattering or pores on skin in order to excite you. The exterior landscapes are intimidating, deep with glowing fauna and populated with sea life; with broken train tracks and sunken ships buried with the ground. Many a time the game clearly wants to just take it all in – and it actually warrants it. Indoor areas benefit less, and the laboratories can feel a bit ordinary and uninspiring. As mentioned earlier, the scale is outsounding. So this helps with the building interiors when you're switching from a rats' perspective to a whale swimming outside.The animation is also top notch, particularly as mentioned in the final levels. Fans of dark stop motions (eg Coraline) will probably be won over there and then.

SOUNd

Double Fine's charm and eye for polish continues here. The sound is top tier, especially in its returning voice cast whom all perform fantastically – breathing eccentric life from the superb writing. Other sound effects are solid, with a lot of attention to small details further acknowledging its comedy. There is also a decent selection of ambient environmental sounds, from the squishes of fluids within pipes to the distinct echoing call of the underwater inhabitants. To complete this audio awesomeness, it has a great theme song that it launches and ends with – written and performed in sync with its plot.

VR

The visuals are clean and there is no leg movement, so thankfully the risk of sickness is reduced significantly. However after just over an hour I felt myself needing a break, I began to feel slightly uneasy and hotheaded – not enough to banish the game to hell, but noticeable at the very least. I believe this is caused by the constant need to shift around to different perspectives and that each transition is accompanied by a spiralling magic effect on the screen. After over a dozen of these, it might be less compelling to move around when trying to solve a puzzle. Luckily the game runs silky-smooth and keeps you stationary throughout.

CONCLUSION

It doesn't last long, and there's not much point in revisiting, yet ultimately it's still a worthwhile VR experience that stands out thanks to Tims writing and Double Fines charming art style. The incredible use of scale towards the end will have you smiling with pure wonder, and the puzzles never cause unnecessarily lengthy periods of time standing still with your weight headset on. Rhombus of Ruin is a taster of the full narrative to come, but more importantly, further support for the potential of this technology. Do not be fooled, this is a game, just a very short and sweet one.
PROSCONS
+ Stellar writing and characters– Very short
+ Simple but satisfying puzzles……– Though very little challenge
+ Excellent use of VR scale– No replay value
7
Good

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