The Psychonauts franchise has garnered a significant amount interest over the past year. The original title debuted in 2005 and was immediately deemed a cult classic despite underwhelming sales. Hopes of a possible sequel were reignited through a very public discussion on Twitter between Double Fine Productions founder Tim Schafer and creator of Minecraft Markus ‘Notch’ Persson. Nothing ever became of those talks, but it did lead to a crowd-funding campaign for an official sequel, due for release in 2018.
In the meantime we find ourselves looking at the imminent release of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin: a segue between the two platform titles funded by Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) and developed exclusively for PlayStation VR. A very different gameplay proposition to either Psyhconauts or that suggested for Psychonauts 2, the virtual reality (VR) experience in Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin nevertheless retains all the charmingly unique character and self-referential humour of the franchise, and within that is a very enticing prospect.
It’s hard to explain the premise of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin without falling into spoiler traps for the first title. As the original Psychonauts comes to a close our hero Raz is asked to become a fully fledged Psychonaut, however news soon arrives that Truman Zanotto, Grand Head of the Psychonauts, has been kidnapped. Raz joins a team to go in search of Zanotto, and Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin begins as the team embark upon their quest to find him. This VR exclusive edition of the franchise is intended to bridge the gap between the first title and the forthcoming sequel.
While the original Psychonauts is a platform videogame through-and-through, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin opts instead for a first-person experience. The player is tasked with solving puzzles using telepathic and telekinetic abilities, among others, with different characters having different skills available. The player enters the role of Raz, but can take command of other characters using his clairvoyance powers.
The preview version VRFocus experienced was limited, but obviously presented to be an easily palatable entrance into the world of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. The player remains seated throughout interacting with characters and objects through gaze-based input and the DualShock 4 controller. Simple challenges are available during this opening sequence – communicating with other characters, plotting a path to your destination, finding a specific object – but difficulty builds through the eventual inclusion of convoluted routes to your ultimate goal.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a very clever design for bringing well loved franchises into a medium where they arguably wouldn’t otherwise fit. A great deal of attention has been paid to the strengths and weaknesses of VR in order to make the best of the technology, and Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin’s preview build teases a memorable experience lying ahead. Despite all the action and adrenaline-pumping videogames on the horizon for PlayStation VR, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin’s more sedate adventure is one of the most promising yet seen for the format.