Terms like “cult classic” and “hidden gem” get thrown around a lot in the gaming press. At times, it feels like the words have lost all meaning, since every game is a hidden gem to someone. But I think thess terms definitely apply to the Double Fine Productions game Psychonauts, which was a commercial failure when it originally came out on various platforms in 2005. However, by being one of the few true hidden gem games, it eventually got a sequel over a decade later in the form of a Playstation VR game with a more traditional Psychonauts 2 planned for 2019.
I had heard of the original Psychonauts and its quality, but never played it. When I saw that a digital copy of Psychonauts came free with a new copy of the PSVR title, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, it seemed like a great value. Now that I’ve played both games, I feel it’s easily one of the best values on a new game you can find. In order to do both games justice, and since you can always download Psychonauts by itself from the Playstation Store, I will cover each game separately in this review.
As the first game in the series, Psychonauts sets up a world where people with psychic abilities are so commonplace that there is even a summer camp for psychic children. The camp is run by members of the Psychonauts, who are essentially the ESP FBI of this universe. You play as Rasputin, better known as “Raz”, who has snuck into the camp without permission and against the wishes of his dad. He soon finds himself working to save the camp and prove himself to the Psychonauts in the little time he has before his father comes to pick him up.
At its core, Psychonauts is a 3D puzzle platformer. Raz learns to use his psychic abilities in a variety of ways such as shoot psychic blast, jump higher, burn things and more. You will have to use the abilities in creative ways to access new areas, defeat enemies, find collectibles and more.
Though this gameplay style may be similar to titles like Banjo Kazooie, Ratchet & Clank and any other 3D platformer from the era, the writing and art direction of Psychonauts makes the game something special. The game features a dark comedy style and a lot of the moments are simply hilarious. It’s the kind of game where you want to explore everything so you can find every secret and hear all the dialog. The game also has a beautiful aesthetic. Most of the levels take place in the minds of characters, with the scenery reflecting their inner self. The environments can range from a jumble of floating islands in a 1950’s American suburbs to playing-card themed paintings of Spanish streets.
The game is no slouch in the challenge department either. The game has tricky puzzles and and it won’t hold your hand unless you ask. For example, the game let me go into a boss battle before I had gained the skills necessary to defeat the boss. And it wasn’t just some, “You forgot to upgrade” thing. The level had an entire side quest I had missed but was still able to reach the level boss. And since you normally can’t reach the boss unless you’ve gotten what you need on the level, I failed the mission multiple times trying various combinations of useless tactics before resorting to a guide. That said, there is a, shall we say, voice in your head which you can ask for help. I just didn’t realize I could do that for most of the game.
The platforming can also be very challenging. The game has several challenges that require really good platforming accuracy and a slip can send you back to the beginning of the challenge. The point where Raz faces his inner demons is enough to make someone snap a controller. So there are times when it can be frustrating. But overall, it’s an amazingly fun and funny game.
Psychonauts had the bad fortune to come out at a time when gamers weren’t enthusiastic about 3D platforming games. In 2005, when the game came out, the last 3D Mario game was the underwhelming Super Mario Sunshine from 2002. Since there was already some genre fatigue in 2002, by the time Psychonauts came out in 2005, gamers were busier with titles like Call of Duty 2 or Star Wars Battlefront 2 (the original one without all the microtransactions). The only platform game that gained a lot of attention in 2005 was Shadow of the Colossus, and that is as far from the kind of platformer that Psychonauts is as one can get.
It’s definitely worth playing now through the Playstation Network or another digital game distribution service. Psychonauts is an amazing platformer that everyone should try and you’ll be ready for the sequel when it comes out in 2019. That is, unless you have a PSVR, then you can enjoy a sequel now.
Unlike many hidden gems, thanks to Psychonauts’ cult classic status and the revenue generated through digital sales, the game received a sequel for PSVR that directly follows the event of the first game. In their first outing in over a decade, the original cast of Psychonauts have returned to handle the pseudo-cliffhanger from the end of the first game. With that in mind the rest of this review will contain spoilers to the first game.
At the ending of Psychonauts, Raz becomes a full fledged Psychonaut, gets the girl (Lilli) and reforms the coach. The happy ending mood is soured as the Psychonauts learn that Lily’s father, Truman (the head of the Psychonauts), had been kidnapped. This plot thread was unresolved for 12 years, but in Rhombus of Ruin, the game starts immediately after the first, with Raz, Lily and the other Psychonauts on their jet and searching for Truman. The game also starts with an amazing James Bond-esque theme song and opening sequence that’s great to watch in VR.
Rhombus of Ruin is a seated VR game where you use Raz’s psychic abilities to solve puzzles and help the other members of the squad. Raz can now inhabit the mind of another person, which allows you to see things from another point of view. You will have to use these various points of view to activate controls, interact with objects and try to figure out the mystery. There is no platforming, but the game maintains the humor and dialog that made the first game so memorable. Though if you get stuck on a puzzle, you will get tired of hearing the characters repeat the same things while you try to click on everything.
While you don’t get the chance to fall to your death, you do maintain the use of many of the psychic powers from the first game. But if you missed the troublesome platforming from the first game, that awkwardness was replaced with frustrating VR controls. You use the DualShock controller to activate powers, but you choose what to use them on by looking at the object. This makes sense for a game about psychics, but it can be frustrating when several items are near each other and you need to look at a specific spot to complete a challenge.
The puzzles on offer range from simplistic challenges like a sliding tile puzzle to complex adventure style puzzles that will require you to jump around the various points of view in the room trying to get the items you need to proceed. Overall, it’s a good mix of puzzles and the way they work in VR is well implemented.
The game is also beautiful to look at. I would dare say it’s one of the better looking PSVR games. The characters are still cartoony and have a stylized look, but it works well in VR. Though it only happens once, you even get look inside the mind of someone else like in the first game. It’s a great use of VR and it offers some closure to a character from the first game who didn’t get any before.
Rhombus of Ruin can be beat in a few hours, but there is some replay value in doing things on the levels that weren’t required but were possible. After finishing the game, I was surprised to find there were a lot of trophies I could still work for, and many of them involves things in the game I missed entirely. I’m sure most of them are just the comical results from wrong answers I didn’t try, but the fact that there are more Psychonauts jokes and dialog make it worth another playthrough.
Both Psychonauts and Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin are great games that are fun for gamers of any age. The fact that you can get two amazing games for one low price make this a value you can’t ignore.
I like it when new games come with something that make the new version better than a used one. It incentivizes me to buy more new games. You can get a new copy of Rhombus of Ruin for about $16 ar GameStop [at the time I am writing this]. And since Psychonauts by itself is $10 on the PSN store, it’s worth it to pay an extra $6 to get a great VR game that follows up the Psychonaut story.
I went from someone who had only heard about the game in terms of its cult classic status to becoming a genuine fan in a matter of days. If you pick up the great value pack, I’m sure you will become one too.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Review
Pyschonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a great VR puzzle game that follows up the events of the original Psychonauts from 2005. The game is beautifully designed and filled with witty dialogue and tricky puzzles. If you buy the game new, you get a free voucher for the original Psychonauts, so there’s you don’t have to worry about being behind on the story if you pick this up sequel to the cult classic game.