While we impatiently wait for the fully-formed mental mindscapes and psionic platforming of Psychonauts 2, a trek to the Rhombus of Ruin is the next best thing. This PS VR-exclusive minisode is made to bridge the gap between the story of the original game and its impending sequel, but it's also a proving ground for Double Fine to show off just how far it’s come since the first Psychonauts in 2005. Diving into this first-person, point-and-psychically-poke adventure feels like the best-case scenario for a reunion with your best friend from summer camp after you've both grown up: they look completely different, but they're just as lovable as familiar as you remember. It's been over a decade since I first fell in love with Psychonaut's quirky characters, yet it's as if they haven't aged a day - if anything, the passing of time and the advancing of hardware has done wonders for their complexion.
Rhombus picks up immediately where the first game left off: Raz and his crush Lili are still processing their first kiss and the adolescent awkwardness that follows, when suddenly, the camp gets word that Truman Zanotto - Grand Head of the Psychonauts, and Lili's father - has been kidnapped. Quick, to the '70s-sci-fi jet! Raz, Lili, and the lovable trio of camp counselors Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello, and the redeemed Coach Oleander all strap in and start the search for Truman. Besides a bit of retconning where Raz seems to have changed back into his classic outfit, this may be the closest you'll ever get to living out the events immediately following a game's ending cutscene - and in first-person, no less!
The first thing that'll jump out at you is just how much better everyone - and everything - looks, while still retaining the original's whimsical colors and cartoony proportions. The Psychonauts crew is instantly recognizable, yet their textures, expressions, and animations are spectacularly improved; it's a bit like comparing Pixar's latest to the aesthetics of 1995's Toy Story. It all feels that much more real thanks to PS VR, and the visuals hold up to the scrutiny of in-your-face observation. I'm going to go on record here and say that Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin has the most realistic toilet paper rolls I've ever seen in a video game to date.
As to how toilet paper enters the picture, the inside of the jet serves as a contained playroom where you can fiddle with the environment using your psychic abilities. The most important recurring power is Clairvoyance, which you can use to see through others' eyes and effectively shift your perspective - a clever way to implement the 'teleporting' movement that seems to work best and negate nausea in first-person VR puzzlers, as demonstrated in Batman: Arkham VR. Then there's the simple Psi Poke, which is your best method of 'clicking' nearby objects or getting someone's attention, as well as more destructive powers like Pyrokinesis and Psi Blast. If you're so mischievously inclined, you can use your mind to set fire to the stacked supply of toilet paper aboard the jet - much to the chagrin of Coach Oleander, who's in need of reinforcements.
And oh, how wonderful it is to hear all these characters talking again, spouting all-new lines of dialogue that are just as charming and chuckle-worthy as the first game's. The original cast of voice actors are reprising their roles, thank goodness (because there's nothing's worse than an obvious vocal replacement), and even after all these years without a sequel, they haven't missed a beat in terms of each camp member's demeanor and defining personality traits. Half the fun of Rhombus will be in seeking out all the possible interactions between the characters - like the conversations between Raz and his Clairvoyance target as he sidles his way into their mind, or Psi Poking yourself from another person's perspective to make Raz giggle with all the adorableness of the Pillsbury Doughboy. If you have even the mildest affection for Psychonauts, these little bits of comedy and camaraderie between characters are an absolute delight.
I don't want to give too much of Rhombus' scenario away - this is going to be a relatively short experience all told, unless you're like me and trying to track down every unique bit of interactivity and smile-inducing paraphernalia tucked around each area. But Rhombus of Ruin is exactly what it ought to be: a tantalizing preview of what's to come for Psychonauts, a wonderful up-close reunion with memorable characters, and an assurance that these are the same folks you grew to love in the first game all those years ago.