Review – Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin (PSVR)

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Playstation VR exclusive for the Playstation 4

It is amazing to think that the original Psychonauts was released in 2005, over a decade since we last joined our heroes Raz, Lili and company. At one point in time fans like myself believed we would never get to see Raz arrive at Psychonauts HQ, and we still don’t, but it is coming in the much-anticipated full-fledged sequel, Psychonauts 2. So, when Tim Schafer and Double Fine announced a PSVR stop-gap that narrated the journey from Whispering Rock to Psychonauts HQ I was one pleased fan (now all we need is Brutal Legend 2).

The biggest conundrum I saw Double Fine having with a Psychonauts VR game was how they were going to transfer Raz’s wealth of psychic powers into successful and satisfying VR gameplay mechanics. I am happy to report that although the gameplay has changed from a 3rd person, platforming adventure, it still retains that Double Fine charm. The developers have chosen to go with the tried and tested, stationary, 1st person perspective, which brings you closer to the characters and world, and helps alleviate the pesky motion sickness that more free-moving gameplay can produce.

The opening section of the game sets up the story beats and acts as a tutorial to get to grips with each of Raz’s abilities. He has pyrotechnics, a psychic blast and more, which progressively become integrated into the puzzle solving as the story continues to develop. The only way to sum up the gameplay would be an evolution of the point and click game: to use your head as a cursor and seamlessly become an acting role inside the story.

That brings me to the story. Tim Schafer has the sole writing credit, and you can tell. Within moments of putting on the PSVR headset and entering the aircraft, the familiar characters I loved in 2005 were sat around sharing witty and well-thought out dialogue. The greatest praise I can give the writing is that it felt like Tim Schafer had not taken a decade long hiatus in writing these characters; each one was familiar and as unique in personality as I remember. It helps that the original voice talent returned, too.

The use of PSVR is some of the best I have experienced; I never felt the need to take a break from the dreaded VR sweats. The team at Double Fine used the array of quirky characters to implement some of the best perspectives you can only experience in VR: overlooking a vast sea as a whale and looking up at the world as an insect. There was another storytelling moment that I enjoyed the most, but I will not spoil that, just know that it is a fantastic use of being able to look around your environment.

Typically, in the PSVR games that I have tried, the fidelity of the graphics suffers, but all in all, Psychonauts’ cartoon artstyle worked well (I did play on the PS4 Pro if that makes a difference with the resolution). The 3D audio through my Playstation Gold headset was good, and helped add to the intensity of the setpieces.

If people were going to have any qualms over purchasing Rhombus of Ruin, it would be the price and its length. I finished it in between 2 to 3 hours, and was very satified with what I got from the £13.94 I paid with a Playstation Plus membership (it will soon rise to its RRP of £15.49). I viewed it as a nice side story between the next mainline release in the series; a short experience to refresh myself with the characters. To me it was no different that buying a Blu-ray or going to the cinema.

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, is exactly what I wanted as a fan of Double Fine and Tim Schafer’s previous work. Despite its short length, Rhombus of Ruin holds all the charm and wit and quirky mindscapes you remember, to get you ready for what comes next. Roll on Psychonauts 2, and of course, Full Throttle.

 

 

 

Review – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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After finishing Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys a week before the release of Norse Mythology, I could not resist preordering it. Although not a traditional Gaiman novel, it nevertheless offered more of his entertaining writing style. Before reading, I was not familiar with the traditional interpretations of the Norse myths, my only true introduction to the Asgardian deities was through the works of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, in Marvel’s Thor, in the comics and more recently on screen.

It was apparent after the first few pages that Gaiman had managed to instil his unique, captivating writing style into the old tales, and make them feel new and approachable for a whole new batch of readers. He manages to breathe life into the vast array of characters in the connecting myths with his use of modern dialogue, making the stories suitable for children and adults alike. Gaiman has meticulously researched the myths and handpicked and written an easy to follow set of stories, each branching inwards and connecting towards the impending doom of Raganorok.

As a fan of Gaiman and the news that he is working towards a new book set in the world of Neverwhere, I’m looking forward to what comes next, but it would be a shame if he did not at some point in the future revisit the world of Thor, Loki and Odin, or visit their Greek, Egyptian or Roman counterparts.