RiME didn’t exactly have the smoothest of times from its initial announcement to its release. Surfacing as an intriguing adventure, catching the attention of many – myself included – to then disappearing for about two years, and reappearing under a new publisher; the game’s rocky road will understandably be worrying for some. If the troubled development journey of other games has taught us anything, it’s that it can lead to rushed products, blended concepts and cut corners. But on the other hand, it can also lead to the game being given the proper treatment it deserves, and an experience that’s polished, consistent, and realises the original ideas and passion the developers wanted to convey.

Particularly when we consider a genre as broad and as tricky as a narrative focussed adventure, and in Rime’s case, with added other bits – exploration of large areas, puzzling and actual gameplay mechanics, and even third person platforming – you’re in dangerous territory. A lot of things to fuck up, in other words. Yet somehow, to mine and I’m sure many other’s great relief, the developers at Tequila Works have pulled it off, creating not only an emotional and intriguing tale, but also a world that is interesting to be a part of and gameplay that is worth being there.

The game begins with our playable character, a young boy, washing up on the sunny beach of a mysterious island. Despite not giving you a set objective, or any explanation whatsoever, the game has a good way of guiding you via exploration and visual hints. That large tower in the distance, for example, is probably where we should be looking towards, and along the way you’ll find some interactable objects that lead to progress. Magical pillars and artefacts that, when shouted at (this being the boy’s primary form of interaction), release an orb of light that you watch fly down to a statue and embed in one of a few of its surrounding pillars. You now know what to look for and so set off to explore the surrounding ruins, caves and beaches for ways to reach these other orbs. When all of them are found, you return to the statue, shout at it and unveil a transformation that reveals, not only a way to reach the next area, but also a cute ickle fox who will be your fluffy, chirpy guide for the rest of the game.

This is just an example of how the first area plays out, but a similar series of exploration meets light puzzling is essentially how the rest of the game proceeds. Puzzles require you to shift blocks of stone to reach higher areas or set upon pressure pads, find keys to unlock doors, and solve the odd perspective challenge – using the sun to cast a shadow that reveals a door, for example. There are a mixture of linear sections thrown in throughout, particularly later in the game, and these areas are where the platforming has more of a chance to shine. Leaping across gaps in bridges, climbing ruins and scrambling up ledges all in the pursuit of acquiring something or activating one of the many contraptions in your path.

While plenty of the puzzle ideas repeat throughout the game, they never become rote. One could argue the process of solving puzzles lacks challenge, and I wouldn’t contest with that, however I feel RiME excels more in its offerings of discovery and wonder, and the puzzles fit well with the pacing of the game. And besides, the few ideas that the puzzles do explore are solid to begin with and are used to good effect alongside platforming and exploration.

This goes for most of the game in terms of its mechanics. Platforming is light, yet enhances exploration, and vice versa. It sort of reminds me of how Shadow of the Colossus handled platforming, only much more significant in this case. Maybe you climb the side of a cliff or up some ruins to see what’s there, but nothing too intense or complicated. Of course, as the game progresses to the more linear sections, the platforming and puzzling increases in quantity, but it still retains a laid back, open approach. The game isn’t short, either, so there’s plenty of gameplay on offer (lasting about 6-7 hours, which for a game like this isn’t bad), and that none of it gets tedious is testament to its quality. And just the fact that RiME’s world is genuinely interesting to be a part of and explore. That first area of the game which I mentioned earlier is beautiful. Waves lapping at golden beaches, gulls soaring through the blue skies, lush vegetation, and plenty of nooks and crannies to investigate; it succeeds in compelling one to ignore the lure of progression and just have a good old look around.

Having said that, something that bugs me about the game is that this brilliant first area is the only one of its kind. There are other open sections, but none pack quite the same impact or offer the same level of exploration. As an example, there’s a desert section of the game that sees you evading a giant bird. It’s a cool section, having to hide from sight and figure your way around the level to try and defeat it, but it also means you can’t freely move around the environment. “Hey, what’s that over there?” *bird screams down and kills you*, “never mind, I guess I’ll just stay under this conveniently placed cover”. It’s somewhat disappointing that this is the way the game proceeds – from curious open sections to more restrictive ones or straight up linear ‘scenes’. Having said that, the pacing of the game is perfect, so perhaps this ultimately works to its credit.

For the most part, the narrative is also greatly compelling. The island is mysterious and magical, and you want to find out what its ‘deal’ is, so to speak. Not to mention a strange hooded figure that you keep running into. It can be a little ambiguous, though, and I didn’t feel, come the end of the game, that we really get a sufficient explanation of everything. Though, on the other hand, some of the story is presented in the environment and through collectables – drawings and such – which means if you rush through the game, your experience is not going to be as fulfilling as those who take their time. It’s in direct conflict with the pacing of the game, and in some areas you’ll want to be moving forward, but feel obligated to try and find secrets. That seems like a bit of an oversight, and for those who have little interest in collectables, this will directly affect you.

Aside from those few minor concerns, however, RiME was really a pleasant surprise. It’s impactful on an emotional level, and also provides some fun puzzling and challenges, but that first area of the game is the star in my opinion, and while it doesn’t follow through completely for the rest of the game, the sense of wonder and an emphasis on discovery does. Its mechanics are solid and, objectively speaking, I have very little reason to complain (occasionally platforming could be a bit rough, but nothing too bad), and I think the accessibility of the gameplay is a boon to the game’s pacing. The developers have managed to implement a little variety in their puzzles, though mainly keep a similar set of ideas throughout and somehow not make it seem boring or shallow. RiME has been a long time coming, but it was worth it in the end. I think those who were anxious leading up to release can rest easy, because there’s a good adventure here.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1, and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games - Silent Hill 2 and Shogun 2 being a couple of my all time favourites. I became adamant that I wanted to be a video game critic after discovering YouTuber TotalBiscuit, and subsequently took on (and completed) a Journalism course, hoping to one day play and talk about video games for a living...or, you know, just as a hobby.