Developer: Tequila Works
Publishers: Grey Box, Six Foot
Release date: May 26, 2017
Available on: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Puzzle games have come a long way since Tetris, with newer games adding adventure elements and 3D worlds. Games like The Witness or Journey have given us beautiful worlds to explore as we solve puzzles and uncover the stories within. And now, developer Tequila Works seeks to join that club with its new title, RiME. The game itself has traveled a long road, first put forth as an open world adventure with survival elements, such as needing to find food and shelter. The game was first offered to Microsoft, who passed on it, and then, briefly, it became a Playstation exclusive, with a trailer debuting in August, 2013. The trailer brought immediate comparisons to titles from Team Ico and to the game Journey. Over the next four years, that game would be tweaked, and eventually released as a multiplatform title. The open world change to gated “levels” within an overworld, and the survival elements were jettisoned.
RiME as it arrives in 2017 is divided into four distinct areas on a mysterious island. The game follows a young boy who washes up on the island after an incident at sea. He frees a fox from a statue, who becomes his guide. Following a mysterious figure in a red cape, the boy must solve puzzles and escape from enemies to uncover the mystery of the island. Players who engage in a lot of exploration will find various collectibles, including outfits, toys, and keyholes that reveal paintings that help to fill in the story. There is no dialogue, with everything conveyed through the visuals and music, with the boy unlocking things through a mixture of singing and shouts. No HUD mars the screen, leaving you free to take in the colorful and beautifully rendered scenery. With no HUD, there is nothing to guide you, save the scant visual clues the game offers and to follow the fox.
The four areas are all fairly distinctive, each with their own challenges. Grecian style architecture dots the landscape throughout, from a seaside area with cliffs and meadows and some gentle animals, to a more arid area menaced by a bird-like creature. One area winds through waterfalls and caverns with crystals growing from the walls, and another resembles a labyrinthine fortress. There are some clever puzzles that make use of light and shadow, but most are more simplistic, having you maneuver a block to a certain point or find a key to unlock the next doorway. The fox and her barking provides the clue on which way to go, but how to go that way is left up to you to figure out. Climbable surfaces are denoted with a white line, with the boy taking on some basic platforming like a younger, cel-shaded Nathan Drake. Button prompts will appear on the screen, one to move items or open doors, and another to have the boy shout or sing, which releases energy to open more doors or activate machines. The boy’s shouts can also cause braziers of flame to flare up more brightly.
The boy cannot fight, only run, and here timing your forays into the open will be key. Fortunately, the game does not view death as a punishment. There is no game over, and being felled by an enemy or missing a jump results in you restating right back where you were. Only the swimming portions that are prevalent in the game’s middle will set you back a little bit, but not so far as to force you to replay sections over and over again. Unfortunately, the boy doesn’t run too fast, so you need to time your sprints from cover to cover or use rolls to evade an enemy. Globes of light can be activated as a temporary defense in one portion, but you’ll need to solve puzzles to more permanently take care of foes. Being caught can be a nuisance, especially when you’re trying to figure out where to go or what to do next. Swimming can be a little awkward at first, and it’s here where you may notice the most problems with camera angles. Controls are only explained with pictures in the options, so you need to decipher what each button will do (most are fairly evident, at least). For the most part the controls will work well, though I had them slow to react in certain instances, especially when trying to hurry to pick up an item. And while most solutions will eventually reveal themselves, there are a couple that seemed to be very obtuse, and one became very frustrating that I needed the help of an online guide to see where to go. There aren’t many “Aha!” moments like in The Witness, but you may overthink some puzzles and find the solutions were easier than thought.
The game pulls from various references (among those cited by creative director Raul Rubio are the movies Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Jason and the Argonauts), and you can see how it wants to be another ICO or Journey. The beautiful musical score by David Garcia accompanied by violinist Lindsey Stirling provides a wonderful backdrop to the strange and somewhat sad tale. The colorful graphics make the world a joy to wander around in. My playthrough was 7 hours with minimal exploration, those that like to hit every nook and cranny can add another 2-3 hours to that at least. The game seeks to evoke an emotional response from players, and its success in doing so will vary from person to person. For some, that may be hampered by the vagueness of the game’s story. Ultimately, RiME is a game about loss, and the reveal at the end left me with mixed feelings. That payoff will vary from player to player as well, as it is dependent on how strong a bond you’re able to form with the boy. Some may find it too derivative of other games, which will lessen the impact.
In all, RiME strives to be a great adventure/puzzle game with an emotional story, and to a point it succeeds. The world is beautifully rendered, with bright colors and shading highlighting the simple, stylized design. The musical score is wonderful, and serves as a perfect backdrop to the proceedings. Where RiME falls short is in its simplistic puzzles and technical issues. The game’s vagueness and lack of direction is both liberating and frustrating, and certain spots may have some quitting the game before making it to that final reveal. For those that do reach the end, the payoff is a bit mixed, and how much it resonates emotionally will vary from player to player. Finding all the collectibles in one playthrough may be difficult without a guide, and you need to remember that once you leave an area, you cannot go back. Despite its flaws, there is a lot to like about RiME. It’s a good, but not great, game, but it does attempt to find an interesting way to deal with loss and its stages. And, in that, it makes it a game worthy of your time.