RiME opens on a young boy, shipwrecked and washed-up on a serene beach with nothing but a white robe and a tattered but strikingly bold red cape. From here the game begins a forward momentum that takes the boy, and the player, through a handful of increasingly abstract locations in a mostly linear fashion, stopping occasionally to offer enticing opportunities to stray from the immediate path. The story in RiME is told entirely through visuals and sound, with no dialogue whatsoever. Each new chapter is punctuated by a short cutscene that serves to keep the story moving amongst a handful of self-contained levels. Outside of these short scenes, further backstory is limited to expository collectables awarded to the curious and the completionists.
Each of these levels sees the boy exploring gorgeously rendered locales by way of some light platforming and environmental puzzles. The puzzles range from basic box pushing to those that make clever use of perspective, time, careful observation and even a helping hand or two from the local wildlife. Developer Tequila Works have smartly avoided overusing the same puzzle ideas, which keeps the pace of the game nice and snappy. Each challenge works logically within the environment and makes great use of colour as a visual guide, and as a result solutions come naturally and are satisfying to execute. The only unfortunate downside to this is that throughout the entire game puzzles rarely feel challenging. There are also instances where the game abandons its own logic to make puzzles work, but thankfully this is isolated to a couple of small moments.
Hi, excuse me, I think my boat landed in your yard
Outside of testing your mental muscle, RiME presents a plethora of opportunities to poke and prod at every corner of the mysterious surroundings, and rewards thorough exploration with a myriad of collectables. Some of these essentially do nothing (or do they?), while others add context to the story or even unlock new costumes for the boy. Collecting these adds a lot of incentive to spend more time with RiME even after the credits have rolled. This is done by way of a chapter select option that also shows what’s left to find in each level. Bafflingly, however, there is no way to track what you’ve collected while still in-game, either before or after completing it. The only option is quit to the main menu, check said chapter select screen, and then reload the game.
Luckily, playing and replaying these chapters is a visual and auditory delight. RiME presents fantastic art direction that breathes life into every frame, with gorgeous, painterly landscapes making way for stormy coasts and overgrown castles – all filled with incidental detail and brilliant use of light and colour and backed by a truly beautiful musical score. The price to pay for the wondrous but often erratic artistry in the worlds, however, is level design that can quickly become confusing and frustrating, and without any kind of in-game map to reference, navigation can become tedious. At one point I found myself running back and forth through one grassy area, lamenting the lack of a sprint button, only to find that the place I was trying to get to was just there for aesthetics and the correct path was seemingly innocuous by comparison.
That feel when the royal bathroom is on its own island
The young hero looks great in motion and is animated with a lot of personality. He has a real sense of place within the world, but this serves to undermine the gameplay experience as movement is regularly clumsy, and the less said about the underwater camera the better. The control scheme is beautifully basic and features one of my favourite functions in a game in recent memory – a contextual ‘yell’ button that activates certain puzzle elements. In a charming twist, when you’re not in the vicinity of one of these elements it instead produces a range of emotes from soothing hums to quiet gasps, depending on the boy’s current situation. I never knew how much I needed a contextual humming button in my games before now.
Adding to these slight control fumbles, RiME does currently suffer from some distracting technical issues. Quite a few times during my playthrough I witnessed random visual hitches such as split seconds where every texture on screen would disappear, and the odd bout of stuttering frames. Most distractingly – the button prompt that activates one of the final actions in the game managed to stick around on screen for me, all the way through the ending scene and even the credit roll.
Fortunately, despite any of the issues described so far, RiME comes together wonderfully and presents a story that, although fairly predictable, is clearly a labour of love, and builds on the strengths of its artistry to come to a satisfying close. Perhaps because of the rather abrupt nature of the climax, or more likely just because of the allure of further exploration and hidden item-finding, I found myself jumping straight back into RiME as soon as the credits had rolled.
The lengths I go to for a decent network connection
It’s hard to talk about RiME without addressing the game’s somewhat tumultuous development history. Officially announced in 2013 as a Sony exclusive, the game had previously passed through Microsoft’s hands under the name ‘Echoes of the Sirens’, and was originally conceived as a sort of open-world survival game as opposed to the linear puzzle-platformer it is now. Abandoned a second time by Sony, developer Tequila Works acquired the rights to their game found new publishing partners in Grey Box and Six Foot and were finally able to produce the piece that RiME is today.
The development drama is a fitting parallel to the game itself. Because although RiME sometimes stumbles in bringing its core concepts together in the 5-6 hours it takes to complete the campaign, the plucky tenacity of its central character and warmth of heart in its storytelling make it a more than worthwhile experience.
RiME will no doubt be remembered as one of the indie darlings of this generation, and though it’s far from perfect, there’s a keen sense of wonder and discovery contained within that presents a solid case for considering this among the greats of the genre.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro