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I have had one of the most gorgeous Memorial Day weekends that I can recall, replete with beautiful, exotic memories. Some are dotted with endless coastlines and remarkable rock formations. Others are covered by bizarre memorials to an unnamed past, all scorched by the sun and set into contrast by raging thunderstorms. Each has contained its fair share of sky-burning sunsets, foliage-lined cavern glades, and wild animals.
Roughly every 15 minutes, I have stopped, marvelled, and taken a photo. Now that my trip is complete, I have a scrapbook of my experiences. It’s among my favorites of the past few years.
This has been my experience with RiME, which launched a few days ago on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC. I got behind on other work ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and figured I’d play this cute, “narrative puzzle-platformer” in a few hours, then write some impressions before I clocked out for the holiday.
Instead, I spent my vacation walking along RiME‘s beaches and breathing in its mournful mysteries. RiME has its weaknesses as a game, but it’s a stunner in the interactive-narrative department.
Ghibli plus Spielberg
Your journey in RiME begins with a scary dream sequence among stormy seas and an awakening on an unnamed island. You, a young child (whose gender is never confirmed), start in a basic 3D-Mario way with the simplest of controls. Run, jump, and climb up and along walls and cliffsides until you encounter an excited fox. It playfully barks, then runs away.
The rest of the game sees you following this mystical fox (among other creatures) across a variety of landscapes as it appears and disappears, all the while leading you towards monuments and puzzles. Your character can also shout with the tap of a button, and this shout activates the game’s statues and switches. (Eventually, other monuments and objects can “shout” in the same way as you to activate things.)
In terms of sheer mechanics and activities, you have absolutely played this kind of game before. At its worst, RiME rattles off “puzzle-platformer” 101. A typical example: You reach a room with a turning lever and see a few icons on the walls that react to light. By spinning the lever and manipulating a few other things in the room, you eventually aim light at the correct icons, thus opening a door to the next location.
But RiME has been in the oven for a long time—over five years, according to Spanish developer Tequila Works. Both Microsoft and Sony funded the game’s development for a while for their respective platforms, only to drop the game, and it apparently used to contain “survival” and “open-world” elements.
After consuming the entire 10-hour game, it’s clear Tequila Works did the right thing stripping its game down to the mechanical bone. The developer clearly created a lot of visual content over a five-year span, and RiME is at its best when it simply lets players traverse and discover. What’s more, Tequila Works does a very good job dotting RiME‘s worlds with hidden collectibles and secrets. Almost immediately, the game affirms a mission statement: “check every corner and object for a secret path.” Doing so tends to pay off with shiny trinkets, but more importantly for RiME‘s enjoyment, this also pays off with gorgeous constructions and views.
For a game that looks like, and compares so favorably to, arty-narrative games made by Team Ico (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian) and thatgamecompany (Flower, Journey), RiME stands out with a different tack on narrative game design. Team Ico’s work shines because it uses game mechanics to build a relationship (sometimes forcefully) with your allies and foes alike. thatgamecompany creates much looser games with wide-open gameplay canvases, which players essentially use as their own paintbrush.
RiME takes an entirely different tack. Your duty as a player and puzzle-solver actually turns you into your own tour guide. In this respect, Tequila Works masterfully leads players across both the beautiful scenery and a vague, mysterious story. This game builds its universe without any words or defined narrative, and the sheer act of peeling its worlds and mysteries back, and seeing what the game hides inside, is just active enough to feel perfect as a story that you play, as opposed to games that either slam text down your throat or feel entirely too open-ended and evocative.
As a result, I find that RiME compares more favorably to an interactive version of a Studio Ghibli film, with a sprinkling of early-Spielberg discovery and wide-eyed wonder, than a Team Ico production.
It’s a beautiful day
The galleries included here are just a snippet of the screens I snapped while playing the game on a Windows PC. Color and light explode at your every turn. The game’s starting beach zone, featured heavily in the above galleries, runs on a relatively fast day-night cycle (which doesn’t affect puzzles or gameplay), and it transforms this small starting zone again and again. I occasionally returned to parts of the island I’d already beaten just to see how it looked bathed in the light of a sunset.
Two other environments revolve around the adventure-gaming standards of scorched desert and forest-growth cavern, though both of these include some gorgeous swimming passages whose waters are filled with fish, plants, bubbles, and other lovely particle-driven effects. These are all bathed in an impressive light-shaft rendering system, and these aesthetics, plus a Sonic the Hedgehog-styled “pop bubble for oxygen” gimmick, make the swimming portions a lot more lovely and fun than most games’ obnoxious swimming portions.
RiME‘s environments appear to have been built for slightly older game systems (perhaps owing to its original 2012-ish release window), complete with limited draw distances and occasional reliance on lengthy, claustrophobic tunnels. The game is at its worst when players must run through stony passage after stony passage. These may have been put into the game simply to disguise loading times between large expanses of gorgeous terrain, but they look exactly the same from one part of the game’s story to the next, and you’ll certainly sheath your screenshot-snap button during these portions.
But on the PC build I tested, lighting and particle systems look modern and gorgeous while running reasonably well at 1080p resolution. (“Max” settings on PC are pretty hard on most video cards, but dropping shadow settings will get the game running at a locked 60Hz refresh without sacrificing much visual quality.) And at RiME‘s best, the art design is timeless.
Falls just short of “classic”—but still recommended
RiME falls just short of deserving universal acclaim or “classic” status. Puzzles are decidedly simple. You’ll uncover far fewer “a-ha” moments than in the similarly gorgeous, mysterious-island puzzling of The Witness, and RiME has none of the interconnected-puzzle domino effect you might seek in a “Metroidvania” game. The item-collection gambit may lead players to wonderful story-building moments, but those trinkets don’t offer a major end-of-game payoff.
I do love how RiME‘s story unfolds, with a mix of murals, character interactions, and discoveries feeding the sense of a story. A few clever systems drive players toward either their next zone or their next puzzle to solve, like a bird that pecks players when they don’t hide under a roof or a “sentinel” robot who needs your help moving forward. These tie your basic in-game actions to narrative in really cool ways, and I remember them fondly as a result, instead of being stuck on obnoxious puzzles.
RiME charmed me with its incomplete explanations and fantastical mysteries, so be warned if that kind of vague storytelling might drive you nuts. However, RiME‘s ending shifts gears with an explicit explanation and a strange push to tie a bow on what you’ve been doing. I wasn’t a fan, and even if I were, it felt out of place with the rest of the game’s narrative drive.
But I will long cherish the path I took on the way to that ho-hum ending. I have a book full of screenshots, and more importantly, I have great memories of the path I took while snapping them. RiME is one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on.
- Prepare to tap your controller’s “screenshot” button, as RiME is a visual masterwork
- 95 percent of the game’s story is fed in an expertly crafted interactive manner; anybody who wants to tell a story within a video game should consider RiME must-play homework
- Game worlds are built to encourage and reward the act of poking around for secret paths
- Orchestral score is sometimes melodramatic but always impressive and varied
- Simple puzzles, lack of combat will underwhelm anyone hoping for Zelda-styled adventure
- Samey cavern environments break up the beautiful scenery too often
- If you’re only collecting the game’s trinkets in hopes that they’ll pay off at the end, you’ll be underwhelmed
- Ending jerks the game’s mysterious narrative into a different, underwhelming direction
Verdict: A high-water mark in the “interactive narrative” genre. If that sounds good to you, buy it.