Bravo, Tequila Works. Bravo.
RiME has already been the target of criticism for its lack of originality, but I think this view may be misguided. It’s true that RiME’s gameplay is inspired by previous games, but this gives it an appropriate feel of nostalgia, more than anything. There are ledge jumping-puzzles that are simplified versions of those in Prince of Persia or Shadow of the Colossus [EN: 10/10], and there are environmental puzzles that we’ve seen in countless other games, such as dragging boxes or placing orbs. Finally, the story is, if anything, one that has been told many times throughout our human past. Still, RiME is unique in the way that it tells that story, and if experiencing this journey doesn’t make you feel all the feels, you’re probably jaded.
Look, don’t touch.
Rime’s mechanics are simple, but it’s clearly a design choice. There are no weapons with which to mess, and there is no HUD. That’s because RiME is beautiful, and the developers have tried to ensure that you see as much of it as possible [EN: A current trend in gaming]. You play as a cute cartoon boy with a crimson cape who has awoken on the shore of a pristine island. The sandstone cliffs rise up from the beach, giving a bright highlight to healthy green foliage. The ocean is clean and deep – you can climb to the tops of the cliffs and look down to see rocks underneath the calm, blue-green waves, and you can almost feel the ocean breezes ascending the cliff facade. The sky is vast, and the night and day cycles progress unusually quickly, bringing out clear and vibrant colors at mid-day and casting fiery orange hues on everything when the sun sets. At night, the stars tempt you to gaze at them and let your mind wander, while the darkness casts mysterious shadows onto your surroundings. In other words, this game was made to be looked at.
Along with looking comes exploring, and that’s where the mechanics come in. The first puzzle you need to solve is not difficult — you quickly discover that when you give a defiant and childlike yell, as if you were pretending to be a pirate lunging forward with his saber, certain objects react to your voice. You need to explore the island to find the objects, and you soon discover that you can jump around and climb on the island’s sheer cliff faces. The island becomes a playground for your adventure.
The game provides hints all along the way: climbable ledges have visible marks on their edges, beacons of light often shine down on important objects, and an adorable little fox runs around, barking enthusiastically at certain puzzles to guide you. None of this is difficult; it’s all about exploring at a point in the game where you are meant to feel a childlike wonder and curiosity. The beginning is quite calming, and it encourages exploration with the reward of collectibles hidden in caves, on hard to reach cliffs, and down winding trails. All of these elements lend an open and natural feel. You are never railroaded or at a loss for what to do next.
It won’t hit you until the plot is revealed, but the feeling of easy enjoyment at the beginning of the game, as if your inner-child is being let out to play, is completely intentional and important to the story. You are not jumping from ledges to swing along poles and do wall runs as you might in Prince of Persia, because you are not meant to feel like a dangerously agile prince. In Shadow of the Colossus, the jumping puzzles were given a grip meter to raise the stakes of your efforts. You could struggle up the hairy back of a giant while he was trying to shake you off and manage to stab your sword into his head just in the nick of time, and you would feel like you had overcome a legendary challenge. In Rime, on the other hand, you are not an epic hero; you are a child filled with optimism and wonder, and the gameplay reflects this in its every detail.
That’s why Rime’s flaws are pretty unfortunate.
Since RiME is all about exploring and seeing the details the artists have dreamed up, it’s unfortunate that the game gets choppy sometimes. You definitely want to run this on a better machine, if you have the chance, because you won’t want to miss a single frame. There are a wide variety of graphics options, but it’s heartbreaking to have to turn down the detail on a title that is all about aesthetics.
It’s also pretty tragic that the versatile camera, which often does a wonderful job of showing you breathtaking views of ancient ruins and plummeting descents to the sea, sometimes clashes with the puzzles. Since a large chunk of these involve dragging boxes around, it’s frustrating that the protagonist often gets confused by a slightly shifting camera angle and starts pulling in the wrong direction. In a game where the puzzles are intentionally made to flow smoothly for the pace of the story, this is a big disappointment.
But every other element fits together seamlessly.
It’s actually amazing how good Tequila Works is at coordinating artists from different media with grace and style. The small developer has been killing it this spring – check out the visual and auditory experience that is The Sexy Brutale, if you haven’t already – and RiME is just the latest demonstration of their abilities.
RiME’s music and sound effects expertly complement the stunning visuals. The score is orchestral – sometimes triumphant — and loud with hints of sad minor chords, and other times quiet and meek, with a single violin and a minimal piano melody. Toward the end, female vocals emerge into the music and tug at your emotions. The score is perfectly timed to progress the wide range of moods involved in the plot.
The protagonist does not speak, but he still displays emotions that fit each moment perfectly. Sometimes, he will laugh playfully at the fox or give a breathy, “Wow…,” as he gazes at vast structures. He will hum in a melodic way to show his uncertainty, and the notes he lightly makes somehow always match the music. Other times, he will hum a few more pleasant notes to solve a puzzle. And as the plot progresses, his excitable, childlike yell turns from playful bravado to desperate defiance due to context alone.
The time of day and the weather are also a large part in telling this story. There are essentially no enemies; this is a man- (or boy- ) versus-environment tale, and light, shadow, sunlight, and rain are all employed to tell it. After you have followed the story to its climax, you can’t help but be affected when you press the button to hum and find yourself crying in the rain instead.
Finally, even the title, RiME, is the perfect reflection of both the plot and the gameplay. There are visual rhymes produced by using shadow and perspective to solve puzzles. There are metaphors in the shapes of creatures you encounter, and in the way time passes. The ending brings satisfying closure by revealing that the entire experience is itself a rhyme.
That’s why it doesn’t matter that the ending, while it should not be spoiled, will not take you by surprise with its originality. It is a human tale, one which you experience through rhyme, and one which resonates with all of us. Bravo, Tequila Works. Bravo.
RiME is a wonderful experience filled with both light-hearted excitement and touching emotional moments. It invokes the old cliché, “I laughed, I cried,” but, of course, that doesn’t do justice to the amount of effort it took to coordinate the vivid yet dreamlike artwork, the fun and easygoing gameplay, and the dramatic musical score. It’s unfortunate that the graphics can be choppy and the movement can be finicky. Otherwise — especially if you value aesthetics over fun — this is an incredibly satisfying title.