James Stephanie Sterling
RiME Review – Level Headed
A good game that could have been a veritable great one.
Developer: Tequila Works Publisher: Tequila Works Format: Nintendo Switch (TBD), PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One Released: May 26, 2017 Copy provided by publisher
RiME is not a particularly original experience, wearing its Team ICO inspirations on its sleeve and treading a path worn well by countless independent adventures. While its inferred story is heartfelt, its attempts to tug the heartstrings are somewhat trite while the gameplay consists mostly of puzzles that involve blocks, A.I. companions, and other sequences we’ve seen many times before.
Where Tequila Works succeeds is not in providing an innovative puzzle adventure, but an expertly directed one. While shifting blocks or aligning shapes to progress may walk familiar territory, the world in which RiME‘s hindrances occur is fantastically designed, providing the illusion of openness within environments cleverly built to guide the player along correct pathways using subtle visual clues and very little signposting.
Solving a puzzle is often rewarded with a sweeping audiovisual result and an unlocked path that’s enjoyable to simply traverse even if there’s no “gameplay” on offer. RiME is another one of those games that manage to provide their best experiences when mechanics and challenges are set aside so the player can simply exist in an evocative world.
At times, RiME comes close to matching Journey with inspiring landscapes and musical pieces that make one feel like part of a grand – yet personal – adventure. Though graphically quite simple, color and bold artistry keep things impressive, while animations create a small cast of characters that exude feeling without saying a word.
While not particular original, RiME‘s puzzles are well thought out and a number of solutions are quite cleverly achieved. The unidentified child protagonist’s main method of solving a problem is to yell – by shouting near glowing statues, the child can activate them to produce various effects, usually opening a door or raising a platform.
Some statues look directly at the player when called, while others send out trailing lights to whatever device they’re triggering. Glowing orbs can amplify one’s shout to activate multiple statues at once, leading to some of the more interesting challenges.
World variety is a big part of what keeps the whole adventure fresh. There are five worlds built not just around a particular thematic premise but a “running” puzzle element that sets the mood. The second world, for example, is an open desert patrolled by a huge birdlike monster, forcing players to run from shelter to shelter and avoid getting caught.
World three, meanwhile, focuses primarily on using a companion to activate switches and open previously inaccessible paths.
With five environments dealing out unique atmospheres and mechanical trappings, RiME feels a lot fresher than it otherwise would. At the same time, it retains various elements throughout the entire experience to maintain consistency.
It’s this balance, as well as the elegant mapping of each world overall, that makes RiME a damn impressive specimen from a level design perspective.
Less impressive are the controls, which undermine the positive aspects to a noticeable degree.
While generally competent enough to deal with, RiME occasionally irritates with the way the protagonist handles. Sometimes they’ll fail to grab ledges properly, or the game will stutter animations because players were supposed to walk into particular raised areas rather than jump onto them. In these situations, the game will smack the player back with an awkward invisible wall and force them to step forward.
At other times, camera perspective will confuse the protagonist and players will need to manipulate the analog stick like they’re cracking a safe, finding the tiny sliver of a sweet spot that’ll cause progression.
One particular area, with some ship’s netting viewed from a side-on perspective, was a real cause of trouble. Neither up nor right got the character moving, despite the netting being viewed from its left. I eventually climbed it by tilting the stick to the upper-left, but only at a very specific angle.
Aside from that, we have the unwelcome problem of environmental objects temporarily “hooking” the player character in place, and a number of traversal animations that, like The Last Guardian before it, are overly ponderous and interrupt the sense of gameplay flow.
RiME‘s controls are not horrific, they’re just annoying in little but frequent ways, enough to hold back what could have been a truly terrific game.
It’s a short one too, which shall inevitably put off some players.
Clocking in at a couple of hours only, Tequila Works has tossed a bunch of collectibles into the mix to support some fragile replay value, though frankly I found their presence distracting. The game world is so beautifully designed that sidetracking away from wonderfully paced sequences to find arbitrary shells and other junk feels like a disservice.
To the developer’s credit, these collectibles do come into play as part of the game’s three or four endings (they’re not multiple endings, it’s just the game has that many logical end points but doesn’t quite know how to wrap things up), but after a while I ignored them because the game honestly works better when following a linear route.
RiME is certainly one of those games that prove how ridiculous it is to rail against linearity considering how a well paced, smartly designed corridor can be as enchanting, if not more so, than any massive open world on the market.
If it had controlled better and its “emotional” bullet points didn’t come off like “sad indie game does a sad thing” convention, the potential is there for this to be an all-time great. As it is, RiME offers a fantastically designed world with some neat obstacles and a superb linear flow, held back by technicalities and instances of the banal.