There is nothing new under the sun, and video games are no exception to this proverbial truth. Titles boldly pioneer new mechanics or ideas yearly, but everyone is inspired in some fashion by video games and other media that have come beforehand. While most attempt to quietly imbue borrowed concepts, developer Tequila Works confidently wears its inspirations on its sleeves with RiME. Before and after playing it, it’s even more apt to bring up critic darlings like ICO, Journey, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, as all of them heavily contribute to RiME’s existence.
However, to define its worth in relation to these titles alone would cheapen what Tequila Works has accomplished with such a small team and intimidating expectations after several rough years of revision. On its own merits, RiME‘s design lacks substance in core areas, but largely overcomes these shortcomings with soulful trappings that will stir the emotions.
After witnessing a torrential storm at sea, you assume control of a young boy who has washed ashore a mysterious island. There’s no narrative context, dialogue, or imposed objectives. Throughout the story’s five sections, you explore semi-linear lands in search of many questions through light platforming, puzzle-solving, and collectibles. It’s not hard to figure out the controls and what you’re supposed to do during the beginning stages, which actually becomes troubling after some time. The majority of the game’s mental challenges may have neat concepts that toy with light and shadow, sound, and perspective, but their solutions are too evident and straightforward.
Perhaps this was purposeful to make RiME more accessible so no one gets stuck for too long. While I understand that possibility since it focuses more on storytelling and presentation, it would’ve been nice to see more steps to the main puzzles and brainteasers added to obtaining collectibles, since most of them seemed to only require thorough scavenging to uncover. This became tedious at times since they’re bogged down with lengthy, easy platforming to make them “hard” to reach. However, it should be said that the controls are responsive and consistent. Strangely enough, the snappiness and accuracy of the platforming reminded me of Darksiders’ own brand of it at a slower pace.
The third section is where all of the gameplay elements coalesce and pique to provide a glimpse into the deeper design that could’ve permeated the entire experience, which unfortunately trails off near the end. If anything, RiME is defined more by its emphasis on laid-back exploration since it leans on visual storytelling not only for its world, but also for conveying where to go, how to begin solving some puzzles, and so forth. It’s a trait the developer uses well in the vein of Fumito Ueda’s works and thatgamecompany with its command over allegorical illustrations and poetic usage of color and light.
While the game lacks in substance with its underutilized gameplay aspects and design, this is made up for with exceptionally strong content in every other area. The cel-shaded artistic direction is breathtaking with how it portrays the elements like water, wind, and fire. This is especially true for one of the last sections taking place in a gloomy castle caught in perpetual rainfall. The ways that droplets create endless waves in puddles, water glistens and flows down the stone structures around you – there’s no doubt that it is, visually speaking, one of my favorite rain-themed levels ever.
Monolithic, sprawling fortresses inspired by Grecian architecture are marvelous to gawk at from below, and seeing nature overtake the abandoned civilization around you makes the crumbling environments more vibrant and beautiful. It is annoying that this immersion during some sequences and cutscenes is interrupted on the PlayStation 4 by an unsteady frame rate dipping into 40-50 frames-per-second often with stutters as well, but they weren’t distracting enough to ruin the experience.
The audio is one of the game’s strongest suits. A primary mechanic is using the boy’s voice to open doors, move structures, and so on. It’s similar to Journey’s chime mechanic, but what makes it special is how the boy will alternate between humming, singing melodies, grunting, or even yelling depending on where his voice is used. It adds believability to the character by allowing players simple yet powerful looks into his emotional state. You’re also encouraged to experiment with it often to see if it will impact the environment or objects in surprising ways.
However, the greatest aspect of the audio is attributable to the soundtrack. I didn’t expect much from it, but composer David Garcia Diaz aurally floored me for the entire game’s length with his affecting work that reminded me of Austin Wintory’s music for Journey. His mastery over strings and the piano is captivating for the simple reason that the music is almost continuous and yet never becomes repetitive. He’ll alternate with the violin, cello, and piano taking turns guiding melodies, and his ability to turn a single one and perform it in many different ways is astounding to generate strong themes throughout the score. The occasional introduction of new elements like the tin whistle, chimes, or vocalists singing in Spanish keep the score even more interesting, which isn’t even mentioning how songs will adapt and smoothly improvise depending on your actions.
Beyond being a lost boy on the island, it would be inappropriate to divulge details about the story, which is cryptic until the final hours for good reason. Needless to say, by the time you piece together how the arcs fit together and what the tale’s allegorical imagery and themes mean, you’ll not only be impacted by the emotional message Tequila Works has to share, but also appreciate how they deliver it through the visual storytelling. Since this is accomplished through the collectibles, too, there’s good incentive to return for a second playthrough and find everything you missed while gaining a better perception of the story’s meanings. However, should that not interest you, the game clocked in at eight hours, which is an uncommon length for title’s such as this that doesn’t feel padded out in the slightest.
RiME doesn’t do anything innovative with its mechanics or design, blatantly following in the footsteps of its aforementioned muses. Under most circumstances, this and its simple gameplay wouldn’t be much to take notice of, but what it has to tell narratively, musically, and visually gives it an emotional core that will radiate enough to keep your interest afloat.
RiME was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One and PC. It will be available on Switch in the coming months.
The game’s inspirations are obvious, and in terms of its safe puzzles and platforming, they don't offer much that’s new or memorable. However, the opposite is true for the cleverly conveyed story, magnificent Mediterranean setting, and a strong score that will pull you into a whimsical, emotional journey in RiME that’s well worth your time.
- Wonderful Inspirations...
- Tight Controls
- Stunning Art Direction
- Creative, Visual Storytelling
- Everything About The Soundtrack
- ...But Leans on Them a Bit Too Much
- Straightforward Puzzles
- Simple Platforming
- Lacking Variety Off Beaten Path