Ever since its 2013 first-reveal trailer, Rime has stood out as a game with intriguing style. The cell-shaded art invited curious players to hope for an adventure that fits in nicely with modern indie gaming sensibilities—where an overall pleasant experience is cherished much more than an objective-filled challenge quest. Thankfully, that hope becomes a reality within the first few moments of Rime.
Of course, due to its cel-shaded approach and fantastical setting, this single-player puzzle adventure can easily be likened to past titles such as Journey, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and the games by Team Ico. However, the game’s developer, Tequila Works, managed to honor what’s come before without feeling like a complete retread. What Rime does with its hero’s expedition steps away from defined objectives and trophy hunting, and instead passionately entices the player to search far and wide for the answers to the questions they find most interesting. Exploration is abundant, danger lurks just around the corner, and the only tools given to travel this island setting are in the hands of a young boy.
Enu, the character players take control of, is as much of a mystery as the world stretched out before him. Apart from his striking red cape and scrawny stature, the only discernible fact known from the start is that he’s alone. After a violent storm, Enu finds himself shipwrecked, washed ashore on an island with no one else around. Rather than an extended prologue describing Enu’s life or the history of the island, we’re greeted with multiple questions. Was Enu alone on the boat? Where is he now? Did he want to be here? With this, the vulnerability that comes along with watching a child wander on a seemingly deserted island is felt strongly, but it also introduces the game’s other core emotion: discovery. Accompanying the boy around the island is a small fox, which can guide players on a more streamlined path to the end of the story, yet his movements don’t lock us in. We’re free to move anywhere we’d like, allowing for chances to peruse every corner of the beaches and underwater caves.
Just as much as we’d like to find comfort and safety for Enu, it’s difficult to not get wrapped up in exploring the world around him—from discovering jellyfish lining the ocean floors, to peeking into dark caverns housing questionably friendly shadow people. The gameplay pulls the amazing trick of not only incorporating Enu’s personality, but also the game’s themes and emotions, into how the player handles him. For example, most of the gameplay comes down to puzzles and exploration, which fits well with Enu and his questionable battle skills. However, despite his skinny frame and young age, Enu is quite durable and can roll, jump, climb, and swim to traverse various obstacles we encounter, giving us confidence that when we want to attempt to make a leap of faith, there will be no hiccups in his animation. However, we also learn Enu is cautious when he needs to be, so when we push him toward a ledge that could lead to ultimate doom, he instinctively pushes back, visually reminding us to think before we make that deadly choice. Players can still go for the dangerous feats, but it was a nice touch to give us the quick reminder to assess the situation first, as a majority of the game is all about trying multiple paths.
The only real form of punishment the game offers comes from the puzzles, which increase with difficulty as the story moves forward. Most involve Enu pushing heavy objects to align with statues, sunlight, and shadows, and Rime does a nice job of easing players into new mechanics before throwing the more thought-provoking challenges our way. There are a few rare puzzles that use mechanics that feel foreign to the gameplay we’ve been taught, though, which adds some frustration to the experience. However, these moments are brief and by the time it feels overwhelming, it’s already time to move on to the next.
What becomes extremely clear from the start is there is no dialogue in the game to give any character a voice, or even prompt players with on-screen text on how to play. This leaves us with the game’s most interesting component: the ability to yell and hum. Apart from Enu’s button commands to walk, jump, grab, and roll, he also can let out sounds, including low hums and angry yells that can be used to activate puzzles or scare away roaming beasts. It’s a simple mechanic that escalates into the most used ability for puzzles that Enu possesses, while also adding a level of complexity to the narrative that unfolds to the finale.
For a game without words, Tequila Works made sure to make sound and the human voice a powerful component. As the puzzles ramp up in difficulty, the number that rely on vocal commands also rise, inserting the idea that Enu may hold a power that no one else does in that world. On top of that, the score for the game ranges from swelling orchestra to non-existent according to where the player is in the journey. In the silent moments, it allows for an ease of exploration without a repetitive tune trying to drive home adventure, but in the orchestral moments it matches the extremity of the situation and gives a musical nod to the player that they’re headed in the right direction. Keeping in line with subtlety, one of the great development choices was to use color as a guide for the player, as red rarely shows up in the environmental pallets and only appears on important things (like Enu himself). White and gold ledges can be climbed, orange light hovers over movable objects, and blue items can be effected by Enu’s voice, giving visual cues to the player on how to approach each situation.
Finishing the journey may be the ultimate goal, but there are collectibles strewn across the game that further develop the plot. The entirety of the narrative is told through the visuals of the adventure, as well as painted artifacts hinting at Enu’s life—including if he has a family and what his connection is to the island. The player can go through the entire game without collecting a single artifact and still feel a story was told, but the additional answers given in the collectibles adds replay value to the game. Sadly, there is no difficulty setting to change puzzles around or create a varied experienc,e leaving Rime’s largest flaw as simply being a lack of replayability. At least the puzzles rely on the environment enough to allow for the slightest of change-ups during each attempt, though.
Rime is not only an experience filled with beautiful style and an intriguing story, it also subverts its technical aspects into more than just button commands. Much like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, another indie adventure, the controls, sound design, color usage, and gameplay mechanics feel one with the story unfolding before me. I was given zero explanation as to what to do or why it was happening, but the more I explored, tried different movements and abilities, and focused on looking for the color and sound cues, I was completely impressed with how I was coerced into appreciating detail and subtlety. While Rime has the external appearance of other indie adventures that have come before it, once delved into it’s clear the vision it possesses makes for an unique adventure dying to be had.
|Publisher: Grey Box • Developer: Tequila Works • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 05.26.17|
Rime captures the essence of adventure through its mysterious locale’s various paths, inviting visuals, and well-designed puzzles, but it also seeks to use its gameplay mechanics as a storytelling device. While variety isn’t strong throughout its run, the world created offers an experience that—at least for one playthrough—is worth taking.
|The Good||The overall art style and mechanics fuse beautifully together for a unique experience.|
|The Bad||The replay value of the game is low, with the only reason to go back to it being to collect new items.|
|The Ugly||The shadow creatures can quickly turn from helpful to soul-sucking.|
|Rime is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and coming later this year to the Nintendo Switch. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Grey Box for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|