Reviews May 25, 2017

RiME

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: Xbox One (Also on PS4, PC, later on Switch)
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Rated: E10+
Players: 1
Cost: $29.99
Release Date: 05/26/2017
Publisher: Grey Box
Developer: Tequila Works

A young boy wakes up on a mysterious island, apparently thrown from a ship during a violent storm. His tattered clothes and the lofting waves are the only things that feel familiar. Stumbling to his feet, he surveys his surroundings. It seemed like any other island he might have passed during his travels. Except for the large tower in the distance…

RiME’s premise sounds like something we’ve heard before. Plenty of games start with a protagonist who ends up in a strange place after some calamity. Most of the time they have no recollection of what led to their predicament. Witnessing an injustice, hearing about a random stranger’s plight, a mystical artifact beckoning them to a nearby town – there’s usually something that piques the character’s interest, allowing them to regain their memory while dealing with current events. This isn’t the case with RiME. At the onset of this young boy’s adventure, sure. There are some similarities. The moment you take control though, things change in an extraordinary way.

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There is very little exposition if any in RiME. The boy never speaks and there’s no text (sans a button prompt or two). The narrative is conveyed partly through the environments; ancient ruins are adorned with murals that give vague hints. Colors imply intent or meaning, some of which aren’t apparent right away. Statues are positioned in ways that invoke a sense of wonder. Even the puzzles that temporarily impede progress feature thematic aesthetics. Most of what is seen has a very specific reason for being. None of it will make much sense early on. That said, as you make your way around the island, things will slowly become clear.

The narrative is also conveyed through the game’s wonderful soundtrack. You see, though the island is pretty much an open environment, the game is broken up into levels. Each level has a unique score singling different feelings. The music also accompanies the boy’s experience, swelling when his emotions are high. It didn’t necessarily prompt me to feel a certain way while playing. Rather, they pushed whatever I was feeling at the time to the surface; the game has some powerful moments, often sad, that makes it difficult not to sympathize with the boy’s predicament.  

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Nearly everything in the game is there to peel back the layers of this mystery. This is seen in the gameplay as well. Take the puzzles for instance. Getting past locked doors, moving platforms into place to reach a new area, and bypassing certain dangers all require a bit of logic. Nothing too drastic though; even people who don’t play puzzle-based games shouldn’t find things too difficult. This is partly due to the early parts of RiME, which help to establish a language of sorts. It teaches you, without any real prompting/words, how to interact with the environment. This is also due to how the story unfolds. Without going into any details that might spoil things, the puzzles aren’t just there to pad the experience. Their solutions become more apparent as the story beings to piece together. After a certain point, the choices I made while trying to solve each puzzle just felt right.  

There is so much to take in while playing RiME. Whether it be the interesting landscape or the symbols etched into the walls. That said, it was the mystery of this boy’s past and present that made it impossible to put the controller down. Just who is that cloaked figure who watches from afar, only to disappear when you get close? Why am I following a magical fox? And what’s up with these ghoulish entities that flee from me one second and chase me the next? It’s all very intriguing. This is a good thing considering how long it takes to before things start making sense. The levels themselves aren’t too long. However, if one were to get stuck on a tricky puzzle, I can see them losing interest. Not entirely, just enough to put the controller down for a while. With no words or text to help guide the experience, it’s understandable for things to grow a bit stale.

I would encourage them to keep going though. The ending is worth any slow points they might encounter. And while I’m sure some will be able to guess what happened before the final scene, the reveal is still pretty awesome. What was astonishing though, was how the game doubled down after the credits rolled by allowing you to select which level to return to (I’ll let you figure out why). Or how the game’s collectibles – puzzle pieces, trinkets, secret images – help to tell an even larger story. There’s so much here that I feel the first playthrough was just scratching the surface.

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Ultimately what I want to get across is that RiME is an amazing experience. It starts out a little slow, but is very rewarding for those that stick with it. I was far more entertained than I thought I would be. Tequila Works has outdone themselves, easily becoming one of my favorite developers. I hope they continue to experiment. Continue to tell great stories. And continue to impress in all of their future endeavors!   

Gameplay: 10
A great story told in a unconventional way and excellent gameplay = RiME being one of the best game I’ve played this year.

Graphics: 10
Simple gorgeous. Interesting note: they seem to get better as the game progresses.

Sound: 10
There virtually no voice work outside of a hum or yell. That said, the soundtrack is stellar and the ambient sounds help sell the experience.

Replay Value: 9
RiME gets better with each play through; the collectibles, once acquired, tell a secondary story. I don’t expect people to constantly revisit the game, just enough to see all there is to see.

Final Score:

9.8