Follow that fox!
Developer: Tequila Works, QLOC
Publisher: Grey Box Games
Format: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (Reviewed)
Released: May 26, 2017
Tequila Works’ Rime drops you into a mysterious and awe-inspiring world that feels all too familiar. After spending its first hour running, jumping and solving puzzles in various forms, you can’t help but feel like you’ve done this all before. In fact, if you’ve played through games like Journey and any of the Team Ico games, I’d say that you definitely have. But while it is intensely beautiful and strange, unlike those games, Rime lacks any sort of interesting substance to hold your attention.
Rime places you in the sandaled shoes of an unnamed boy who washes up on a mysterious island with nothing but the red cloak on his back. With no memory of how he wound up on its monument-laden shores, he ventures out into the wilderness in search for help, only to unknowingly release a curious magical fox. With his new spirit guide in tow, the boy heads towards an ominous white tower in the distance, where he hopes answers await him.
With no text or talking characters to explain what’s going on, Rime’s story is a completely visual one. That is to say, if you want to uncover its tale, you’ll need to analyse the game’s silent cutscenes and the environment around you. And while I admittedly did roll my eyes a little as the Journey comparisons began to set in, I was still surprised at just how much the game’s jaw-dropping visual design and crisp cel-shaded graphics made the task of exploring its world all the more inviting.
From the moment you wake up on its island shores, Rime presents you with gorgeous landscapes filled with wildlife and dotted with empty and mysterious architecture that begs to be investigated. Each of the game’s four uninhabited environments burst with so much vibrant colour and life, which the lack of a HUD allows you to fully immerse yourself in without any distractions. And even the game’s soundtrack is a wonderful rollercoaster of emotions, incorporating sweeping strings and spine-tingling piano melodies that can evoke feelings of marvel, tension, and mystery.
Indeed, Rime is a game that begs to be seen and heard. It focuses primarily on delivering settings that fill its audience with a sense of wonder. One moment you’ll be dark cave, using your character’s singing voice (assigned to a button press) to illuminate the maze-like path underneath you. Then not long after, you’ll be exploring a space-bending forest temple inhabited by bipedal stone robots. But while these are definitely Rime’s most memorable moments, they also highlight the game’s biggest problem: it embraces spectacle over engaging or challenging gameplay.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you’ve played Journey, or even Uncharted, then you’ve basically played Rime. It’s a 3D puzzle platformer that sees you playing a blank-slate character who can run, jump, and use their voice to solve the puzzles that block their path. Oh, and they can even nimbly climb and leap between specific marked handholds. Stop me if any of this is starting to sound familiar.
Of course, that’s not to say games can’t, and haven’t, taken inspiration from Journey in the past. Abzu, for example, applied a similar formula to a certain degree of success. But where Abzu applied Journey’s formula to an underwater setting that felt charming and mysterious, I never felt as though Rime attempted to apply anything new or interesting to that same formula. Instead most, if not all, of its gameplay mechanics are lifted from other more successful games.
Even its puzzles feel more like tedious busywork than anything rewarding or mentally taxing. Save for a small handful of puzzles, their solutions are often far too straightforward, usually requiring you to simply find a key or push a box over to a clearly marked area on the floor. And even on the rare occasion I did find myself stuck on what to do next, the game almost immediately started nudging me towards the solution via my fox companion, who would appear in the direction I needed to go and start yapping incessantly until I reached him. While I certainly appreciate that kind of help to alleviate player frustration, I felt he always appeared far too soon. In some cases even popping up before I’d spent a minute attempting to solve a puzzle.
I really wanted to like Rime. When it comes to how it looks and sounds, I almost do. I’m more than happy to go back and watch gameplay videos of it, and I could listen to its soundtrack over and over again. But below that surface level, there’s just not that much to it. It’s a linear experience with barely any original ideas, a chugging framerate, and a lack substantive gameplay to keep your attention in between its more memorable set pieces. Unfortunately, besides its fairly impressive spectacle, there’s not much else that Rime has to offer beyond a way to use up six hours of your time.
A beautiful, but shallow experience. Pick it up for the aesthetics, but only if it’s on sale.