RiME begins with our young protagonist, dressed in a tunic and cape, his shaggy hair held off his brow by a metal headband, as he awakes on a tranquil beach. The gulls braying, crabs pottering about him, and the ocean gently lapping at his feet. It was the beginning of a rather placid opening, filled with color, wonder, and more than a little mystery. It wasn’t until I finished the game that I realised the enormity of that idyllic start. It was to be one of many things about RiME that I came to love.
The boy at the centre of this story must solve myriad puzzles, climb numerous platforms, ledges et al, and seemingly climb the tower that looms so prominently in the background to uncover the reason behind it all. Getting there proved to be one of the most captivating experiences I’ve ever encountered in a videogame, something I honestly did not expect of it.
There’s plenty about RiME that’s distinctly from the minds of Tequila Works, but there’s also quite clearly some telling influences at play. The open, towering emptiness of the game world you traverse, are more than a little reminiscent of those Fumito Ueda’s Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian, and the use of vibrant color and sound is more than a little inspired by thatgamecompany’s frankly stupendous Journey. The influences are clear, yet Tequila Works (of the quite good Sexy Brutale and the far less good DeadLight) puts an entirely personal stamp on RiME that emanates through both during your initial playthrough, and even more so during the second. There’s a unifying theme to each of RiME’s sizeable areas, usually the grandiose white and gold of the tower, but each has a tone and design to it that separates them in a rather distinctive fashion.
The art style is a thing of beauty. It breathes life into an otherwise fairly lifeless world. A hand-painted look filled with eye-catching colors and incidental details. From that opening sun-kissed beach to the flickering glow of torches in a large, dark, dilapidated temple, there’s a sense of something that once was about this strange yet familiar world that prevents it from feeling empty in the wrong manner.
The boy’s movement is animated nicely, stumbling if he runs too fast up or down steps, falling flat on his back if he approaches a wall too quickly, wading bowlegged through shallow water, and straining as he holds heavy objects. He’s also a joy to handle, thanks to a competent camera and a generally clear sense of what he can and cannot do. There is the odd moment of blind faith jumps, but even then it usually results in nailing the landing. His movement simply carries an appropriate weight to it.
As for the puzzles? While not quite as maddeningly brain-shredding as something like The Witness, they do offer a decent amount of challenge, and implement the platforming aspect of RiME with great success. The magic of RiME’s puzzles are in that they don’t linger too long and almost never outstay their welcome. The core ideas that do permeate throughout are always remixed and/or enlarged into more complex beasts. There are some clever perspective puzzles, block pushing, sequence puzzles, all mixed in with the running and jumping. The boy’s voice also affects a variety of blue orbs, and blue-lined objects, opening doors, tripping switches, and removing obstructions among other things. As mentioned, nothing stays the same for long, and the changes in locale are partially responsible for shifting the style of puzzle you’ll face, and alongside different general gameplay moments, it keeps RiME interesting throughout on a mechanical front while the story bubbles away wordlessly in the background.
RiME tells that story with every detail of its environments, hinting at what the overlying reason behind the boy being here is. It won’t all connect first time round, with much of the reality of it appearing in the game’s last furlong. Telling a story wordlessly requires a greater focus on what’s happening visually, but also requires a subtle touch to ensure you don’t blunder your way to your point, and Tequila Works clearly understands this very well. You can get behind the boy’s journey without knowing exactly why he’s on it, and the deeper you go, the more you want him to finish it. All this because you make small, significant connections through gestures and facial expressions.
RiME is good at keeping things ambiguous, feeding you small details via the game world’s design and ending each chapter with a single cutscene that adds to it as you progress, to give you at least a hunch about what this is all about. I was satisfied enough by the end (to say any more than that would spoil it slightly), but it was after that, starting again when I took one look at the chapter select and saw the titles that the whole structure of the game’s levels gained a whole new dimension, and subsequently, rather oddly, made me want to gather all the game’s various collectables on the second run (again, better to play and find out why than say anymore here). RiME’s already endearing design becomes something more important with that revelation.
I’m having to skirt around aspects of RiME’s story because the colder you go in the better. It isn’t something as trite as a cliched shock twist I’m sheltering you from, rather a slow realisation, and your experience will be all the richer for going through it on your own. It means I can’t discuss exactly why I found it so affecting, but I wouldn’t want to deny that for anyone else. What I can tell you is that RiME, story aside, is a beautifully-designed puzzle platformer that feels satisfying to explore and interact with. I personally went into RiME with little expectation of anything more than a solid adventure, yet what Tequila Works has delivered is simply spellbinding. It may not challenge you especially with its puzzles, and it may borrow liberally from others to help flesh it out, but they are still enjoyable parts of a quite glorious game that has taken up residence in my mind days after finishing it.