In more than name, this 3D puzzle adventure engenders an imperfect yet sublime poetry.
When The Last Guardian eventually came out after almost 52 years in development, it wasn’t quite the finely crafted adventure we hoped for. Choppy technical performance and frustrating enemy encounters distracted from a beguiling series of puzzles. And so it is with RiME, itself in many ways emulative of The Last Guardian. As a shorter experience though, RiME readily sheds any baggage it has, running towards a gut-punch finale.
Since being announced in 2013, RiME has changed hands and changed direction. Once an open world title exclusive to PlayStation, it launches as a more tightly-focused, multi-platform experience. Beginning on the shore of a mysterious island, our protagonist negotiates cliffside climbs and puzzles of visual perspective. In doing so he evokes echoes of Breath of the Wild and The Witness respectively, especially in light of the bright, blue sky aesthetic that RiME shares with those games.
Yet it’s The Last Guardian that RiME resembles most closely. The raggedly dressed boy hero; the unfamiliar ruins of ancient import; even an equivalence to that centrepiece bestial cohort, albeit only as a temporary companionship here. Control of the boy is natural and unremarkable (in a positive sense). He climbs, swims, runs and otherwise interacts with the environment intuitively, leaving the player free to engage with the core puzzles and the story that develops around them.
The puzzles themselves are of the kind that feel rewarding without becoming an impediment to progress. Many are of the familiar, block pushing type, or sequencing tests involving props being positioned in the right place and order to open the way. I rarely took more than a few moments to solve anything, but RiME regularly adds new twists to its simple repertoire, remaining fresh and compelling throughout. I finished it in around 8 hours, but exploring for secret areas and collectibles provides replayability value.
What was most surprising was the narrative impact of RiME, which doesn’t emerge with any prominence until quite some way through. Beginning as a vague, explorative journey in the vein of – well, Journey – the story builds to convey strong themes that were entirely unexpected. Waking without memory is a common trope in videogames, but rarely does the player experience meaningful empathy when a forgotten truth is revealed. RiME shook me deeply, demanding a second play to contextualise what I had learned.
In no small part, that emotional resonance is punctuated and amplified by RiME’s touching musical score. Before I even knew why I cared, I knew that I definitely did. At moments of tension, relief or ecstasy, the soundtrack provides a dynamic accompaniment that segues between and synchronises perfectly with the visual experience.
While the functional design and aesthetic presentation combine for an impressive work, I’ve hinted at technical issues that detract from the experience. At least on the Xbox version tested, frame rates tend to stutter to unacceptably low levels on occasion. This is most noticeable in the first act before environments shift to more of an indoor setting, and it can make camera panning quite unpleasant.
RiME is also guilty of deploying antagonists that, rather than offering the player something new to engage with, serve mainly to get in the way of what you really want to do. Think of the annoyingly grasping figures from The Last Guardian, only with the good manners to learn that they’re not welcome for very long.
Despite these concerns, RiME is, at most times, possessive of an effortless grace in its pacing. It’s an easy forgiveness to move beyond the occasional languorous moment, be that a result of technology or game design. This emotionally affecting journey is undeniably worth special attention; RiME stays with you long after the game is done, and that connection is something we still don’t find enough of in this medium.
RiME was provided to us by Xbox via a download code for Xbox One.