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RiME

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Grey Box
Developer: Tequila Works
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ Platformer/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

RiME is very choosy about the company it wants to keep. It clearly aspires to follow the sterling examples set by art house classics like ICO and Journey, but instead serves as an accidental parable about the relationship between beauty and pain. While Iím glad I played RiME from beginning to end, itís not an experience Iím eager to undertake again. This might sound strange, considering the fact that I am ultimately recommending the game, but bear with me. Iíll try to explain.

Letís not cut any corners or hold back on hyperbole: RiME is gorgeous. Its deep, rich colors evoke the artistry of games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and even the much more recent The Last Guardian. Thereís something intrinsically pleasing about the simplicity and ubiquity of each particular hue; while itís easy to appreciate the complexities that come with intricate shading techniques, RiMEís artistic cohesiveness helps to make up for its legion of level design issues. What it canít always overcome is the occasional onslaught of technical problems. Frequent frame rate drops are all that stands between RiME and artistic perfection.

It is apparent from the start that RiME wants to make you feel a very specific series of emotions. However, its storytelling is too ambiguous and cryptic to evoke them on its own. Luckily, the gameís incredible music picks up the slack. Itís a wistful, achingly beautiful soundtrack that uses the piano and other strings to marvelous effect. In terms of 2017's best soundtracks for games, RiME's is an easy second best to that of NieR: Automata. As far as the rest of the sound design goes, itís mostly a very soothing experience. Natural ambience establishes a sense of place, even if itís only temporary, and between the birdsong and tidal noises, itís incredibly lovely stuff.


Gameplay:

I can give you the setup, but the less you know about RiMEís narrative, the better. A young child wakes up on the sandy shores of a strange island and begins exploring. While the island appears to have been claimed by nature, its past hints at the ones who came before. Deliberately designed buildings, mechanisms, and murals abound. But what does it all mean? RiMEís structure instills a dreamlike quality to the proceedings; you visit such a distinct variety of environments that you quickly begin to feel like youíre adrift in time and space. Magic and mysticism are present, yes, but the imagery flows from one theme to the next with such a startling abruptness that you quickly begin to question if what youíre seeing is actually realÖ

RiME is a puzzle platformer that leaves you to your devices from the moment you first assume control. Youíre free to explore and do what you please, but there is always a way forward. Usually, keen observation is all the game requires. Certain objects in the environment (near and far) do their best to grab your attention and pull you inexorably forward. That being said, the game might actually give you too much freedom. While it is indeed a pleasure to exist in this world, itís not always respectful of your time. Every step off the beaten path might be a meaningless diversion.

By far the biggest problem with RiMEís gameplay is that itís less about solving puzzles and more about figuring out where and what the puzzles actually are. You might stumble into an area that looks important only to find out that it isnít; arbitrary invisible walls and vague points of access amp up the frustration. While some visual cues give some indication of climbing points, they often blend in with the art style so seamlessly that you may mistake them for simple window dressing.

As far as the puzzles themselves go, they generally top out at average. Most of them involve the acquisition of special keys through the shifting of natural elements such as perspective, positioning, light, and shadow. Most of RiMEís puzzles are far too simple to be considered even the least bit clever, but to be fair, the audiovisual feedback you receive upon completing them is satisfying.


Difficulty:

RiME is its own worst enemy. In its ambitions to deliver an experience that in all ways encourages the player to look inward for the answers, it ultimately leaves you hanging throughout. Between its implicit, wordless storytelling and the unassuming, indifferent world, RiME establishes itself early on as a game that has no interest in giving you even the slightest bit of guidance. In some games, this technique works. Somehow, some way, developers are often able to imply intent through presentation, deliberate level design and well-defined mechanics. RiME nails the first and doesnít bother with the other two; this is a self-inflicted wound that will almost certainly dampen your enjoyment of the game.

Depending on whether or not you see and pick up on what the game wants your attention to be focused on, you may end up wasting colossal amounts of time simply wandering around figuring out exactly where you need to be going. And while existing in RiMEís world is an aesthetic pleasure in and of itself, thatís just not enough to justify the gameís asking price.


Game Mechanics:

RiME makes use of a basic suite of three-dimensional platforming mechanics to varying levels of success. Again, it comes down to poor communication on the gameís part. Youíre not always clear on what you can and cannot interact with, though to be fair, the game will prompt a specific button press if you stand in the right area for long enough. That being said, this is a lot of unnecessary grief that could have been easily prevented.

One key mechanic is part world-building, part puzzle-solving tool. The (Y) button is mapped to a context-sensitive vocalization. Itís a strange mechanic that hearkens back to ICO, though it differs in that it is your means of interacting with key components of the mysterious technology that inhabits this world. If itís some shade of blue, screaming at it will likely make something happen. When the game is attempting to convey its narrative elements, the vocalization mechanic adapts to fit the situation.

Early in RiME, the player character befriends a fox that seems to be more than he appears and notices a shadowy, veiled figure that you are clearly supposed to pursue. If the developers had actually worked these characters into RiMEís gameplay, the experience would have benefited enormously. We are obviously intended to seek these creatures out and follow them wherever possible, but blink once and you might miss them until you accidentally find yourself back on the proper path. Words cannot express how annoying this can be.

The undeniable power of RiMEís ending is almost its redemption. This denouement and the unmistakably brilliant audiovisual design are the primary reasons behind the gameís overall success, while its problematic level design and weak puzzles keep it from being all that it could be. Iím not at all sorry I played through RiME, but I donít think I ever want to play it again. I have a strong feeling most gamers will feel the same way.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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