Republished on Wednesday 31st January 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
The release of RiME is a huge relief: Tequila Works will be pleased it's finally got the game out the door, and players will be glad they can at last get their hands on this elusive title. Crucially, however, it will come as a relief to hear that all the waiting, and the rollercoaster development, has been worth it. The final product is here, and for the most part, it’s wonderful.
The good thing about the sparsity of information surrounding RiME is that it sits well with the type of game it is. The story, which of course won’t be spoiled here, stars a young boy who wakes up on the beach of a mysterious island, and you embark on a journey together to find out what’s going on. It’s as vague an opening as you might expect, and the narrative stubbornly upholds this level of ambiguity, showing through environmental storytelling in much the same way as games like Journey.
Another title that has clearly inspired RiME is ICO, which informs much of the way the game plays. As a melancholic puzzle platformer with a small boy for a protagonist, similarities to Fumito Ueda’s classic are unmistakeable. The platforming is particularly evocative, perhaps to its detriment; occasionally the controls are imprecise and the camera inflexible, which can lead to some unnecessary falls.
The puzzles are where RiME starts to come into its own. Built around ancient white architecture, they start with simple door and key fare and gently introduce new ideas along the way. It’s nothing revolutionary, but the puzzles are imaginative and evolve just enough each time to keep things interesting. We found the difficulty curve to be pitched nicely down the middle: the puzzles aren’t so easy that you grow tired of them, nor are they so hard that they stump you and kill your momentum. If you do find yourself stuck, though, your fox companion will point you vaguely in the right direction.
He will also sit patiently at key areas while you wander through each stage, either searching for the next puzzle or simply exploring. There are only a handful of environments, but they’re all generously sized and full of secrets. There is a wide variety in the levels, cleverly all tied together by the imposing stature of the great tower at the heart of it all, nearly always in view. Exploration is not only an option but is absolutely encouraged thanks to a selection of collectibles, some of which are very well hidden. Wooden toys, emblems, new outfits, and more give you a good reason to go off the beaten path and see as much of Tequila Works’ excellent level design as possible.
It helps that it all looks rather lovely. RiME is a great looking game, sporting gorgeous colours and a surprising level of detail. It even boasts a full day-night cycle, the sky gradually turning from beautiful blue to star-filled twilight and back again. It also maintains a healthy frame rate most of the time, although does see some slowdown in specific areas. Tonally, too, the game excels, shifting moods effortlessly between areas, thanks in no small part to the soundtrack. The music is outstanding throughout, reinforcing the presentation and really driving home a melancholic vibe.
All this combined makes for an engrossing experience, and those expecting a Team ICO-esque adventure won’t be disappointed. However, in reproducing the feel of those titles, right down to the slightly iffy platforming, RiME can come across as derivative, and as though Tequila Works was afraid to push the envelope. It does feature some great moments and there is good variety in the environments and puzzles, but sometimes the feeling that you’ve played the game before may wash over you. Come the game’s ending, we also felt that it lacked a certain something, an X factor found in Ueda’s games that isn’t present here. That’s not to say it’s soulless, but there is a je ne sais quoi that made, for example, The Last Guardian an emotionally charged and memorable experience, and RiME struggles to capture that.
Having said that, the game plays host to some fantastic moments, as we’ve mentioned. The third main area is one of our favourites, as it not only introduces new narrative points, but also contains some of the best puzzles. We don’t want to talk about specific elements too much, as RiME is definitely a game to be played as fresh as you can, but rest assured that as much as it can lean on its influences, it does enough to stand on its own.
Tequila Works’ long-awaited title takes you on a heartfelt adventure through large, open areas full of personality and imaginative puzzles. Comparisons to the likes of Journey or ICO were inevitable, and while it can imitate a little too closely, it has just enough fresh ideas to set it apart. Its clean and colourful presentation is backed up by a truly excellent soundtrack, and the story conjures up some wonderful moments along its fairly brief duration. Those looking for a fun, cohesive, and original puzzle platformer could do far worse than investing some time in RiME.