Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Greybox Games
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Switch
I’ve noticed over time that my expectations with games have changed. Occasionally, I love a competitive atmosphere as much as the next guy, and I have found outlets for that online when I feel like it. Still, as I age and change, one thing hasn’t: I never tire of a strong single-player experience. Emotional resonance has proved elusive to many a title that has attempted to mesmerize players over time.
I’ve attempted games that require vast amounts of hours to complete, but the demands of life as a husband, father, and pastor have necessitated that the games that I’m able to fully experience from beginning to end be relatively “contained” experiences. One, in particular, that will never be forgotten Journey, originally on Sony Playstation 3.
I came across RiME a year or so ago, I believe through a suggested post on Facebook. After navigating to its page, I was intrigued by what I saw: a lone child, exploring a beautiful island with a focus on a large tower that loomed in the distance. Distilling those points in writing this showed me that often the most striking things are those set in simplicity. I liked the page, and I have followed the development ever since. Little did I know at the time that the game had been in development for awhile prior to my discovery. As fan art and some effective social media posts furthered my anticipation, I hoped for great things from RiME; the question remained: would I be disappointed by the final product?
With nary a word in RiME, spiritual content is, if anything, assigned to the game through the player, if they so choose. Statues in-game could be perceived as praying or worthy of veneration, though they need not be; also, the only “enemies” in the title have a sinister look to them, even while not openly attacking. Without attempting to spoil the game, the culmination of all the proceedings offers a very personal message that might prove helpful on a spiritual level for those who will play it.
The game features no weapons from the player, and the only real violent encounters are those from the second stage in the game involving a swooping bird creature. It’s actually remarkable to see a game that doesn’t feature combat in an adventure based setting.
There is no spoken language in the game at all, so nothing rude, crude, or socially unacceptable is uttered. For that matter, there isn’t any rude humor in the game either.
Again, nothing is ever said, so no sexual talk of any kind. The game is focused on Enu and his pursuit of an ever elusive figure shrouded in red. There is no sexual content to speak of.
While playing this game, I could not wait to address this point. I work in the funeral profession in addition to my pastorate, so I see many hampered by circumstances that require spiritual counsel. After completing the game and seeing what the developers sought out to do, I applaud them for artistically addressing an important part of our human experience, one that is often not discussed, let alone played out in game form. Tequila Works endeavoring to contextualize this is worthy of players’ attention, and they handle everything masterfully. Saying anything more would spoil the great work they do of addressing a serious topic.
Years ago, I read that one of the original inspirations for The Legend of Zelda was the explorative nature of a child. As most gamers know, many entries in that series feature Link as a child. I remember how I could occupy myself with the simplest of things as a child, and my imagination amplified my adventures in the mind’s eye making them appear larger than life. I would say that RiME visually captures that imaginative spark very well, and centers the game around that impulse to explore without instruction. In fact, this freedom really is the operating principle of the game.
At the beginning of RiME, we are introduced to Enu, the player’s character (who is only named such in development materials, but never addressed as such in-game). Washed ashore with nothing but the clothes on their back, players are thrown in and given no instructions. With the press of a button, the player speaks, and that alone proves to be the only agency of change in the game. There is much to say about a game where the only “weapon” one has is their voice; it’s another to realize that the entire story of that game is told from beginning to end without any words. RiME does both. During development, I surmised that puzzles would feature heavily in the game, but I gave little mind to how combat would feature. To that I say, it doesn’t feature at all, as it was a cut feature, and the game is all the better for it.
As RiME begins, the sights and sounds are incredible—perhaps its most immediate strength. For a game of its price, I was greatly impressed by the quality of the visuals and its overall look. Visually, it is evocative of The Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild. There is a simplicity to the design and a painterly quality about it all, and as the game progresses into different environments, I never tired of it. The music perfectly highlights all that is on screen, swelling to the moments it needs to and taking the backseat when necessary. The beauty of the island is brought to life by small glimpses of animals crawling and flying all over. In the opening minutes, crabs scurry the sands, while gulls cry out overhead. Lizards scamper along cliffsides, and wild island pigs even cleverly feature in puzzles. None of those animals or any others that appear come close to comparing to the impact made by what becomes the player’s sidekick: an otherworldly fox that serves as a guide. It’s no small feat that there are no tutorials here or even the slightest explanation of mechanics; the developers trust you will discover these for yourself alongside your red-furred guide. There are portions of the game where the only semblance of hand-holding I experienced was simply following his yips from afar. Often, he barked and stood beside a red-robed figure, always one step ahead of me.
That fox leads players through a journey that goes to places I didn’t foresee going, even as I actively engaged all that was shared publicly prior to release. There’s much more length to this game that I anticipated, and honestly, that’s not a bad thing. It is clear that the developer’s intent is for players to discover things for themselves, and as I write this review, I knowingly withhold much information, both out of respect for them as creators with an intended vision, and also for players who will be touched more by the experience of what the game offers more so than they will be reading about it. Suffice it to say, the journey of Enu isn’t contained only to exploring sandy shores and scaling alabaster towers. There is much more to the journey on the island than what screenshots show.
In fact, as I previously alluded to, the most impressive things about this game are things I won’t spoil for you here. Upon completing the game, stages become unlockable for replay, and in those moments, so much of the game took on new meaning. As the game is played in the first playthrough, it is very much a satisfying game experience, but going back after completion, there is a rich subtext added to the proceedings that informs every locale. Simply the naming of the stages had a way of bringing everything that happened before it into a new light. The murals that told the story very abstractly are now ripe for further consideration on that second trip through. From the development team’s messages in the credits, one can tell this was a very personal project for the developers, and taking that knowledge back into the game was immensely satisfying for me as a player. Playing the game and ruminating on its message has a therapeutic quality, and I feel like its playable approach to its central topic might get through to some people, whereas a conversation might not. Also, important to note: replaying a stage doesn’t require backtracking to find the same hidden items over and over. If you found an item the first time, it’s found already the second time.
Still, in hindsight, I wished that I had explored a little more in my first playthrough; the game never stopped me from going wherever I wanted, but I do believe that the game would have been even more meaningful in its final moments had I sought out more collectibles which do have actual storytelling significance. RiME is a solely single-player experience, which is precisely part of what the developer intended. Still, that seclusion might be a big deal for some gamers. I mentioned Journey earlier; that game’s clever use of “multiplayer” was one of its strongest qualities, but here it would be entirely out of place. Online functionality here is only for achievements and trophies, so don’t hold out hope for an unlockable cooperative mode at game’s end.
As I played, my experience evoked time spent in several titles I’ve played over the years: the aforementioned Journey and The Legend of Zelda, as well as ICO and even the Assassin’s Creed series. The design of RiME is like a buffet of mechanics from classics to more modern games, so while it does everything very well, there isn’t a lot mechanically that feels new. If you play video games often, you won’t have any trouble here, as the controls are intuitive and feel natural to what other games have done. However, I allowed my eight year-old daughter to play, who admittedly has played far fewer games than myself even if she is “well-versed” for her age. She fit right into the proceedings with no problem. In fact, on that note, even as the game gets progressively darker in tone, I had no issue allowing my daughter to play even with her younger than the advised 10 and up; I hope to see her beat the game soon, so that we can discuss the themes together and what they meant to her.
The puzzles throughout the game are never cripplingly difficult, yet they feel natural to the world being played in. I believe when faced with whether to prioritize challenge or how well a puzzle “fits” the world, the latter always won out in development. As such, while the game may never stump you, the fact that you pick up on these solutions without any hand-holding just stresses how well the developers did their jobs.
I’ve admittedly gushed about many aspects of the game, but there is a gray edge to this all. I’ve read of launch issues with framerates and performance on PC, and while I’m not reviewing that platform, I can say that there were too many times when the game dipped in frameson Xbox One. I don’t know about PS4, but if it never did, then it would seem to be the exception. These issues may be patched in time, but as of now, they did hurt the experience to a degree. Occasionally, the camera was caught awkwardly when I would dip into a low hanging alcove. These don’t necessarily kill the game, but they do hurt being invested in the proceedings.
Overall, I was very impressed with RiME. If you’ve read this far, I would say that if you like games you can experience, rather than just play, you should definitely purchase RiME. If exploration and discovery are important to you, while still knowing that you won’t get lost in a nebulous open-world, then this game should be enjoyable. There are many with hurts that are far-reaching that can possibly be helped by playing through this title. Few games attempt, and I think RiME mostly delivers on that lofty goal. I plan to go back to the island again soon; maybe, you should too.
Review copy generously provided by Sandbox PR.
The Bottom Line
RiME is a title that evokes emotional response through its design similarities to many great games, but stands apart from them by centering itself on an often unaddressed topic, relatable to all. Tequila Works took their time with this one, but the final product is well worthy of a playthrough.