Indie games have helped to revive the story-based adventure genre, whether through combat-free “walking simulators” like Dear Esther, puzzling open worlds as in The Witness, or evocative movielike experiences such as Journey. RiME takes pages from each of these games, telling a cinematic tale of a young boy who travels around a small island and solves environmental puzzles. The game will feel familiar to anyone who’s played the genre, but it also stands out by emphasizing emotional undertones and providing a clear message that may resonate with many players.
The game opens with a young boy waking up on an island. From there, you are free to venture your surroundings. It’s fun to explore RiME’s beautiful realms, home to distinct environments from island cliffs to desert sands, as well as numerous caves and temples hidden within. There are strong Legend of Zelda vibes, supported by Wind Waker-style cel-shaded graphics. While there are different directions you can travel in, you likely won’t get too lost. The game doesn’t let you veer too far from your current area, and a cute fox companion is always there to lead you to your next objective. While RiME appears open world at first glance, it’s actually more of a guided experience that occasionally lets you branch off the path to find secret collectibles. The linearity is further highlighted by the chapter splits, which work for the story, but make the world feel segmented.
As RiME features no combat, the boy isn’t your typical action hero. He can run, albeit slowly. His jump is clunky, which makes some platforming segments annoying. But he's equipped with the one ability he needs to survive… he can shout. It may seem odd, but the game lacks any spoken words whatsoever aside from the protagonist’s outcries. And yet, pushing a button to hear the boy interact with the environment effectively helped me resonate with him and his plight. The game wants you to sympathize with his feelings, and sometimes, instead of yelling, the boy may hum or even cry. His shouts also light torches and activate switches, lending the same kind of magical touch you might find in Disney films like Beauty and the Beast.
Of course, the switches are usually part of a bigger challenge, and there are numerous puzzles scattered about. It gives the game an advantage over non-interactive “walking simulators.” Most puzzles require you to rearrange blocks and other objects to form silhouettes and shadows. My favorites were the truly environmental puzzles which force you to utilize the world around you to complete sections, such as seeking shelter to hide from a dangerous creature or navigating a dark path. Even finding proper footholds to climb tall structures were brain teasers in their own right. In all cases, the game adopts a hands-off approach, showing you the effects of your actions as opposed to telling you how to solve anything. As a result, it is possible to get stuck if you can’t figure out the more esoteric tasks, and it can get frustrating. But for the most part, it was at least clear what you were trying to accomplish, even if it was difficult to do so.
Much of the story’s intrigue involves a mysterious red-cloaked figure, but the bulk of the adventure involves the boy and the creatures he meets. These little vignettes eventually come together to serve a greater purpose. I won’t spoil what happens come journey’s end, but the payoff was worth it - even if it wasn’t clear that the story was heading in this particular direction. Still, I appreciate the well-defined ending that rewards additional playthroughs to understand many hidden nuances. It’s a silent tale that not everyone will enjoy, but one that will make you think, or even evoke strong feelings. The ending will most certainly recolor your entire perception of the game. I admit I was taken aback and had to sit silently through the credits to process.
For those that yearn for these moments, it doesn’t take much time to reach the end. The first playthrough takes about five to eight hours, depending on how much you explore and how long you spend on puzzles. It’s a decent length for an adventure, ensuring the game doesn’t outstay its welcome, but perhaps a little short for the asking price. After the game, you can go back and replay chapters to gather well-hidden collectibles that help reveal more of the story. If you’re a one-and-done kind of person though, this game won’t last you long.
Again, it’s the entire cinematic experience that defines games like RiME. Thankfully, the cel-shaded world is a pleasure to look at with some caveats. Taken as a whole, the world is stunning, but the fine details leave something to be desired. Some building textures, as well as the main character himself, look rough, resembling Wii graphics instead of what you’d expect from an HD console. The Nintendo Switch version also had some graphical issues when I played in handheld mode. The resolution suddenly decreased significantly, causing everything to look distractingly blurry or grainy. Also, the frame rate also dipped often, in both docked and handheld mode. It was always annoying when the game stuttered, whether I was moving the camera around or was amidst a cutscene. While the presentation doesn’t ruin the story, it’s tough to let it go when a key selling point is the game’s beautiful world.
On the other hand, the music is fantastic, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the utterly fantastic violin and piano compositions. While the graphics sometimes didn’t live up to the breadth of the story, the music never missed a beat and accompanied every emotional high and low with evocative tracks.
As a final interesting note, RiME was actually first revealed as a survival game with elements of health and stamina. While we may never see what that game was like, I’m thankful that developer Tequila Works opted for a deeper tale with that same boy on an island. While an open world would have been fun to explore, the segmented chapters help to tell a bigger truth. Though action would have helped bring more gamers in, laid-back puzzle-solving ensures that more people can freely explore and reach the end. A smoother presentation could have helped the game’s cinematic presence, but the story lives on despite it. RiME isn’t perfect or too original, but it does well to scratch the same emotionally driven story itch that trailblazers like Dear Esther and Journey have pioneered in the past.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!