A lot of the foundational platformers, from the 8-bit era and onward, have a certain calm, forthright surreality to them; of course you’re grabbing mushrooms to grow, of course the sun wants to kill you, of course somebody left all these spikes lying around everywhere. In a way, RiME feels like a modernization of that. It has the calm, unshakable logic of a pleasant dream.
It starts off very simply. You’re a kid, who’s washed up on a beach on an island. The island was clearly inhabited at some point, but isn’t now, aside from birds and a handful of wild pigs. All roads lead you to a set of statues, and when you shout at them, things happen. You’re encouraged to explore, to find more statues to shout at, which will allow you to get deeper into the island, courtesy of a magical fox you cause to appear and a series of walkways that build themselves out of nothing. There’s a story here, but the game leaves it up to you to figure it out.
RiME is a surprisingly organic game, in that you’re allowed to explore and learn at your own pace. There isn’t even really a tutorial, except that the first couple of parts of the island are peaceful; you’re just supposed to figure it all out as you go. You can’t even really die in the classic video-game sense, as a fatal fall just deposits you right back on the last ledge you were on. You’re left alone to solve puzzles, look for secrets, and climb around ancient ruins, like a sort of all-ages answer to the Prince of Persia series.
For those first couple of areas, this would be a perfect game to play with small children. It’s challenging, although most of the challenge comes from figuring out what the game’s rules are, and when it hits you with new game mechanics, it’s through manipulating your environment rather than your character suddenly acquiring a new ability.
As you move through the game, however, RiME gets trickier and more nightmarish. You start getting accompanied by creepy, whispering ghosts, who just seem to want to watch you, and there’s an entire desert level where you’re constantly being pursued by a giant metal bird which I have grown to hate. At this point, RiME goes from that pleasant dream to a nightmare about constant pursuit, while simultaneously adopting a much duller color pallette, and the game takes a hit as a result. It’s a short jaunt, but in that time, it abandoned much of what I was enjoying about the game in favor of becoming something much less vibrant.
That’s really my only complaint here, aside from the occasional bit of jankiness with the controls… and, if I’m being honest, there are a couple of weak puzzles in the lot. I’m still not sure how I was meant to solve a couple of them, if not through pure trial and error.
Still, when RiME is good, it’s very good. I’m consistently impressed, as I play it, with how much thought must have gone into it. It suggests paths without forcing you down them; it teaches you how to play it so subtly that you might not notice it’s doing it; and it’s got a strong, consistent sense of design. RiME isn’t long, but it’ll stick with you for a while.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Grey Box
This review is based on a digital copy of RiME for the PlayStation 4 provided by Grey Box.