Since my first glimpse of Rime during Gamescom 2013, I’ve been more than eager to get my hands on a game that was touted about by reps at the PS4’s launch events as “Zelda for PlayStation”. The little title that could has undergone many changes in the four years since it peeked out into the world, including a departure from PlayStation exclusivity last year when publisher Tequila Works purchased the rights back from Sony.
What was once pitched as "Gauntlet meets Minecraft meets Jason and the Argonauts" with survival elements, crafting, tower defence, and enemies now offers an experience akin to Journey, Ico, and The Last Guardian. And while influences from those titles are hard to miss, the emotional punches and narrative strengths that made them so memorable are sorely lacking here.
Rime opens with a scene of a shipwrecked boy awaking on a forgotten island. By exploring and solving puzzles, the player seeks to unlock the island’s secrets and find a way home. You climb, chase, and – most amusingly – shout at statues to progress through the island, all the time encountering ghosts, sleeping sentinels, and flying terrors.
From time to time you are accompanied by a fox you awoke from a statue (yup, by shouting at it), and at other times you chase after a figure in a red cloak that is so much like something out of Journey, it’ll pull you out of the game and have you wondering if Tequila Works needs to chill on its references.
The nod to Journey wouldn’t be so jarring if the comparisons weren’t so apparent. Both feature minimalist aesthetics, a simple narrative, and sparse landscapes littered with ruins. Most notable are the absence of dialogue in each, and their sweeping soundtracks that resonate through their respective emotional pinnacles. But while Journey’s minimalism gave it room to double down on the journey at hand, crafting an arch and hitting each story beat with impact, Rime has a tendency to drift and become directionless at times. It gets carried away with building puzzle upon puzzle, until you’re left unable to see the forest for the trees.
It’s easy to see how the story got lost amongst Rime’s puzzles, for the latter are a true delight; the amount of work that has gone into them is evident. Crisp controls and a free-roaming camera ensure there’s always another angle to try, a nice counterpoint to the fixed viewpoint seen in similar genre titles like The Last Guardian. The game's mechanics vary a lot, which keeps the experience engaging. There’s fun use of counterbalances, light and shadow, and taking cover, and even some impressive climbing and platforming that Assassin’s Creed could take a few notes from.
In addition, the world is gorgeous – a wonder to behold. Bare walls are adorned with adorable crawling critters, gorgeous rays of light beam from above, and the island’s decay is conveyed by sunken buildings, broken bridges, cracked walls, and thriving thorns and vines. For all it’s cartoonish art style, this is a world that feels lived in and real – one I want to explore more.
Earlier stages of Rime even allow for this. The first level’s title is ‘Denial’, encouraging players to rebuke the path set ahead and go off the beaten path. Boundaries still exist here, but when compared to the narrow, linear style of later levels, this level feels a great deal more open. The world here feels like a patient parent, waiting to see what their adventurous infant will get up to; “Let’s see how they handle this obstacle…” Invisible hands turn you around if you swim too far, or set you back atop a platform if you fall off.
That means there’s no sense of danger or risk, and that feeling continues throughout Rime. Even much later when you encounter predators and foes, the game sets you gently back at the beginning of a task if you fail. While this makes the game more accessible, it also removes a degree of investment: why care about your avatar if he can ragdoll off a cliff and be ready to go from the same point a moment later?
Speaking of a lack of attachment: trailers and gameplay clips of Rime would have you believe that a fox is your endearing companion, but in reality it spends 90 percent of the game running away from you, and 10 percent yelping like an old lady’s purse pooch. I felt more connection with a door-unlocking sentinel, especially after it looked dismayed when encountering a fallen counterpart. The fox would have served better as an arrow or waypoint marker.
Alongside its fantastic gameplay and brilliant world, Rime has a strong sense of spirituality. Ghostly figures hint at an afterlife, and there are themes of innocence, loss, melancholy, and closure. If Tequila had just committed more to the narrative, these themes would have to hit with more emotional impact.
Rime may have aimed for the stars and come up short, but it nonetheless sits atop a mountain as a good game – just not a great one. A typical playthrough takes 10–12 hours, and additional playthroughs actually show the narrative through a much clearer lens. There are also a bunch of fun achievements / trophies that you’re unlikely to encounter the first time around, and collectibles carry across playthroughs – great news for completionists.