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Available in May on PS4 w/ PS4 Pro support (version tested), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC

Ever since it was announced in 2013, RiME has been shrouded in mystery. Originally revealed as a PS4 exclusive, the colourful cel-shaded visuals and lonely exploration of RiME’s debut trailer hinted at an adventure that combined the charm of The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker with the emotive storytelling of Ico. With the PS4’s game lineup still finding its feet in those early days, RiME quickly became a beacon of hope for early adopters. One trailer arrived a year later and then two years passed without either Sony or developer Tequila Works uttering a word about RiME, prompting rumours that the project had been quietly cancelled. The beacon went out.

Last August, however, Tequila Works broke its lengthy silence, revealing that it had bought the rights to RiME from Sony and that it would be coming to multiple platforms in 2017. With RiME’s release now only months away, I made my way to Tequila Works studio in Madrid to finally get some hands-on time with this generation’s most elusive game...

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The first thing that strikes me about RiME is how wrong those assumed influences were. While the stunning cel-shaded art direction is Windwaker through and through, gameplay-wise RiME actually has far more in common with titles like Journey and The Witness than anything Nintendo has released.

Starting around an hour into the game, I find myself guiding our nameless protagonist through this mysterious island’s sun-soaked surroundings. With no HUD or objective markers on the screen, I run through the grass as it gently sways in the wind, following a white stone path that leads down to an intriguing looking amphitheatre. Wandering around the ancient yet pristine-looking white stone area, I spot a huge pit sitting in the middle, housing a large tree.

Four bizarre-looking statues surround the pit, their cutesy but fantastical features highly reminiscent of the forest spirits from Studio Ghibli’s anime classic, Princess Mononoke.

As I make my way toward the statues, a tap of the triangle button makes the young boy shout. The sound of his voice illuminates the nearest sculpture, sending a green glowing trail shooting out of its mouth and deep into the pit below. As the trail hits the tree, spouts of water dribble out of a single pipe at its base. In an attempt to fill the pit with water and float the tree to the surface, I run around and shout at each of the statues, only to realise that the boy’s shout isn’t powerful enough to simultaneously activate all the statues. Stumped, I walk over to survey my surroundings and see an orange fox standing atop a set of stairs. Following the mysterious little beast, I get to a stone area housing a collection of statues, looming above is an overgrown tower, adorned with an intriguing symbol. The fox moves away from me with a flick of his tail and vanishes into thin air.

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After 20 minutes spent doing a mix of basic platforming, dragging blocks and shouting at statues, it becomes very apparent that RiME is more of a puzzler than the traditional adventure experience many were expecting. Where games such as The Last Guardian masterfully combine emotional gravitas and a thick sense of atmosphere to help the experience feel like more than just a succession of puzzles, RiME’s breezy atmosphere sees you drifting from one puzzle to the next. Its narrative is largely confined to occasional environmental storytelling, so if you fancy learning more about our protagonist and the island, you'll have to track down additional story clues found in items hidden across the world. While those expecting a more overtly narrative-driven game are going to be disappointed, then, at least the puzzles on offer are fairly varied.

Initially I was largely using the game’s Journey-esque shout to activate a series of statues that opened doors, but I soon find that the solution to each problem becomes more complex. In order to reach the top of the tower the fox led me to, I had to use a mix of platforming and careful manipulation of the environment in order to reach my goal, commanding the boy to lug orbs over to different holders in order to lower and raise platforms. Having figured out how to advance, the section culminates in a combination of the mechanics I’ve just learned, dragging statue-mounted blocks around in order to amplify my shouts and unlock the secrets hidden in the area. After solving puzzles on either side of each staircase, I eventually return to the amphitheatre to find the tree having risen to the centre, allowing access to a glowing key.

There are undoubtedly similarities here to games like The Witness, yet to call RiME just a puzzle experience is doing it something of a disservice. This is also a game that’s very much about exploration, too. Your furry orange companion may do its best to guide you toward the next puzzle, but there’s plenty of fun to be had by taking the road less travelled. Impressively, RiME actually allows you to reach any area of the world that can be seen on screen.

Walking towards the next puzzle I discover what initially appears to be merely the edge of a cliff face. Walking over to the edge I spot a white line that indicates I can shimmy across it, causing me to drop down and discover a hidden chamber. It’s when stumbling upon hidden beaches or scaling rocks that lead to jaw-dropping vistas where RiME really shines, helping to capture the sense of child-like wonder that comes with getting lost and accidentally discovering something wonderful.

This subtle sense of adventure runs through the second half of my demo. Tearing me away from the brightly lit coastal Mediterranean vistas, the next area plunges me into darker territory. Making my way through a dim cavern I find myself surrounded by strange shadow-like creatures who bear more than a passing resemblance to "No Face" from another Ghibli film, Spirited Away. Eventually the cavern leads to a harsh desert environment, littered with cracked stone and crumbling ruins. As I make my way across a damaged bridge, a cut-scene shows a gargantuan skeletal bird swooping down to attack me.

After rolling off the bridge where I was attacked, I land in the sand and scurry to safety. Wandering the open desert leaves me a sitting duck, so I run from cover to cover to avoid the winged beast. As you see RiME’s world through the eyes of a child, Tequila Works has deliberately chosen to avoid combat in RiME. Creative director Raúl Rubio Munárriz explains that an eight-year-old child would never dare to fight a monster, leaving you with a kid’s ingenuity as your only weapon.

After heading to the top of a nearby windmill, I manage to solve a string of puzzles to turn the tower into a conductive lightning rod that sends the winged-beast soaring away with an almighty bolt from the sky.

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RiME definitely isn’t the game I was expecting it to be. While it wears its visual and mechanical influences on its sleeve, it still somehow manages to combine a curious blend of genres that makes it feel like something completely unique. Its minimal narrative and lack of combat will mean it’s definitely not for everyone, but the game’s more perilous second half hinted at an experience that might offer players a different kind of adventure.

The game’s director promises plenty more action-packed moments over the course of its 8- to 10-hour duration, so if Tequila Works can get the balance right between puzzling and adventure, RiME could be a beautiful and endearing experience.

Ashley Smith

February 7, 2017, 11:53 am

It looks lovely and seems to play in the way that I hoped it would - Ico was of course a platform puzzler too, and certainly the best I have yet played.

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