As our medium matures and the shifting development landscape continues to favor smaller teams willing to take risks that aren’t typically possible within the AAA business model, we’re seeing an increasing number of games tackling the kinds of existential issues that define the human experience. Isolation, social inhibition, depression, loss; all that terrible, wonderful stuff that touches each of us at some point or another. RiME, from Tequila Works—a team made up of veterans from Blizzard, SCE, Weta Digital, and more—is one such game: an exploration-heavy, third-person puzzle-platformer that paints grief in abstract strokes, feigning no answers for the unanswerable, but providing hope in its suggestion of the enigmatic something more that might be waiting for us on the other side. It’s very much in the tradition of Thatgamecompany’s Journey: a phantasmagoric adventure that gives players much to chew on after the credits have rolled. And indeed, in the months since I finished RiME, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Unfortunately, the reasons for that are decidedly mixed.

No matter how you play, RiME on Switch is severely handicapped by its developer’s unfamiliarity with Unreal Engine.  Play in handheld mode, and you sacrifice detail for portability…

In RiME, players take control of a boy who washes up on a mysterious island, with no real insight as to why he’s there or what he’s supposed to accomplish. The goal, of course, is to piece that information together over the next 6-7 hours, through a combination of exploration and puzzle-solving. While the island itself is wondrous to behold, most of the puzzles aren’t terribly memorable, consisting mostly of the typical switch-flipping, heavy object-dragging variety that developers have been foisting on us since Myst and Tomb Raider. But there are exceptions to the drudgery: exercises involving the manipulation of time, light, and shadow that showcase both the artistry of the game’s world as well as the sensitivity of its narrative. It’s moments like these, as well as those where you’ll interact with the bizarre, confused denizens of this breathtaking but sparsely populated world, that hoist RiME high above its more pedestrian design elements, transforming it into something greater than the sum of its parts. RiME’s strongest asset, however, is its ability to put us inside the heads of its creators, giving us insight into views on death that may conflict with our own. It’s not easy for a game to forge such a profoundly empathetic connection between player and creator; RiME makes it seem effortless.

… while in docked mode, you’ll enjoy higher resolutions at the expense of the frame rate. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Unfortunately, for all its wonders, RiME is bound to be remembered not for what it does so well, but for the dim light in which it paints its developer. This game could have been a standout example of what the this medium is uniquely capable of accomplishing; instead, it’s a cautionary tale for how not to release a game to the public. Playing it on Switch, my feelings on the game oscillated wildly between minor frustration and deep disappointment, with few moments where I was able to look past its issues and appreciate what it was trying to accomplish. Handheld mode (my now-and-always preferred way to play games) provides resolutions so low that it literally looks like someone smeared Vaseline on the screen, while docked mode offers up significantly greater detail and clarity, but does so at the expense of a wildly inconsistent frame rate that can actually interfere with game play. Tequila Works was clearly not familiar enough with Unreal Engine to do its vision justice; PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports, which I haven’t played, are apparently also problematic, though not to this extent. I was hoping to hold this review until Tequila Works’ promised optimization patch surfaced on the Switch, but it’s now been two months since that olive branch was offered to players, and the latest update on the developer’s blog is that the patch might actually be too large to make it through the eShop approval process. Hopefully Nintendo can bend some rules for RiME, because the game, as well as its players, deserves much better.

Despite its significant issues, RiME’s stunning art direction and deeply empathetic narrative makes it stick with you long after you’ve finished playing.

It’s something, at least, that the physical release can now be had for close to clearance prices for players who are patient enough to wait for a sale; this should make its deficiencies a little more palatable. But RiME is far from the only open-world offering on Nintendo Switch, and with competition like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, and L.A. Noire all faring much better on the platform, it’s hard for me to give RiME anything but the most reserved recommendation. Which is a shame, because this is the only way I have time to play a game like this any more.

C+

 

 

 

Invisible Gamer’s review of RiME is based on a retail code provided to us by Tequila Works. The game launched on Nintendo Switch on Tuesday, November 14th, 2017.