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‘Rime’ is an eye-catching, ‘Zelda’-like puzzle-adventure

(Courtesy of Grey Box)
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Developed by: Tequila Softworks
Published by: Grey Box
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

“Rime” is a game about the acceptance of loss. In a 2014 interview with Polygon, Raúl Rubio Munárriz, the game’s creative director, recalled how the idea for the game came to him while he was drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. (According to the Spanish game developer, he swam out to a buoy and was seized by a panic attack, which left his future brother-in-law to save him.) Like many who report having a near-death experience, it brought Rubio clarity. “For us as creators we have reached the end of an era of shooting and explosions which was all great, but now we are starting to question ourselves in the world,” he said in 2014. And, in an interview this month with Gamesindustrybiz he said: “That’s why you have games like ‘That Dragon, Cancer’ or ‘Papers, Please,’ because they’re not trying to entertain you and that’s one step above Hollywood cinema. We’re trying to transmit you a … personal message.”

The first few scenes in “Rime” convey three essential aspects of nature: its mystery, danger, and beauty. The opening shot is of a star-encrusted sky. Then the camera lowers to reveal grey, storm-lit clouds above a violent sea. A scrap of red cloth flies in front of the camera before the scene fades to white and transitions to a blue sky. A broken marble tower comes into view that overlooks tree-dotted cliffs and a pristine beach on which lies the solitary figure of a young boy. Enu is dressed in a tunic, like a boy in a picture book about ancient Greece, and what appears to be a torn red cape. With effort he lifts himself to his feet.

As Enu, players explore the beautifully realized island. Swim a bit beyond the shore in the beginning of the game and you’ll see an unidentifiable person wrapped in a red cloak standing on a high rock jutting out of the water. The mysterious figure acts as a through-line for the game which contains no dialogue. Rather, the emotional texture of “Rime’s” bare bones plot is primarily conveyed through incidents and environmental details. Ascend a gleaming marble staircase, for instance, and you might notice murals on either side — one of a distressed man with a crown on his head, and another of a boy in a red cape cradling his head in his hands.

Though it lacks hack-and-slash combat, “Rime” is a puzzle-adventure game similar to “Zelda.” I delighted in how the game’s puzzles built on each other. Aside from acting as mere gateways between areas, a number of the puzzles immerse the player in the game’s aesthetics. There are puzzles that manipulate time, so that one can scroll through the game’s day-night cycle and revel in its fantastic evocation of Mediterranean light. “Rime” also signals its artistic values via puzzles that require you to place things on pedestals. Although there were numerous times I had to step away from the game to gain a fresh perspective on a puzzle, I almost invariably found that when I returned to it, I was able to swiftly grasp the solution — a rhythm I value in puzzle games.

The most perilous parts of Enu’s journey rarely got my pulse up, and I don’t mean that as a put-down.  There is a tranquility to “Rime” reminiscent of Fumito Ueda’s games. Clearly, the developers went all in on developing an eye-catching art style, abstract yet sensible puzzles and intricately designed environments. Although the central plot arc can be summed up in a sentence (I won’t because I don’t want to spoil it for you), it’s the experience of the game that counts. The gradations of colors in “Rime’s” green-blue sea or in its bluish-purple nighttime sky are more expressive than in some other video games. At its core, “Rime,” is really nothing more and nothing less than an opportunity to roam around a beautiful environment and work through its strange logic.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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