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RiMe Review | THAT’S How To Do A Puzzle Game

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In our review of Conarium, OnlySP outlines what makes a great puzzle game. To wit, such titles need to ease players in with simple puzzles, which gradually become harder and harder. At no point should the player feel ill-prepared for the obstacles they come across and never should a puzzle be so hard they must go to YouTube to find the answer.

RiMe is a great puzzle game. Progressing forward at a charmingly gradual pace, the game eases players through a huge variety of little challenges that are pitched just right. When RiMe is hard, players should not get frustrated and are never punished for getting a problem wrong. RiMe seems to trust that players can do better, even with the toughest of enigmas. Contrastingly, at points where the puzzle-solving feels easy, players will feel a deep satisfaction knowing they have worked hard to earn that effortlessness. As a puzzle game, RiMe is faultless and, even with a three-and-a-half-hour run-time, dull moments are hard to find.

Part of this breeziness is due to the developers’ courage to throw the player into many, vastly different new areas, adding new rules and modes of play to learn in each. Each of these environments is incredibly beautiful and well-rendered in a warm-toned cel-shaded style reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The developers clearly wanted to push themselves to see how many different climates and environments they can come up with, and the answer is a lot. Entering RiMe with no prior knowledge of the game is a joyful experience, particularly as gameplay varies throughout, so this review will not delve into what to expect. Rest assured, RiMe is extremely good at shaking things up, twisting the formula, and surprising the player at every turn.

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Despite its bright art style, RiMe at times feels like Playdead’s platformer Inside. After all, the protagonist is a small boy very much at risk of death and able to fight back only using his intelligence and puzzle-solving ability to progress. The developers withheld an option to punch or kick and the only defence the boy does have is the ability to shout, which does everything from breaking vases to igniting torches, but cannot harm enemies. The protagonist is a little boy in a world where little boys can die, so they feel an immediate sense of responsibility for his welfare. Granted, dying is not as gratuitous as Inside—since RiMe fades to black when the boy dies rather than showing all the blood and guts—but players will certainly feel great concern for the safety of the young boy, which enhances gameplay.

Dying is not a cause of frustration, but a cause of worry, as players must try better and be better for the sake of this little boy. This trick is familiar as plenty of other games have used vulnerable child protagonists before, such as Limbo, Little Nightmares, and, of course, Inside. In RiMe, the protagonist can be killed by everything from falling off cliffs to being eaten by giant birds, or have his life essence drunk by shadow creatures (which is a thing). He also finds new friends among the NPCs, and goes through the sadness of losing them. Players will just have to sit and watch this little kid go through all this drama. They will be perched on the edge of their seat, terrified for much of the runtime, and worried for this fictional child. This trick is cheap, but one used very effectively by developers Tequila Works.

Another way RiMe keeps people absorbed in the action is by not using any dialogue, choosing instead to tell the story through actions, body language, music, and pictures. This absence has been a pleasant trend in recent years with games including Virginia, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Inside each using a lack of dialogue fantastically and arguably this trend exists because of something that mainstream game development often gets wrong. The problem with many games is that players are spoon-fed exposition through dialogue and text files to the extent that players who ignore them might have a far more interesting experience.

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With RiMe, force-feeding information simply is not possible. Denied explanation of any kind, players have to look to understand the world and characters. Failing to pay attention might mean missing out on a sighting of the mysterious figure in red robes or a painting on the wall of the way the world once was. The sweeping orchestral score from David Garcia Diaz is fantastic at pinpointing the emotion at the heart of each scene, so that, even with eyes closed, players can follow the drama of the story unfolding. Furthermore, as with many games that eschew dialogue, players will likely never know for certain what actually happened, unless YouTube theorists break the trend and get something right. These aspects make RiMe an individual experience, with each story beat meaning something different for anyone who plays.

One of the limitations of RiMe is the game’s slow pace, which might not be for everyone. Players who want to just relax into a calm meditative state will love RiMe, though approaching the game in an agitated state may cause frustration at the boy’s inability to sprint properly and RiMe’s deliberately gradual pace. However, players are guaranteed to have a great gaming experience if they want something slow, easy, and fun.

For players looking for an excellent puzzle game to sit back and enjoy for a few hours, RiMe is difficult to go past. The game is one of those short, perfect little experiences that are just fun to come back to every once in a while for a relaxing afternoon, even if RiMe does not have the addictive, adrenaline-pumping action of many big games coming out this year.

HIGH DISTINCTION

A former stand-up comedian, YouTube vlogger, game developer, and, currently, a video game journalist for OnlySP, Marley Hannan entertains a vast range of interests including Dungeons and Dragons, Neil Gaiman, and really, really good video games.

Review

Etherborn Review — A Brief, Beautiful Defiance of Gravity

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Etherborn

Indie developers in 2019 truly have the freedom to create the games they want. When Fig-funded game Etherborn reached its funding target, developer Altered Matter set out to craft a gravity-shifting puzzle platformer. Players sold on this concept have a lot to look forward to as Altered Matter has delivered on its promise. The mind-bending mechanics of Etherborn force players to approach the world from a new perspective amidst some stunning visual landscapes. 

In Etherborn, the player takes control of a voiceless, newly-born being who follows a bodiless voice in search of meaning. Such a philosophical premise promises an experience that will answer key questions regarding self-identity and the quest for meaning. The answer plays into the age old cliche that we are born to create our own destiny. The game’s narrative discussions around these topics are disappointing, though they do demonstrate that the narrative is less important than the themes behind them. 

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One of the biggest frustrations with the story is that the language used complicated the simple message the developer was trying to tell. The soothing yet commanding tone of the omniscient voice would have been enough to carry along a more refined script that served the themes with clarity. Instead, Altered Matter opted to write something poetic by using lots of really big words that sound like they have lots of meaning, which instead detract from the actual meaning. 

Etherborn has a linear structure that takes place across five distinct levels. The levels are completed by solving gravity-defying puzzles to collect light orbs that open the pathway forward. Once all levels are completed, a new game+ mode is unlocked, creating replayability through the additional challenge of new, well-hidden light orb locations. Including this game mode offers players a chance to enjoy a more difficult experience without an additional learning curve. 

What sets Etherborn apart is the unique mechanic that underpins the gameplay. To traverse the landscape, players must jump and use ramps to change their perspective, turning walls into floors to move through the level. The opening level does an exceptional job of introducing the player to how this concept will be manipulated throughout the game. Controls in Etherborn are simple and intuitive, allowing for an experience that focuses the challenge purely within the design. Despite being able to run, the movement speed of the character seems sluggish for the most part, yet can be too fast for easy maneuverability in levels that require finesse to execute. 

Etherborn is deeply beautiful. The soft hues and subtle colour palette create a truly ethereal experience that carries through until the final level where the tone shifts into something somewhat dark, yet utterly breathtaking. Skeletal bodies, frozen in time, dwarf the character to create a visual masterpiece that captivates the viewer. Accompanying the divine art direction is killer sound design that makes the world feel complete. The ambient music creates an atmosphere that indulges in the landscape it calls home in a way that elevates the experience. 

The short length of Etherborn leaves players wanting more. In OnlySP’s preview of the game in 2018, the Alpha build contained the same five levels that are seen in the final game. Having spent so much time on these levels has meant the final product is highly polished yet disappointingly short. The gravity bending puzzles at play are so clever, well designed, and satisfying to complete that a lack of experimentation through more level designs to satiate the player’s hunger for more is disappointing.  

The challenging gameplay, gorgeous sound design, and stunning aesthetics all make Etherborn a worthwhile experience, even for those not fond of puzzle-platformers. Every level demonstrates a craftsmanship that encourages the curiosity to think and engage with the world. Completing puzzles is satisfying, even if the length of the game is not. Some minor issues may crop up along the way, but Etherborn is still a clever, fun game that challenges players and their perspective of the world. 

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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