We are in a new age of environmental puzzle games. These engaging-but-simple titles use running, jumping, sliding, pulling and pushing not only to solve brainteasing conundrums, but also to challenge players to ponder the potentially emotional story that ties all your activities together.
RiME, by the developers at Tequila Works, has you running around an exotic, beautiful dreamscape of an island. The game revolves around a young boy in a red cape who must find his way through gleaming towers and misty ruins, sun-bleached deserts and jagged grassy cliffs, rainy temples constructed out of gigantic mossy blocks. Each has its own chapter. And each chapter carries its own emotional theme.
At first there’s no explanation for what’s transpiring. Your adolescent avatar wakes on a beautiful beach, empty except for a few scurrying crabs. And your initial steps are underscored by swooping and swelling musical lines that push you to move and discover. There’s no one to talk to other than a small red fox that pops up and yips in your direction if you need a suggestion about where to look next.
You, however, are your own guide. Where you go, what cliff you want to climb and what vista you want to soak in is totally up to you. The only dialogue is composed of your own shouts of “Hey!” that you use to activate switches and enliven the magical essence of otherwise inanimate objects you encounter.
The environmental puzzles themselves are sometimes as simple as finding the right box to move into place, creating shadows in just the right spot or visually lining up pieces that magically form a gate-unlocking key. But other times these puzzles can be, say, a string of spread-out actions, such as jumping from cover to better cover and avoiding a gigantic bird that wants to swoop down and snatch you up. These challenges are never too difficult, but they always offer you a fresh visual treat.
In between those many puzzles, though, you start to catch sight of a man dressed in his own red cloak who runs across your path, only to disappear. Certain images stir cryptic memories, small snippets of interactive narrative about a sea journey that was struck by a vicious ocean storm. A shipwreck. A terrible loss. These harrowing memories are never overly violent or bloody. But it soon becomes clear that loss and grief are integral to the game’s overarching story.
In fact, by the time you reach RiME‘s conclusion, the wordless tale is open to a number of interpretations. Was the boy’s scrambling journey a spiritual one? Or a symbolic representation of finding a way to let go of the past? The choice is yours to make. But that final choice gives this game of visual treats and pleasant puzzles just a bit more wonder than you might have expected when you wandered in.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.