After four years, Rime has finally landed on shelves.
The third title from Spanish studio Tequila Works - following Deadlight and The Sexy Brutale, the latter a joint venture with Cavalier Games Studios - Rime originally debuted back in 2013 as a PlayStation exclusive. Since then it has transitioned to an Xbox exclusive to a multi-platform title, even securing a release on the Nintendo Switch.
It has also been scaled back from a vast open-world title - something the games market is not exactly short of at the moment - to something a little more linear. With so many changes to its structure and target platform - not to mention the release of seemingly similar titles since its announce, including The Last Guardian, The Witness and arguably even Zelda - it would be understandable to be more than a little concerned about the final product.
"It will come as a relief to hear that all the waiting, and the rollercoaster development, has been worth it"
Stephen Tailby, Push Square
Push Square's Stephen Tailby believes those concerns are unfounded: "It will come as a relief to hear that all the waiting, and the rollercoaster development, has been worth it. The final product is here, and for the most part, it's wonderful."
However, some critics have declared themselves to be disappointed - including USGamer's Caty McCarthy, who writes: "At first glance the island of the game is beautiful. But looking back, it also feels hollow. The opposite of its intent.
She continues: "The Rime I played was much simpler than its initial concept. Hardly the open world initially dreamed of, but still open with that genre's spirit, ripe for exploration."
The premise, for those who are unaware, is something you might expect from the likes of Fumito Ueda, Jonathan Blow or any other manner of indie or games auteur. Players control a young boy who washes up on the shore of a mysterious island, solving puzzles littered throughout the environment in order to unlock new areas and progress. There is no combat, no dialogue, with the narrative told largely through the world and a handful of silent cutscenes.
Christian Donlan of our sister site Eurogamer says as mysterious as the game tries to be with its story, its gameplay is thankfully something much more familiar to seasoned gamers.
"It has a lot of ideas, and they are all wonderfully small, manageable, comprehensible ideas, married to a sense of epic scale that serves as its own reward"
Christian Donlan, Eurogamer
"Rime does the things you expect of this kind of puzzly exploration game, the kind of things you want if you enjoy Zelda dungeons or the intricate, lonely dereliction of an Ico or The Witness," he writes. "But it does all these things with surprisingly inventive twists. It has a lot of ideas, and they are all wonderfully small, manageable, comprehensible ideas, married to a sense of epic scale that serves as its own reward. A game about other games, but one that is still worth playing in and of itself? Yes, please."
Chandler Wood at PlayStation Lifestyle, also praises the mechanics and the obstacles they help players solve: "Largely environmental in nature, the puzzles always feel like a proper part of the world, rather than an added layer on top to give gamers something to do. Figuring out how to navigate the island is the puzzle. It's not entirely an open world, but it never feels like it is obviously guiding you down a specific path, letting you explore each area at your leisure."
However, there is debate over the balance between puzzle-solving and exploration, as well as the game's difficulty. The consensus is that neither the puzzles, nor the overall gameplay experience is particularly taxing, but while some critics see this as a strength, others deem it a flaw in an otherwise promising game.
"Although Rime looks and sounds gorgeous, its visual splendor is locked behind frustrating, shallow puzzles and an incomprehensible story"
Oscar Dayus, GameSpot
"Although Rime looks and sounds gorgeous, its visual splendor is locked behind frustrating, shallow puzzles and an incomprehensible story, meaning you spend more time figuring out where to go than taking in the world around you," writes GameSpot's Oscar Dayus.
He goes on to add that "poor signposting carries through to [Rime's] exploration segments", often leaving him unsure how to progress. He wasn't alone in this, as Metro GameCentral's unnamed critic observes.
"Despite this variety very few of the puzzles are really very original, and most are also disappointingly easy," the review reads. "It's more common for your progress to be impeded by missing a clue about where to go next, and once you actually stumble across a puzzle its solution is usually fairly obvious.
"Whether you consider this to be a flaw or not very much depends on your approach to Rime, and probably gaming in general. With its mellow soundtrack and beautiful visuals, this is clearly not a game meant to pump adrenaline or excite anger. For the majority of the time it's a game you can play to relax, and which can happily be played with a partner offering advice or just taking in the sights alongside you."
Conversely, there were a number of other reviewers who praise the way Tequila Works' subtly points the way to potential discoveries and solutions with bright colours or shiny objects. There is also a fox companion that will howl at players in order to draw their attention to crucial elements of the game.
Videogamer's Colm Aherne writes: "Tequila Works has achieved that goal of pushing the player in the right direction without treating them like idiots, for the most part."
"The scale of all of this stuff is beautifully handled. Rime leads you through its world intelligently and with little of the pressure of a patronising hand on your elbow"
Christian Donlan, Eurogamer
Donlan agrees: "Rime should be intimidating and exhausting: each of its five levels is generally a huge single place, filled with distinct sights calling to you from the horizon, riddled with passages and opportunities that, if you're like me, you will pass with a sense of dread: so much to remember - so much, potentially, to miss out on. But the scale of all of this stuff is beautifully handled. Rime leads you through its world intelligently and with little of the pressure of a patronising hand on your elbow.
"After the first painlessly elaborate level, you'll give in to trust: trust that Rime will draw you from one thing to the next in the right order while, magically, allowing you the sense that you are in control. This is an exploration game at heart, a guided tour into an interesting world, where gentle, artful challenge awaits, always in the employ of a team that ultimately wants to leave you delighted and a little dazzled.
He continues: "The danger with a game like this is padding. Rime has no padding, and yet it took me on an adventure that consumed the best part of two days and left me with a lot to think about afterwards."
There was concern among some of the critics that Rime wears its inspirations a little too prominently on its sleeves. Even a glimpse at the screenshots draws comparisons to last year's The Witness, while the structure is immediately familiar to Nintendo or PlayStation fans - and some writers view this as a disappointing lack of originality.
"It's artistically stunning, striking a painterly look that avoids coming across as a cheap visual trick... The pacing always managed to bring a fresh element to the visuals or puzzles that ensured Rime never got boring"
Chandler Wood, PlayStation LifeStyle
Wood writes: "Rime feels like a mix between something like Journey or The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and a Fumito Ueda game. It's artistically stunning, striking a painterly look that avoids coming across as a cheap visual trick... The pacing always managed to bring a fresh element to the visuals or puzzles that ensured Rime never got boring. I always remained engaged in the silent narrative and the beautiful world, which is key to making the emotional connection that they want to make and to bring more than a tear or two before the end."
Meanwhile, Tailby adds: "Those expecting a Team Ico-esque adventure won't be disappointed. However, in reproducing the feel of those titles, right down to the slightly iffy platforming, Rime can come across as derivative, and as though Tequila Works was afraid to push the envelope. It does feature some great moments and there is good variety in the environments and puzzles, but sometimes the feeling that you've played the game before may wash over you. Come the game's ending, we also felt that it lacked a certain something, an X factor found in Ueda's games that isn't present here."
The Verge's Andrew Webster concurs, describing Rime as "a near-perfect facsimile". And while he praises the way Tequila Works has avoided some of the pitfalls that tarnish Ueda's titles such as frustrating controls or obscure puzzles, and considers it to be "a much more polished experience than its obvious inspirations", he worries that the final version of Rime still "struggles to be more than an homage".
While the substance may leave reviewers divided, there are no qualms about its style. Almost every critic praises both the visual quality and attention to detail - Tequila Works seems to have painted a picture vibrant enough to win over even the most critical writers.
"One beautiful sequence sees you illuminating a cave's darkened floor beneath you using your singing voice - at times, Rime is magical"
Oscar Dayus, GameSpot
GameSpot's Dayus declared that Rime's "artistry is unquestionable", adding: "The wind in the trees and distant sound of wildlife, in addition to a slow, classical soundtrack and no enemies or time pressure makes it a pleasant, relaxing experience akin to taking a walk around a summer park. One beautiful sequence sees you illuminating a cave's darkened floor beneath you using your singing voice - at times, Rime is magical."
There was also considerable praise for composer David Garcia Diaz and his soundtrack, with Videogamer's Aherne writing: "His arrangements are the perfect backing in the more sedate moments as delicate piano sits on top of plucking strings. It can equally become awe-inspiring when viewing one of the many jaw-dropping vistas whilst a powerful choir booms over the roll of a floor tom. The orchestra sings with the same sense of wonder the young child has, toing and froing from minor to major as you uncover everything this mythical land has to offer. It's majestic."
For all the talk of puzzles, it's clear Rime has a prominent narrative woven throughout - although not one reviewers wish to spoil with their critique. There are countless allusions to a harrowing tale that concludes with a significant twist, although for some the big reveal comes too late.
"The emotional catharsis the game hit felt unearned from what I had seen before"
Cathy McCarthy, USGamer
"On an emotional level, by the end section where relationships become clear, I wondered if I was a stoic robot (not even the variety of my friends in the game)," writes USGamer's McCarthy. "The emotional catharsis the game hit felt unearned from what I had seen before. Like a game that had a heart all along, if the heart was buried within the core of the Earth and couldn't claw its way out until the game's final hour."
Dayus adds: "The ending is as confusing as it is pretentious. The twist introduced at the story's close also comes far too late to inject the emotional weight the game sorely needed up until that point. There's no real struggle, little bonding time with other characters, no huge sense of loss, and few moments of elation, making this emotional rollercoaster more of a monotonous merry-go-round."
The consensus by the end is that Rime is a game with both style and substance but lacking a certain something - "that je ne sais quoi", as Push Square's Tailby puts it. Nevertheless, the title manages a respectable Metacritic score of 81, and will no doubt prove to be a decent hit - particularly on Nintendo Switch, which is in need of strong titles to sustain it over the quiet summer period.
"Rime is a beautiful, beautiful game that manages to feel remarkably empty, even in the face of its earnest attempts," McCarthy concludes. "The aesthetic that breathes life into the island of Rime feels a bit too familiar, but it doesn't dampen its vast, ever-photographable horizons."
Aherne describes Rime as "the quintessential lazy Sunday afternoon game", while Eurogamer's Donlan says it's a title that "has it all".
"It has a sense of wonder, of poise and, over time, a true sense of emerging character," he says. "And it has something to say. Something that is worth hearing."