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Rime (stylized as RiME for some reason) came out this past May, and people have been describing it as a cross between Journey and The Wind Waker. This comparison is apt, as Rime has the aesthetic sense of Wind Waker with a few design elements borrowed from Journey, and its particular brand of "exploration adventure" is clearly influenced by Journey, with a few gameplay elements (such as moving block puzzles) drawn from Wind Waker.

Rime is apparently supposed to be three to four hours long, and I think I'm about a third of the way through. This doesn't include the extra hour I spent trying to get past the first section of the game, an hour that I erased by resetting the game and starting over with a walkthrough. Overall, Rime isn't particularly difficult, but I want to talk a bit about this weird failure in the design of what it's probably fair to call the "tutorial mission."

Rime is one of those post-Journey games that doesn't really tell the player how things work but instead helps the player figure things out for themselves through environmental design. At the beginning of the game, the player washes up on a deserted island, and within the first few minutes you're given the task of activating four statues around the island. Each of these statues is marked by a bright blue beam flaring directly upwards, which serves as a clear goalpost indicator. One statue is just off the main path from the beach to the interior of the island, one requires you to feed some fruit to a boar so that it will move out of your way, and one requires you to dive and swim through an underwater passage in order to be able to climb onto a small offshore structure.

The game helps you out with these three statues. When you're standing next to the first statue, the triangle button appears onscreen, showing you how to "activate" it with the voice command. When you're standing next to the fruit bushes right next to the second statue, the square button appears onscreen, showing you how to pick the fruit with the "interact" command. When you're swimming around the small structure in the bay, the x button appears onscreen, showing you how to dive using what you've already probably figured out is the "jump" command. No problems here.

The difficulty with the fourth statue is that it's far away from the point of specialist action needed to reach it, and this point of specialist action is not flagged for the player in any way. What you're supposed to do is use the circle button (which otherwise makes the character perform a somersault) to drop down from a cliff so that you're hanging from it by your fingertips. You then shimmy along its edge until you can jump to another cliff that you can climb before following a path to the other side of the island. There are plenty of other cliffs on the island, but most players will have learned that they mark boundaries, as jumping off them will result in death. Climbable ledges are marked by white erosion patterns (or guano?), but you can't see these patterns from above, and you cling to and scale them with the jump button. Since the key action point involving the circle button is the only time that the player is required to actually drop down from a cliff, and since you can't see its "climb marks" from where the boy is standing on top of it, and since it's so far away from the actual statue, it would stand to reason that the circle button would appear onscreen when the player approaches this particular cliff – but it doesn't.

I therefore spent a good hour running around and trying to jump over or climb up or somersault through piles of rocks close to the fourth statue to no avail. When I finally gave up and resorted to a video walkthrough, I noticed that the circle button prompt didn't appear onscreen for that player either, which leads me to believe that it's not something I missed, but rather a deliberate feature of the game meant to help the player develop exploration skills.

I frequently have trouble figuring out the internal logic of games that are new to me, so this could just be a consequence of my own relative lack of skill, but I still think exploration challenges with this level of difficulty should not be part of the tutorial mission. This wouldn't be a flaw in a game that is in fact meant to be difficult, but it's definitely a problem in Rime, and it could have been avoided with a focus group of literally one shitty gamer.

My experience of fooling around with Rime has been making me appreciate how good the game design of the Zelda series is, especially Breath of the Wild, which has no artificial barriers and doesn't force the player to use an action before they've figured out how it works in a more natural and intuitive context. That being said, there is more environmental storytelling in the first hour of Rime than there is in however many 100+ hours I spent with Breath of the Wild. After I finish Rime, I want to talk more about the intense Wind Waker feels this game has been giving me.


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