In the opening moments of Rime you find yourself alone on a beach. In the distance, on top of a cliff is a lighthouse. With very little knowledge of where you are, or how you even got there, the most logical course of action would seem to be to head for that lighthouse in the hope that you can get a better view of the surrounding area. So you follow the beach and find a path that leads further into the island - assuming it will loop round to the lighthouse. Instead, it funnels you towards a large open clearing, paths branching off in all directions and at the centre a strange statue.

Rime’s opening moments are a delight. The game establishes a central mystery and a set of gameplay mechanics through very subtle techniques. When you take control of the boy (named Enu) for the first time the lighthouse is clearly visible in the distance, providing you with an objective, whilst the path to it, and the subsequent clearing, features a few obstacles that teach the controls you’ll need to complete the game. All of this is presented in a world that is rich with colour and beauty. The game’s vivid greenery and sun-bleached white stone structures drawing from the nature and architecture of the Mediterranean.

On a purely aesthetic level Rime is a wonderful achievement. The art direction and sound design of the game are really the key selling points here. The soundtrack in particular - a beautiful, yet often melancholic collection of songs - is really well utilised. As the boy runs across a monumental stone bridge, the camera pulling back to reveal how small he is in comparison the rest of the world, the music swells with a sense of adventure, at other times it presents a more foreboding tone, hinting at the boy’s isolation from others.

Rime’s gameplay meanwhile focuses on two key components, exploration and puzzles. The player is encouraged to explore the environment very early on, with the island the boy finds himself on presented largely as an open world. There is a clear critical path, but getting off that will occasionally reward players with collectables. Progression through the world is then managed through puzzles. These puzzles might require you to use your voice to activate statues, move blocks around, play with perspective or manipulate shadows but all of them are ultimately about opening access to new areas and finding the next step on the critical path.

Unfortunately whilst Rime opens with great potential, much of that is squandered as the game progresses. Most notably as the game progresses areas begin to feel increasingly linear, with environmental threats or blockages limiting the player's ability to freely explore. This isn’t helped by inconsistent traversal options. Climbable objects are indicated with white edging (similar to Uncharted 4) which means that sometimes Enu will refuse to climb over a chest high wall, yet make a much larger climb because the developers deemed it climbable. With the light tones used for many of the walls in the game, finding these climbable surfaces can sometimes be a puzzle in itself.

The introduction of the fox that serves as companion and guide for the game also adds to this increasing linearity. The fox featured heavily in preview materials for the game and, along with the game’s comparison to the work of Team Ico, suggested some level of interacting with and forming a bond with the animal. This even seems to be something that Rime’s story expect from the player - but really it’s just a cute waypoint. The fox will run off to the next objective on the critical path and then yap at Enu to follow. Once you catch up or solve the relevant puzzle, the fox will rush off again.

This handholding approach to navigation - along with the puzzle gameplay - begins to reveal the falseness of Rime’s world. The most interesting puzzles play with light and shadow and require you to think about where to position your character, or where you need to move the light source in order to progress - a puzzle type that feels pretty appropriate to the bright, sunny Mediterranean inspired environment. But the majority are simple block puzzles that should feel familiar to anyone who’s played an adventure puzzle game before. The problem is that these puzzles don’t feel connected to the game world at all. Whilst the world shows signs of ruin, almost all puzzle components are in pristine condition and fulfilling their criteria causes stone doors to simply evaporate rather than slide away. The puzzles also fail to evolve substantially as the game progresses. Instead, it just feels as though the number of steps required to complete a puzzle has increased.

At it’s core then Rime is an interesting, although flawed game. Unfortunately, its release for Switch - which comes almost six months after it was released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One - falls victim to a number of technical issues that not only result in a poor experience but also exasperate these issues. Despite being delayed in order to “improve quality standards” Rime’s port feels very poorly handled. Docked the game looks fine but suffers from frequent and significant frame rate drops (both indoors and outdoors). This makes exploration and puzzle solving feel like a chore - which is heightened by a fair amount of controller lag. The frame rate drops also ruin some of the aesthetic charm of the game. The bridge crossing mentioned earlier is a grand, epic scene - yet the gradual pullback of the camera to reveal the huge stone tower I was approaching, was turned into an inconsistent stutter, breaking the immersion and the choreography of the camera movement to the swell of music.

Handheld mode makes for an even worse experience - despite being one of the supposed benefits of this Switch port. The game’s graphics take a huge drop in resolution becoming a blurry, pixellated approximation of the game that looks more like watching a YouTube video at 240p. Whether the developers fix these problems in a patch remains to be seen, but for now, it’s clear that Rime on Switch presents players with a sub-optimal experience.

Overall, Rime feels too much like an amalgamation of other games, without adding anything new to the offering. The visual style of the game is reminiscent of Journey and The Witness, both games that combine beauty with a surprising amount of depth and intelligence. Its core gameplay and exposition-lite narrative takes cues from Team Ico, but without Fumito Ueda’s focus on using gameplay to tell a story. The Last Guardian, for example, encourages you to spend time petting and feeding Trico, which rewards the player with a creature that responds quicker and is more obedient. The story of The Last Guardian also develops through that relationship and building of trust. Rime wants to be considered alongside these games but, even if you overlook the technical issues of the Switch port, there isn’t much hidden beneath its beautiful facade. As the game draws to a close it tries to deliver a series of emotional narrative moments and whilst the music swells appropriately it all feels a little hollow and disconnected from what you’ve experienced over the last few hours.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch with review copy provided by Grey Box