by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
ONE FUNCTION, ONE PURPOSE
I’m not a huge fan of cleaning. Well, let’s be honest...who is? Technology has definitely made cleaning easier though, with machines such as washing machines, dishwashers and robotic floor cleaners such as the Roomba taking the hassle out of household chores. Rumu centres on the latter device, the titular character - a robotic floor cleaner- in a puzzle game with a surprisingly engrossing narrative. In a game that is devoid of human interaction, the devices in the fully automated house perform their duties, whilst also providing a human touch to the setting.
The titular character spends most of his time cleaning and performing reasonably simple and mundane tasks at the request of the automated house AI, known as Sabrina. The game is primarily a puzzle game, and the tasks that Sabrina places in front of Rumu, form the bulk of the puzzles. The puzzles flow smoothly, and I found that they allowed me to remain immersed in the underlining storyline relating to the fully automated house and its creators David and Cecily.
The puzzles themselves are reasonably simple, but are varied enough to keep the gameplay fresh. There is somewhat of a hint system that shows the items within a room that can be interacted with, allowing gamers to do a simple search of the important areas within the rooms. Most of the items within a room can be interacted with and will affect the story or the puzzles in some way. Even conversing with Sabrina has certain consequences. Disobeying your orders will anger Sabrina, and answering her queries will also have differing results.
Rumu, through your choices in dialogue options - especially those with Sabrina - appears to learn an array of human emotions as the story progresses. Without giving too much away, the gameplay is secondary to the story that is told via interactions with Sabrina, the household’s automated system and with items located around the house. Indeed, the game is less about cleaning and more about artificial intelligence and its consequences, about work, life and family and humanity in general.
MESS DOES NOT FOLLOW RULES
Rumu generally moves seamlessly, although a couple of times I found myself stuck in a corner or behind an object and unable to dislodge Rumu, forcing me to restart the level. The levels aren’t overly lengthy, so little damage was done. Rumu’s pathfinding (when pointing and clicking on a destination) works rather well, especially once he has had a chance to explore the room via the manual movement controls. Clicking on items of note will allow Rumu to interact with them, with these items often giving the gamer a footnote to the happenings within the house.
The narrative is controlled wonderfully by the superb voice acting throughout. The voice of Sabrina is feminine and gentle whilst still having a robotic tone along the lines of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Despite the robotic tone, she has periods in which a human touch sets in, with her programmed emotions showing through. Rumu himself is generally a quiet character, with just a series of beeps and boops to provide speech. Bumping into a wall or obstacle emits a series of squeals from Rumu showing that he is being damaged. The music too, keeps the emotional tone of the story going, with some relaxing, yet dramatic scores.
Rumu whilst reasonably colourful, is played out in a somewhat sterile environment. The straight lines and orderly placement of most objects give a sense that David and Cecily are usually quite pedantic about everything, almost to an OCD level. This sterility fits in with the story though, as Rumu goes about his business without the interaction of the human characters. Indeed, apart from Sabrina and a number of other electronic devices, Rumu’s only interaction is with the family cat, Ada. Rumu, with his cute features and beeps, is often superfluous throughout the game, having little to actually clean.
MORE THAN APPLIANCES
I have to admit, I haven’t been this invested in a sentient device since I watched Wall-E. Although the game has us following the journey of Rumu, it is the story that is going on around him that kept me engaged throughout. The puzzles are not overly difficult, allowing for the story to flow wonderfully well. The interaction between Rumu and Sabrina allow for the perfect blend of robotic and human emotions which become more human-like as the story unfolds. And the voice acting of Sabrina perfectly complements the dramatic nature of the narrative. Hints of humour also sneak into the game to lighten the mood in the game that provides some wonderful insights into family and getting a work/life balance evenly proportioned. With that said, I have to pull out the Dyson and manually vacuum the carpet...what a drag. I wish I had a Rumu of my own.
Occasional areas when Rumu got stuck