Review: Rumu

Cleaning house and winning hearts

Review: Rumu
Developer: Robot House
Publisher: Robot House
Price: USD$20.00
Available At: Steam

Years ago, I purchased Gone Home, thinking it was more of a classic adventure. Despite generally enjoying exploration/narrative games, my mismatched expectation detractracted from the experience, at least a little. Rumu is another title which looks as if it belongs in the adventure/puzzle genre but I’d argue that it’s primarily a narrative experience, where setting and design support story rather than play, most of the time. This is an important distinction because Rumu shines most brightly when it is simply being what it is.

As one of a small, but detailed, cast of characters, the protagonist is a robotic vacuum cleaner. Although the story could have unfolded in several ways, this point of view is ideal for uncovering secrets because you’re mobile, curious and useful. Another main character is the sentient house who, from the outset, initiates disquieting conversation. Given the game’s relatively slow start, I initially wondered if the volume of dialogue was necessary, but clues that seed the delightful plot twists later are scattered everywhere, often quite explicitly.

A lot can be learned about characters and their relationships simply by observing the locations in this modern, vibrant home. Cleaning provides an impetus to explore the house, although progression is always linear and gated. I appreciated being directed to the next compelling increment of story, at least partly because I found the controls difficult to master. Plotting a course with a mouse click resulted in collisions and driving Rumu with WASD was especially confusing when cleaning compact spills. I did feel like a vacuum cleaner, however.

Over three hours, the puzzles didn’t develop or become more complex, they were just there. Routing power and finding objects are a fair diversion from intense story moments, nonetheless, and it is sometimes nice to never be stuck in a game, as momentum is maintained. At one point, though, I had to backtrack my unwieldy self to find information I’d read but couldn’t recall, possibly because the game is a little light on instruction. For example, I didn’t find the journal until the end or know that progress was being saved at the beginning of each day.

Rumu’s branching dialogue system is implemented more for humour rather than to provide nonlinear consequences, even though the choices themselves can be very weighty. Again, this does support the overarching narrative. Rumu may express love for the toaster or just ask for some toast, but this simply makes an expression of “not love” or a less mundane action all the more shocking later. Why does the vacuum cleaner love everyone and everything? Trust that this story will neatly tie every intriguing thread.

Rumu wasn’t precisely what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it a lot. If the puzzles were mostly busywork, that’s probably authentic to your vacuum-based, narrative experience anyway. I left feeling refreshed by the uniqueness of the setting and inspired by a tightly structured story, sympathetic characters and meaningful themes. If you can appreciate a great “aha moment”, science fiction world and don’t mind knocking over every chair between here and the kitchen, I’d highly recommend this.

8 10
A compelling narrative experience, structured like a classic science fiction short story in which you can drive a sentient vacuum cleaner around.
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