Rumu PC Review
Rumu is an engrossing PC debut from Aussie developer Robot House that brings an air of humanity to a family consumed with technology. You play the role of the titular Rumu, a sentient vacuum cleaner that works in the house of David and Cecily. It may not be the most complex game I’ve ever played, but it tells a excellent story and does so with style and flair. There’s a small dose of humour sprinkled in for good measure.
I guess you could say all its settings are in the right place. Rumu is a game never afraid to make fun of itself and its offbeat premise, but achieves correct balance, and is able to get serious when needed. That is certinly a lot of plates to spin, but they rarely fall. Even when they do you are ready to clean up… you are a vacuum cleaner after all.
Rumu‘s story runs over the course of a couple of days telling a captivating tale imbued with a sense of mystery as you uncover hidden truths. Rumu never leaves the house he starts the game in, but even with only a few disparate rooms to see, a compelling narrative is formed in Rumu’s limited world.
Rumu is not the only appliance within the walls of the advanced smarthouse. There are many more personalities to seek out too. He is however one of the more inquisitive and endearing – and the only one with wheels. Similar to the other appliances Rumu is limited to a singular emotional state – a fact that plays into the story going forward. Rumu’s trait is to love. Initially his responses reminded me of the muddled ramblings of Steve Carell in Anchorman, but Rumu is quick to develop, growing to “love to not love,” by finding clever loopholes in his programing. Some of these responses are player controlled – offering a choice between two options. None of the choices massively affect the story, but the ability to choose is where the game showcases its low-key humour.
Rumu is guided on his adventure by an AI companion known as Sabrina. She is one of the most advanced pieces of technology in the house. She plays an important part in the story too. Rumu only communicates via beeps and boops shown as text, but Sabrina is voiced, and voiced well by Allegra Clark. Early voicework in the game can be monotone and filled with robotic breaks. This is usually seen as a negative; but not in this case. Sabrina’s personality assiduously grows to convey more complex emotions fitting to later scenes.
The difference between a meticulous AI routine and the ability to make mistakes is very human, and this character evolution is expertly conveyed by Clark’s impeccable voicework.
As you journey through various rooms you are presented with puzzles to solve to move forward. This is a puzzle-lite game, and Rumu’s greatest strength remains narrative based. Although there are some cutscenes; the full story is not conveyed by them alone. If you treat Rumu as just a puzzle game, and rush from one room to the next, you will miss extra layers of narrative flare. If you take your time, soak in your surroundings, and fully explore the contents of each room, you’ll have more to think about when the credits role.
As I worked my way through the game I noticed Rumu’s advancements are mirrored in gameplay choices. You begin by tidying the house and completing other menial tasks; ultimately doing exactly as you are told. Later, as Rumu’s sentience grows, more options come to light. Gameplay never fully turns into an open-world (open house?) experience, but the leash certinly lessens in parallel with Rumu’s growth. It’s a clever touch.
Even though Rumu and Sabrina both go on a journey, Rumu remains the star. This is very much a coming of age story of a vacuum cleaner that is programmed to only know love, and how he opens his cute heart shaped eyes to become much more. In the end his curiosity leads him to learn of grief.
Sometimes as I controlled Rumu I made him accidently bump into various objects and walls. Everytime he hit something he’d make a sad ‘boop’ noise. When you feel intense sorrow that you made a pixelated vacuum cleaner sad you know a game is doing something right.
For a game with technology at its core Rumu never forgets to remain human. Sure, there is an untrusty AI that is somewhat antagonistic towards the player, but the resolution does not play out exactly the way you’d expect. If you played Portal, watched and episode of Black Mirror, or interacted with pop culture at all over the last few decades, you’ll have some idea of the broad steps Rumu will take before playing. Thankfully those steps take hops, skips, and jumps to form a uniquely interesting tale.
There may be much of Rumu’s narrative that is not wholly original, but the story excels as it engages modern human sensibilities. It sometimes falls into sci-fi genre tropes, but never wallows in them. It is futuristic at times, but never out of reach. Always careful to remain relatable, accessible, and grounded. The lovable vacuum cleaner that is Rumu never forgets how to love, but as a game Rumu always strives to highlight compassion – an element crucial to molding an engaging story.