PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Despite the frosty connotations of its name, Rime is a game that exudes warmth. While there are moments of darkness and despair along the way, and cruelty and loss to deal with too, Tequila Works’ long-awaited adventure strives to be joyful at every step. It’s there in the way you can playfully interact with the spectral fox that serves as your guide throughout, or how baby boar congregate and follow you around whenever you’re carrying fruit. It’s evident in Tequila Works’ diligent efforts to minimise the number of moments where control is taken from you, even during cutscenes. And, of course, it’s also provided generously by the simple pleasure of exploring the game’s beautiful, mysterious environments.
It nearly didn’t turn out this way. Early on during development – a tumultuous gestation that has sometimes overshadowed the game’s promise – Rime featured hundreds of puzzles, as well as survival aspects that included hunger and thirst meters. It’s difficult to imagine how such clutter and stress could have fitted into a game whose final form is so focused and pure. There are vestigial remnants of that busier vision – the fruit that would have driven the survival component remains, for example, but is now nothing more than bait to encourage fully grown boar to smash through thorny barriers – but Rime is defined by its relaxed and spacious nature. And even though the game asks nothing more of you than a little explorative curiosity and some basic puzzle-solving nous, it delivers a sprawling, ambitious adventure in return.
Your quest begins after your character, a young boy, washes up on a remote beach. Rust-coloured cliffs loom over you and the crabs that skitter about on the sand, while a crumbling tower perches on a precariously eroded landmass that sits just proud of the island. Moving the left stick prompts the boy to rise, unsteadily, to his feet and then begin limping in whichever direction you choose to point him. Other than the occasional tooltip there’s little in the way of guidance or justification, and you’re left to gradually uncover the secrets of this enigmatic place.
Before long you’ll discover that some objects on the island react to your presence. A button press makes the boy sing or shout, and doing so near anything made of jade will make it resonate. A variety of carvings serve different purposes: flat-headed statues make temporary changes to the environment – briefly raising a platform or opening a door, say – while their portly, roundheaded cousins alter the environment permanently; large globes amplify the range of your shout; and still more effigies and mysterious components react in playful ways that we won’t spoil here.
This mechanic forms the backbone of many of the game’s puzzles. You might have to find a way to light up several statues at once, for example, or manoeuvre an amplifier so that you’re able to activate a statue beyond the influence of the boy’s small voice. But these metamorphic rock devices are complemented by a number of other magic-infused mechanisms. Viewing platforms that serve as the focal point for perspective puzzles have you lining up fragments of golden statues to form new doorways. Light-sensitive switches activate machinery when bathed in, or starved of, photons. Glowing blue globes must be set on plinths in a certain order to progress. And heavy golden spheres can be rolled around circular grooves to change the time of day.
Despite the variety of ideas on show, Tequila Works deploys its conundrums sparingly and in such a way that they feel like a natural part of the world rather than contrived gating. While the way forward is often just the other side of an architectural or topographical bottleneck, there’s usually plenty of space to stretch your legs and bumble about elsewhere, along with tempting alternative pathways to mine for the game’s various collectables and secrets.
Not that any of the puzzles are likely to hold you up for long; while a handful take a little thinking about, none provide a particularly steep challenge. Nor do they represent much of a break in the pace of the game, which moves along in a stubbornly languid manner even when the handful of threats that exist in the game present themselves. There’s no combat as such, but on the few occasions that you find yourself in danger there’s usually an indirect way to fight back. In one area we’re stalked by an aggressive bird and must run between points of cover in order to avoid its talons. The screen tints red the longer we’re out of cover, and the creature’s unsettling squawks make every dash for safety a stressful endeavour. Later, we must clamber about on sheer cliff faces while avoiding its gaze, but eventually the tables are turned – in this case by solving environmental puzzles whose results make life distinctly uncomfortable for the bird.
All of this takes place in a separate location to the opening island, which was used to show off the game prior to its release. Whereas that opening area is idyllic and welcoming, this second open space is sun-parched, arid and characterised by crumbing sandstone, chalkwhite windmills, and glistening golden machinery. It’s also vast, taking in a huge beach, a large cliff-top area, a network of tunnels, some building interiors, a beautiful underwater reef amid ruined structures, a deep-set valley, and more besides.
It’s perhaps even more ambitious than the first island – a trend that continues with each new location that’s revealed. One level toys with your spatial awareness in a manner that makes the now-familiar trick of streaming in a new environment when you’re not looking feel magical again. Another takes place in a
It’s difficult to imagine how clutter and stress could have fitted into a game whose final form is so focused and pure
bizarre factory and introduces a fascinating new mechanic as well as one of the game’s most rousing moments. They’re remarkable spaces to inhabit, and the game flings new ideas and mechanics at you regularly without ever becoming overwhelming. There are times where you can feel wayward – one prolonged period of backtracking had us wondering if we had missed something obvious for longer than was comfortable – and the framerate can dip on occasion, but Rime’s world is nevertheless a pleasurable one to explore.
There are occasionally issues with controlling the boy, too. While collision detection is mostly solid, there are moments where the angle of your jump will out-fox whatever algorithms are going on beneath the surface and see you slip from the ledge you planned to grasp. The boy’s determinedly relaxed movement speed might also not be to everyone’s taste, but you soon get used to the absence of a dash button and adjust to the game’s relaxed pacing. And if you do slip, there’s rarely far to travel; even if a fall results in your death, you’ll instantly restart just a few feet from where you tumbled.
The platforming itself is pleasantly physical, the boy’s hand-created animation telegraphing what little weight he possesses with satisfying momentum. Grabbable ledges are highlighted by smears of dried-on guano and the boy is a capable climber despite his size, shimmying, dangling, leaping and hauling himself up onto overhangs with only a little effort. The game’s dedication to faecal signposting is commendable, but can occasionally lead to bafflement when an unsullied ledge that’s perfectly within reach can’t be grasped. Even so, the level design never hems you in unfairly, and Tequila has struck a welcoming balance between open-world exploration and gentle funnelling.
Much like Journey, in fact, which is the game Rime feels most similar to – not, as pre-release hype has suggested, Ico or Wind Waker. There are moments when Tequila seems to be directly referencing Thatgamecompany’s classic, and Journey is also evoked in Rime’s beautiful score – compositions that are sometimes mournful, sometimes uplifting, and which sit somewhere between a Ghibli soundtrack and Yann Tiersen’s work. There’s even a mysterious figure in a red cloak who appears intermittently throughout the journey, and stylised murals that serve as tutorials and occasional exposition.
But while there are similarities between the two games, and Tequila’s creation is just as beautiful – thematically as well as visually – Rime is unquestionably a distinctive, very personal creation. Although it’s relatively short, it still feels expansive and exhausting (in a positive sense), culminating in a restrained but powerful conclusion that should move even the most hardened of hearts. It also manages to lend such significance to one branch of its collectable items that we immediately felt the need to dive back into the game and find the ones we’d missed the first time around.
Tequila Works’ crisis of faith is understandable but also, it turns out, unfounded. In pairing back its design and focusing on only a few key elements, the studio has created an uncommonly beautiful, open-hearted game. The team’s self-deprecation and shaky confidence belies an assured, courageously executed vision. The resulting adventure will give you chills, and should stay with you for a very long time indeed.
This mysterious hooded figure makes frequent appearances, but always seems to be just out of reach. Given that your fox companion appears to trust them, you can at least be reasonably sure that it’s friendly