I very rarely use the word delightful. It sounds like a word my mum would say. But I find it hard not to think of this word after my brief time with Tequila Works’ upcoming third person puzzle-platformer Rime.
I went into my preview of Rime with relatively no knowledge of the games premise, besides that it was a puzzle game with a puzzling past: first announced back in 2013 as a PS4 exclusive, only to soon fade into obscurity before emerging again under Tequila Works after they’d reacquired the intellectual property in 2016.
Now nearing completion and a final release date, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the Spain-developed title. What I experienced with Rime was a game that made me think like a child in order to traverse its interesting puzzles, all whilst enjoying its gorgeous visual aesthetic that was a beautiful mash of some of my favourite types of art.
My playtime started me around an hour into the game and put me in the shoes, or should I say sandals, of a young boy named Edu, who, after being caught in a storm at sea, has washed up on a mysterious yet serene island. Undoubtedly (and fairly) the first thing that will strike you in Rime are the absolutely stunning visuals. At first, the game’s aesthetic could be mistaken as yet another cell-shaded, brightly coloured game we’ve become familiar with in the last few years. But that would be a grossly incorrect assumption.
Besides the obvious inspirations such as Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films like Spirited Away, Ponyo and The Wind Rises, Rime takes a deeper visual influence, one that’s much closer to home for the Madrid-made game. As the producer for the Rime, Cody Bradley, told me, “It’s pretty straightforward seeing the Miyazaki influences visually, but also a handful of Spanish painters were called in and helped shape the overall visuals for the game, and the Mediterranean, as far as setting was concerned, was also a huge influence.” These seemingly unconventional (at least for modern video games) inspirations undoubtedly payed off. I couldn’t help but involuntarily pan the camera and soak in the gorgeous views in Rime, each of which could be an individual painting or at least a fantastic desktop background.
The game’s surroundings are more than just climbable art installations, however, and small but charming world-building visual details were noticeable throughout my play time, such as small, wildlife-like seagulls perching on cliffs and small gecko-esque lizards that clung to rocky surfaces later in the play-through. These cuties in particular quickly captured my heart.
Colours are also used for more than just artistic flare in Rime, and beyond the distinct Mediterranean salt whites and lush blues and greens is the limited use of red, which is intentionally placed amongst the surroundings to guide the player towards important landmarks and locations. The most important (and cryptic) of which is a silhouetted figure cloaked in a red hood and cape, who acts as a metaphorical carrot-on-a-stick for the player, disappearing from sight every time the young boy seems he’s finally about to catch the mysterious man.
Rime isn’t just a pretty face. It has substance beneath within its gameplay. My first goal in the preview was to scale a tower, hopefully finding a missing key I needed at the top. Besides the straightforward platforming across cliffs, which felt smooth with Rime‘s responsive controls, I was introduced to the game’s first basic mechanic: Idols. These green statues come in multiple forms: some are moveable, some activate other Idols, and so on. Interacting with these via Edu’s boyish shouts send a green light shooting towards a locked door or area in which you want to advance. But this is a puzzle game, so nothing is ever that easy. Thinking of creative and interesting ways to combine the use of these Idols was often the key to progressing.
Edu is not alone solving these tricky puzzles on the island, however; the native wildlife of the paradise are also utilized in his ventures. In particular, I befriended a hungry little boar, who is able to be coaxed into destroying path-halting bramble bushes when lured with fruit. I didn’t see any other interactive animals in my playthrough, but I was assured there were more. In addition to these mechanics, I also briefly played with tools that altered the day/night cycle and shadows on the island.
Like all good puzzle games, Rime slowly introduces these mechanics as it ramps up in difficulty. Rime has no HUD and no narration or audio that chimes in to point you in the right direction. Instead, it uses visual cues to force a sense of direction and give subtle hints to how one can solve puzzles. Early on in my playthrough, these clues were creatively blatant, such as when I required a key to advance to the next section, only to look around to see that an archway near me was a literal giant key. As you progress, however, these become a bit trickier and require you to slow down and think.
If you know me, thinking isn’t usually my strong point, so about halfway into my playthrough, I was introduced to yet another puzzle tool known as “Resonators,” which are basically glowing blue balls that are often required to be set on a particular platform to solve the puzzles. In my playfulness (and blank-mindedness), I decided to throw one of these balls in attempts to solve said puzzle, and to my genuine shock, it worked. This is where Rime truly seems to separate itself other titles of the same genre: My childlike thinking had solved the puzzle.
“There is a component to that that’s intentional,” Bradley of the whimsical aspect of Rime. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What would it feel like to be this boy trapped on this island?’ Everything blossoms from there. When you approach the puzzles, how does a child approach these puzzles? When you interact with animals on the island, how will a child respond? What really puts you into the experience of being this child on the island?”
You’re not always going to have plenty of time to think, though, because as you progress, real dangers are introduced for the young boy. In the second area of the game, which is a much rockier location, I was hunted by a giant skull-faced, vulture-type bird that would swoop in and carry Edu off — certainly not to safety. This grim fate could be avoided if Edu had just stayed under cover, but of course ,Edu’s path of progression isn’t so easy, so quickly running from cover to cover becomes your main priority.
Rime‘s story isn’t told in a traditional method, as there is zero dialogue. Instead, its mysterious plot is told through the world around Edu. Murals depicting the strange hooded figure and a boy, plus eerie masked creatures watching the boy’s every move, constantly evoke more and more questions. What at first seemed like a simple escape from a deserted island quickly becomes much more, as the islands secret’s unravel and the boy’s connections to this place come to light. The narrative of Rime seems genuinely unique, and I left the play session wanting answers.
Perhaps the most important element I noticed from my hands-on preview of Rime was its incredible soundtrack. With no traditional text or audio in the game, Rime‘s auditory emphasis is drawn to its music, which sets the tone for not only every scene in the game, but also the emotions of the boy we play.
“The music was critical for us. It helps us shape the emotions that the boy is feeling at any given point in time,” commented Bradley when I asked about the importance of the music to the game. “In stage one, you probably noticed the beautiful but lonely sound to the game, but as the danger went up and you entered the second stage, the harshness picked up, especially when the giant predator is introduced.”
Before long and just as I began to become engrossed with the game, my time was up, and my long walk in the rain from the Five Star Games office in Sydney had begun. But whilst I walked, I couldn’t help but dwell on Rime‘s charming gameplay, visuals and, most of all, music. Hopefully, the game’s full release keeps this experience going, and I look forward to the delightful (there’s that word again) notion of sitting back and thinking like a child in order to solve puzzles in Rime‘s beautiful yet cryptic world.
Rime is out on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on May 26. A Nintendo Switch version is set to come out a little later this year, in Q3.