Rime is ambitious in ways you wouldn’t expect. The easy and superficial comparison is something along the lines of Journey with its spartan interface and mechanics or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker with its cel-shaded art style. But director Raúl Rubio draws from sources much older and weirder.
To set the scene, Rime is an exploratory puzzle game. You play as a boy who wakes up on an island, and to escape it and a curse, you’ll have to go about solving and reconfiguring various components of the open world environment. Stripped of its original gameplay concept (which included crafting and tower defense), all you do is pick things up, put things down, and clamber around ledges so you can yell at glowing objects.
Your voice is critical here. It’s just about the only vocal element you’re likely to hear playing Rime. This is a purposefully sparse game, pushing for what Rubio calls “empathy design.” There’s no text, no dialogue, no explicit story. (The only reason there are button prompts at all were to satisfy cert requirements.) The team at Tequila Works instead aimed to provide a character and a story in which the player could fill with his or her own interpretations.
Aside from the fact that you simply start somewhere with your destination looming over you in the background, this is the only comparable part to Journey. There’s a heavy surreal, dreamlike quality to the game, which isn’t surprising given Rubio listing the likes of Salvador Dalí and Hayao Miyazaki as influences, laid over Joaquín Sorolla-esque landscapes and vistas.
Yet as open to interpretation as Rime‘s overall narrative is, this is still an intensely personal project. The birth of his child halfway through development changed components of the project, inspiring the idea that the story would be about innocence giving way to the realization that there is danger in the world. A dream about bleeding golem masks chanting “business and blood” renewed his conviction of achieving a singular and uncompromising vision for the game.
The puzzles, too, are unexpectedly filled with symbolism. While most of it follows patterns of using your voice near glowing orbs in the walls to send glowing spirits(?) into parts of other walls to open doors, there are also bits that seem to be based around a philosophy. One, for example, involves arranging your camera to fit a particular perspective so you can turn a faraway, oversized key into a nearby, hand-sized one. Does this say something about changing how you view a problem?
There’s an appropriate level of challenge to these puzzles spread across a surprising breadth of variety. Sometimes you’ll be moving orbs between pedestals as if someone looked at Tower of Hanoi puzzles and said they could be better. Sometimes you have to be a bit more dextrous and leap between platforms with somewhat precise timing. And other puzzles might involve you figuring out just how animals behave around you and around other parts of the environment.
It’s easy to make simple, unfulfilling comparisons between Rime and games like The Witness or Journey. But once you play it and once you hear Rubio talk about it, you realize that may be true, but not in the way you expect. It’s not about what the game does moment-to-moment, but it’s about what it tries to say as a whole.
We’ll find out just what that is when it releases for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch this May.