You’d be forgiven for thinking Tequila Works’ Rime sounds a heck of a lot like thatgamecompany’s Journey.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A solitary wanderer cloaked in red makes a journey through a vast, varied expanse. Their only weapon is their voice, which they use to navigate the puzzles that keep them from their mysterious destination.
Of course, other games have taken big cues from Journey; Abzu, for example, tried to capture the magic underwater with varying degrees of success. But Rime hews especially closely to the formula, and it doesn’t always come out well in the comparison that invites.
Visually, Rime is lovely. It’s a vibrant world full of life that really is joyful to explore. Lizards flit around you across torch-lit cave walls, massive stone towers reach toward heaven and beg to be explored.
It is, perhaps, a little lacking in character, feeling less like the home of an ancient civilization and more like levels an ancient civilization built for a boy to someday play a puzzle platformer in. But still, a joy to look at.
Rime was created to be seen, to be heard. The beautifully orchestrated score is equally sweeping and soaring, and tries valiantly to elevate Rime when things start to feel particularly languid.
Which they do. A lot.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that actually playing the thing was a tertiary concern. The character at the game’s center moves through puzzles that are far more concrete than I expected in an exploration-focused game. You’re asked to place orbs on switches, collect keys, move crates and so on.
Rime’s mechanics (simple though they may be) are communicated without a single spoken or written word, an impressive feat of level design. That goes double for environments that are capable of subtly guiding the boy to the next goal with basically no signposting.
That knack for guidance is just a little too deft when it comes to the game’s puzzles. There are a few exceptions, but most of the solutions are so obvious that progress feels more like busy work than actual discovery.
Some of the puzzle mechanics break from the key/switch/crate mold to great effect, including examples that play with light and shadow and a partnership with a bipedal automaton. But even then, the solutions never challenged me enough or were clever enough to really engage me.
It gets even duller between the puzzles, which include lengthy wall-scaling sequences with a single acceptable path and practically no chance of failure. This isn’t the first game with this time-killing mechanic, but it’s prevalent enough here that I hope to never see it again in all my days.
There are also big chunks where the player is expected to just lean on the thumbstick until the boy reaches something else interesting. That may not be uncommon in this burgeoning subgenre, but in Rime, getting from A to B lacks fluidity or fun. There are collectibles you can root around for if you like, but moving around the world of Rime was unpalatable enough that I rarely felt compelled to stray from the critical path to look for them.
There’s little narrative to provide motivation to keep pushing forward. The boy is climbing a massive tower in pursuit of a shadowy figure. The denouement wants to be an emotional gut punch, but its impact is muted by the lack of concrete storytelling beforehand. The last 5 percent tries to retroactively imbue the preceding 95 with meaning, but I just found myself feeling kind of cold.