Praise for the works of Fumito Ueda — the iconic director behind games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian — tends to lean on the same handful of descriptors. Ueda’s games are solemn and sad, sweet and surreal. They’re among the few experiences in games that can “make you cry.” Ueda’s work is often described as frustrating, rigid, and technically flawed.
Rime, which comes out tomorrow from Spanish studio Tequila Works, feels like an attempt to create a game that captures all of the positive components of an Ueda game while stripping away their recurring negatives. Virtually everything about the game calls to mind the auteur’s work, whether it’s the quiet, helpless protagonist; the ancient, mysterious world; or the subtle, at times heart-scrunching, story that holds the project together. But Rime is also a much more polished experience than its obvious inspirations. There are no setbacks, like being stuck on an obtuse puzzle, or fighting against the controls to navigate a perilous series of jumps.
Rime is a near-perfect facsimile. And yet, for all its beauty and wonder and technical craft, Rime also struggles to be more than an homage.
The game opens with a young child washing up on the beach of a picturesque island. Crumbling, ancient buildings line the background, and tall beams of light across the land launch into the sky like heavenly skyscrapers. Rime is part of an increasing number of games that use the environment, rather than words or complex user-interfaces, to communicate the story and the mission; from the moment you set foot on the island, it’s the world around you that reveals where to go and what to do.
You have only a few skills at your disposal. The child protagonist can’t jump very high or carry anything other than a handful of small objects. Instead of an attack, you have the option to call out, which serves different functions, depending on the circumstances. But this small array of abilities are put to use in a large variety of ways. At the beginning, the puzzles are fairly simple. As I journeyed to the columns of light, I had to scramble up broken bits of architecture, and distract wild pigs with pieces of fruit. Later on I was able to activate magical objects by humming a tune.
As you open new areas of the island, things become more complex. You come across strange mechanical structures that can bend light or alter the time of day, and several large, scalable towers. But even as the game’s complexity escalates, the tasks remain intuitive. I rarely found myself struggling to figure out what to do. On the rare occasion I was stuck, I took a moment to scan my surroundings. A climbable ledge, or a hidden pool of water: something would be nearby, helping me to proceed.
Rime makes excellent use of color and composition to communicate these things to you in a way that feels subtle and natural. It rarely felt like the game was explicitly telling me something; instead, I’d spot the green glow of a magical object in the distance, or the shiny gold of an interactive machine. The one exception is a ghost-like fox creature that serves as a sort of guide, occasionally revealing a path or standing near an area and yapping to draw attention. The game uses these techniques to push you forward.
For all of its moments of beauty and discovery, it’s also hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu while visiting the world of Rime. So much of the experience borrows from past games from Ueda and his team, particularly The Last Guardian. Sometimes it’s big things, like the uncannily familiar architecture, or the structure of the puzzles, which feature a similar blend of platforming and sliding boxes. Other times it’s the smaller details: whenever I heard the weak cry from the young child lead, I couldn’t help but think back to my time with the similar-looking boy from The Last Guardian. Rime isn’t, and couldn’t be, a direct rip-off; both games went through a lengthy development, and The Last Guardian just came out in December. But Rime clearly resembles many of the teases of The Last Guardian that were released over the years.
Rime often benefits from these comparisons. In a lot of ways it’s a much more digestible experience, as it doesn’t have near the level of frustration that plagued The Last Guardian. It doesn’t punish you for failure and it does a remarkable job at keeping you from getting lost or stuck. It’s also a comparatively brief game — it took me around seven hours to complete — that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Rime’s world often feels more diverse and complex than its inspirations, and it also adds its own important elements, with better-designed puzzles, a lush, colorful art style, and a story that proves itself to be powerful and poignant by the end.
But part of what makes a game like The Last Guardian so memorable is that it feels like nothing else — which is why many players can forgive its more obvious flaws. By its very nature Rime can’t have that same sense of wonder or mystery. It’s a very good, very beautiful game filled with moments of revelation and heartbreak, but it’s also largely a game you can’t help but sense you’ve played before.
Rime launches May 26th on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. A Nintendo Switch version if coming at a later, currently unannounced date.