The want to like Rime, a new puzzle-platformer from Spanish indie studio Tequila Works, is so, so strong. It's all laid out there before you—this beautiful, inviting play space of brain teasers, the suggestion of an open world, a wordless protagonist that belies youth and curiosity.
The aesthetic and mechanical cues, the sleeve-worn inspirations, are great, all from the best kind of precedents. It brings to mind the work of Team Ico and Fumito Ueda, The Legend of Zelda, and the likes of Journey, The Witness, Myst, and Abzû. Poke around at its edges, and many more become apparent.
But when the credits roll, a strange hollowness echoes through the past four or five hours. Rime, by virtue of leaning on its influences with such visible prominence, ultimately has little to say for itself. To play it is to move through a series of seen-before situations, from Uncharted-like ledge gymnastics to one-kid-and-their-something companionship, and the slim storyline, heartfelt as I am certain it is, is nothing new either.
To avoid anything overly spoiler-like, said story concerns itself with the acceptance of loss. But the denouement, delivered in a detached epilogue, carries a disappointing weightlessness where prior games to explore the theme have left the player feeling emotionally beaten up. That's mainly because of how they've steadily unfolded the mystery. In contrast, Rime keeps you in the dark, and then hits you around the head with a reveal in its final few moments.
Throughout, one of the player-controlled character's primary means of interaction is their voice. You'll shout at strange statues to release orbs of energy that fly away, across the landscape, opening distant locks. You'll use your voice to shatter ancient vases, opening peepholes and new pathways. You scream at flickering lanterns to see their flames burst into life—yes, there's an achievement for that—and different statues that turn antechambers into magical elevators. And when you're not hollering, you're humming, the child forgetting the game's impression of peril for a second to slip into a delightful daydream.
And an impression is all you get—while there are moments where you can "die", there's no punishment. So leap from that cliff top all you like, and get carried off by that beaky bastard that keeps swooping over your head, as nothing bad will come of it. This makes storyline sense, absolutely; but it also strips any semblance of challenge from Rime.
And without that, all that's really left to drive you onward is the story—which doesn't truly untangle itself from metaphor until the end, and as such is only ever a limited force—and the sense of place to proceedings. Which starts strong but quickly falls away as it becomes apparent that Rime is no more open world than a Gears of War—there are corners to explore, in order to seek inevitable collectibles, but you cannot come and go between areas as you please.
It's not enough—shout as loudly as you might, but all that reverberates around the world of Rime are echoes of past successes, revisited here without the the distilled centers that drove each of them. There's a good chance you'll turn on ICO for a replay before seeing Rime through to its conclusion.
Rime bears the hallmarks of a passion project, which is to be admired, and it's certainly not a bad way to spend an afternoon, as share-button pretty as it is (and that extends to some beautiful music, too). But all the while, the sole answer to your why of the experience, why am I pushing onward, for what purpose, is met with a stony silence.
Sure, there is eventually a narrative payoff, but it's too opaquely teased in its telegraphing to comprise a meaningful motivator for the majority of the game, and its delivery—sorry for sounding sort of heartless here—is just a bit too on the nose, too quickly, for it to leave an impact. And when something original in the gameplay presents itself, such a a cool-day-to-night puzzle involving shadows as keys, it's too quickly cast aside for more running and fetching, switch flicking and wall clambering—for everything you've done before, back when it meant more.
But then, should we be so surprised that Rime feels lightweight, like a retread of medium-pertinent predecessors? Choose to stand in the shadows of colossi, after all, and your own definition will only ever appear dwindled.