Rime begins with a child suddenly waking up in a mysterious location. As a player, you have no idea why you’re there, how you got there, or what your goal is. It’s an opening that has become increasingly familiar in the world of independent and indie-style games, but it’s an undeniably effective way to set up an intriguing adventure. Rime never strays too far from the “indie” trappings of ambiguous narrative, mysterious puzzles in a mysterious land, and a young protagonist incapable of fighting, but it delivers a meaningful and satisfying finale that shook me in a way I was not expecting.
Rime is structured as a continuous series of puzzles and environments. It doesn’t have any combat, but players face occasional dangers from strange hooded beings and a large imposing creature in the second level. Some areas are large and let you tackle puzzles in any order, while others shuffle you down a specific path. The boy can jump, climb, interact with moveable boxes, and activate switches to help him solve puzzles.
The puzzles did little to get me excited and typically involved moving boxes into place, or finding the right path to climb. Solutions are usually obvious immediately, or just a matter of looking in the right direction. I still enjoyed solving them, and was satisfied in particular with an area that played with the level design in unexpected ways, but sometimes I was just looking around until I saw the telltale identification of a climbable ledge.
Solving puzzles opens new doors, keeping you in a constant state of progression as you move through each of the thematically distinct levels. Between those levels, cutscenes offer a peek at the larger story. The game does not have any dialogue, but the boy is well-characterized thanks to his excellent animation, and he meets likeable characters who are eager to help him. Hints of Ico permeate the experience, along with smatterings of Journey, and I even recalled a little bit of The Witness as I explored. The general ambiguity of the game prepared me to not learn much about why I was doing what I was doing and just enjoy the puzzles and scenery – but Rime surprised me there.
A man in a red cloak, matching the boy’s red cape, acts as the main narrative hook to the boy’s journey. A history exists with this mysterious man, but who is he? Why he is always just out of reach? Few questions are answered during the majority of the game, but a specific story is being told, one that becomes very clear in the end. I wouldn’t call it a twist, but it made me look back on the journey with a new appreciation for its purpose.
After leaving the first area, the world changes in a dramatic way. You move from a tropical island to a desert in need of a rainstorm filled with unused technology. The setting is different, as are the dangers. I continued to solve the same type of puzzles, but they felt distinct. The same can be said for the following three levels, which explore lush underground environments and abandoned factories, as well as difficult-to-describe locations. They have their own mechanics based around the core climbing and puzzle-solving, but each level feels different and is compelling in its own way, sometimes making the boy play with strange technology or outrun a fearsome beast. Seeing how much each level changed made me eager to see what was around each corner through the entirety of the game.
Rime’s world and story are where it shines. It pulls the player through strange seemingly disconnected environments, slowly revealing its true meaning as you move deeper. In the end, everything is sharply pulled into focus with a simple, but dramatic final story revelation and level. It made me want to replay the game from my new perspective and even seek out the collectibles I had earlier written off as unnecessary. Many elements of Rime are familiar, but it is an effective use of the medium and expertly builds up to (and executes) its cathartic finale.