It's natural to be worried about Rime. In the three and a half years since its debut at Gamescom 2013, the game has picked up a new publisher and gone from being a PS4 exclusive to a multiplatform title coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch - to say nothing of the months that went by with nary a trailer or update on the game's status.
But this past weekend at PAX South, Rime was in full force with a lengthy playable demo on the show floor, a massive tower jutting above the crowd, even a cosplayer that fans could take pictures with. And creative director Raul Rubio says that Rime is closer now than it ever has been to the vision he set out with.
Rubio explained that despite appearances, Rime is not a game about escaping a mysterious island full of puzzles and strange ruins. Or rather, it is, but it's also about something much deeper:
"It's always been a game about emotions. It's about waking up and feeling like you are not loved anymore," Rubio said. "We are not trying to telegraph the script. We do not tell you where you are, who you are, or why you are there. It's about what you have inside."
Unfortunately for Rubio, that's not the idea people got from the game's first two trailers. The individual elements of a colorful environment with large towers, a variety of creatures, and a young hero combined to give many the impression that the game was much bigger and structured differently than Tequila Works intended.
"We had the first trailer, and people were saying, 'Oh, it's like Wind Waker,' and we just thought, 'Fuck,'" Rubio said. Other comparisons followed. Ico. The Last Guardian. The Witcher 3. "When we released the second trailer, we saw hype building, and thought, 'We are doing this wrong.'"
Rubio said that while he and his team knew what Rime was supposed to be, the world didn't. It was "scary" how big Rime was getting, and Rubio described development as similar to being stuck in a cave, not able to see or think beyond what was immediately in front of him.
And just what was in front of him? More than 500 puzzles, an intimidatingly large-scale world, and an already-rabid fanbase. Those might not sound like bad things to have, but Rubio said the game wasn't coalescing into something fun and meaningful like he wanted it to be.
"I don't know if I can say this, but it was like a porno movie. You have the story and you have the… action, and they exist separately. Totally separate." If Tequila Works didn't want its game to be the equivalent of the pizza guy asking if a lonely housewife ordered extra sausage, something needed to change.
The company went dark, rethought Rime's course, and broke from Sony, reacquiring the rights in early 2016. By mid-2016, it had announced a new partnership with publisher Grey Box, along with a release window of May (for Xbox One, PS4, and PC - the Switch release date is currently TBD). Rubio said this new deal has allowed Tequila Works to proceed with the freedom to make the game how the studio wanted.
And while that may not be what you expected, the game is nonetheless inspiring. During my hands-on demo, I explored a sizable island environment full of lush, rolling hills and the ruins of a colosseum. I climbed towers, solving all manner of puzzles along the way.
Some puzzles required me to use the child's voice to open a door or begin a timer-based test of platforming skills. Some made me position statues that reacted to my voice in a way that set up a chaining echo. Others made me pay keen attention to the way shadows moved while giving me control over the position of the sun. And my personal favorite challenged me with moving spheres between statues in a specific order, similar to a Tower of Hanoi.
In a later level, I was pursued by an enormous, predatory bird creature, and had to sprint from cover to cover to avoid being snatched up. By exploring the plethora of makeshift shelters scattered around the level, I was able to find the key to a tower that held the secret to defeating the airborne menace.
But no matter what I was doing, there was always the sense of progression mixed with exploration. Puzzles are tied to the environment, making your connection to the island feel intimate. I don't want to spoil too much, but it's safe to say I enjoyed myself, and left my appointment longing to go back and peek under every rock, peer around every corner of Rime's world.
It's natural to be worried about Rime. But I'm telling you: don't be.