Tequila Works' long journey to bring puzzle-based adventure game Rime to release has been fraught with problems, and many of those problems can be traced back to its initial announcement at Gamescom in 2013.
Rime's reveal provoked comparisons to the work of Fumito Ueda and Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series, so expectations were instantly high, and it didn't take long for the small team working on the game to feel the pressure.
Expectations were raised further still by the game's status as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, but Tequila Works' relationship with Sony grew strained to the point of a split between the two. Suddenly, Rime's future was in serious doubt.
For two years the studio went silent, and Rime was thought to be lost. Tequila Works hasn't exactly been forthcoming about what happened, but in late 2015 the studio was able to buy back the rights to the property from Sony and, with a renewed energy, continue work on this deeply personal project.
When the game was re-introduced last year, the reaction was very different compared to when the game was first announced. People weren't as interested in what the game looked like or what it could be, but what delayed development and whether the final product would be adversely affected. It's only natural that a developer in that position would want to prove its naysayers wrong by living up to those early, lofty comparisons and showing Sony what it missed out on.
In this regard, and many others, Rime is a triumph.
A young boy washes up on a shore having been thrown from his boat during a vicious storm. The isle he and the player then explore is gorgeous and mysterious. The vibrant setting for a sun-baked fable. It has the aura of an idyllic coastal town, created by chalk-white architecture and the sounds of refreshing breezes and gently lapping waves. The wildlife is lively, the water clear. It's a heavenly place, but that doesn't take long to change.
Rime is split into five memorable chapters set in distinct environments players are encouraged to explore with small sets of collectable items, but moreso by the lush visual design. Whether arid, overgrown or lashed by rain, each setting strikes a tone that helps it stick in the memory. How each area has been laid out is impressive, offering the sense of a much larger world by leading players down avenues that fold back in on themselves, and by tempting them with a multitude of tantalising nooks and crannies that may or may not hold secrets to be discovered.
Each stage demands something different of the player, building up their understanding of the simple puzzle mechanics that comprise Rime's core gameplay. Players will use the boy's voice to activate beacons in such a way that evokes thatgamecompany's Journey, using them to unlock doors, activate objects and raise platforms. Other puzzles require the player to consider perspective and shadow, at one stage with the aid of a device that changes the time of day in an instant to help them cast the length of shadows. Each basic mechanic is simply laid out, built on and put to a new, creative use over the course of the game.
These puzzles are sparsely set out, which rather than making the world feel empty of without purpose for the player, aids the sense of place. The impression isn't of a puzzle-book world constructed solely for the player to solve, but a believable world of ancient mysteries to be discovered.
Rime belongs to a subset of games that tell their stories passively through a mix of strong visuals, music and play, rather than through direct dialogue and a heavy use of cutscenes. Like Ico, Journey, Abzu, Inside and Little Nightmares, Rime creates a memorable sense of place in an evocative world designed to stir up emotional reactions that inform a loose narrative.
Tequila Works conjures up feelings of frivolity, danger, companionship and desperation in gorgeous and varied settings, aided by the studio's strong visual design and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka and David Garcia Diaz's sublime soundtrack.
The difference between the best of the aforementioned games and the rest is how effectively the meaning of each game's narrative, the point it has to make, is brought into focus.
Journey, as perhaps the best example, is easily interpreted as a game about the journey of life, with all its highs and lows and the emotions that define it. While more direct in its delivery, Rime lands its meaning just as effectively, with a twist suddenly making sense of all before it. Take a look at the level selection screen after the credits have rolled and it becomes clearer still.
Tequila Works toiled to bring Rime to release, enduring lows to reach the highs. The team's efforts have paid off, with an artful game that ranks among the very best of a so-far stellar year.
Rime is a beautiful ode to life, loss and childhood that's as much a pleasure to behold as it is to play. Genteel puzzling and exploration make for great bedfellows in a memorable adventure only let down ever so slightly by some minimal frame rate stutter and a final act that while emotionally resonant provides little challenge or escalation in terms of gameplay. Nearly four years on from its much-hyped debut, Rime proves itself to be have been absolutely worth the wait.