Sometimes you just know.
You know what I mean? You open a new game, press a button or two, and it’s clear as day: This one’s special. That’s how I felt when I sat down to play Schim (opens in new tab) at last weekend’s Summer Game Fest demo event. I only had a few minutes with the game, but that was enough to be transfixed.
Schim’s gimmick is simple: you live in shadows and die in the light. You’re a cute little ink-black frog in a duotone world that eschews textures for strikingly simple line art. Every level is bathed in a different color: one the orange afterglow of a perfect sunset, the next a creamy blue that stands in for night. You can swim around in the shadows and leap out, arcing through the air to dive into another shadow with a satisfying plop.
The way you disappear beneath the surface of a shadow instead of splatting on the ground has a magical feel, as if you’re flaunting the laws of reality in what are otherwise ordinary environments. If you don’t land in a shadow, you have just a couple seconds, and one more jump, to get to safety. Otherwise you’re dead—which just means respawning in a recent shadow, because this is not a tough-as-nails platformer.
It almost feels more like a puzzle game: after just a few seconds I started gauging the distances between safe havens, trying to work out how much velocity I needed to land in the narrow shadow of a telephone pole or the complex shadow of a parked bicycle. There’s a nice balance between acrobatic feats and moments of rest; after nailing a jump I’d just swim around in the shadow of a giant tree for a few seconds, enjoying the frog’s frictionless glide.
The objective in Schim is to make it across each area, but they’re big enough that you can’t see the perfect path from the start. This is not remotely a hard game, at least in the early levels I played, but it politely demands just a little dexterity to cross gaps where there are no static shadows. In the park, I had to wait for a jogger to come towards me, leap into their shadow when they were just barely within range, and then leap again, past them, towards my destination. It’s a bit like playing The Floor is Lava, if it were one of the most aesthetic games ever made.
Schim is the kind of indie game that makes me depressed about Sony’s obsession with better beard hair or Sonic Frontiers’ ugly mishmash of cartoon hedgehog and realistic greenery. As Nat Clayton would say, Schim is a potent reminder that games can really just look like this. So why don’t they? Imagine a Schim, a Sable, a Solar Ash or Neon White with the budget and manpower of the next Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed. Imagine every triple-A game looking as unique as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I don’t know if we deserve such a paradise.
But in the meantime we have Schim. It’s the kind of videogame you play and instantly think: Yes, more games like this, please. I don’t know when it’ll be finished, but I hope it’s soon.