Sometimes the most refreshing game concepts remind you of mental vacations you might take when caught daydreaming, and Schim is certainly one of those. It’s an isometric puzzle platformer separated into areas of light and shadow. You play as a tadpole thingy that will die in the light and can only traverse by jumping into pools of shadow left by animals, objects, and people in the environment.
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As an example, you may see the shadow left by a bench, so you’ll hop into that, and then you’ll spot a jogger go by, so you’ll catch their shadow before it’s too late — when traveling in the light, the tadpole thingy gets two pathetically short jumps before ‘dying’ and returning to the most recent shadow. You can also rotate around to see different nooks and crannies, and see different angles on possible paths forward. The game is designed to be colourblind-accessible, so each area is a single colour with different shades and shadows worked in.
The game truly feels like it came from a natural instinct, like when you’re sitting in traffic and imagine yourself jumping from car to car. Thus, it’s beautifully intuitive, and from the demo, it was apparent that there’s a love of urbanism and focus on city life intrinsic to the design. Playing Schim requires you to feel out your surroundings and watch the patterns of life happen around you. Developer Ewoud van der Werf has spoken about the title being inspired by Dutch cities. Indeed, the scenarios in Schim feel only possible in walkable, European cities, and there’s a level of detail and love in the environments that make the feel lived-in and keenly observed. It reminded us of a perhaps less comedic version of the village life depicted in Untitled Goose Game. I’m almost more interested in seeing what locales are depicted than seeing more of the gameplay.
The reliance on observing the environment, and noting the behaviour of animals and humans made what we saw interesting. For instance, cats and pigeons cast shadows too, so you’ll want to make sure to find where they’re heading if you’d like to tag along. One puzzle in the game involved wading into a lily pond, and observing how various ducks waddle about so that you can hop from lily pad, to duck shadow, to lily pad, and so on to figure your way forward. Another little wrinkle in the demo was the ability to attach your tadpole creature to certain signs, pull back the signs, and launch the creature forward into different shadows. Light fixtures also play a big role, and whenever we found ourselves stumped we’d remain in the shadow of one and just watch the surroundings to find the next opening.
There is no narrative to be found in Schim, though it perhaps isn’t necessary that the game needs one to propel the action forward. It also isn’t clear how varied or lengthy the title will be, but the mechanics are solid. I’d like to see how the title evolves past requiring the player to simply wait for a shadow attached to a moving object or person to simply pass by, as that could become tedious, but this is certainly a fascinating one to watch.
While it generally feels like there is a blissed-out pace, there is a timer on the levels to make sure you continue moving forward. It hits that note of feeling low-stakes enough to welcome any player, but compelling enough to make sure you move along and find a viable path forward. Schim plays beautifully in terms of its controls and general feel, is a joy to watch, and demonstrates that sometimes the most striking games come from the most natural, simple conceits.
Schim doesn’t have a release date just yet, but fans can sign up for a playtest now.