Rain, rain, go away.
I’ve always found challenging video games to be incredibly enjoyable. It doesn’t much matter to me if it’s a brain-bending puzzle, a pixel-perfect platformer, or a ruthless RPG, if it’s there, I’ll have fun trying to beat it – so long as it’s fair. I don’t mind the odds being against me in a video game, in fact I usually thrive on it, but I want it to be do-able. If I lose, I want it to be a fair loss – something that denotes a different approach, better timing, or even just a bit more leveling up. What I can’t stand, however, is feeling helpless in a video game. I don’t like losing “just because” and, while Rain World wasn’t overloaded with these less-than-fair deaths, they were certainly there – leaving me with an unusually mixed impression of it overall.
Rain World is a brutal game with a simple story that follows the (mis)adventures of an adorable young creature known as a slugcat (hereafter referred to as “Slugcat”) who, after a lovely day of hunting and relaxing with its family, finds itself caught up in a flood caused by one of its homeworld’s oh-so-common torrential downpours. Unable to swim to safety, or even stay afloat, Slugcat ends up being carried away by the flood – only to wake up in a strange and unforgiving-looking place. Alone, scared, and hungry, but still very much alive, Slugcat sets off on a journey to find its family – while trying not to die.
The player’s primary objective in Rain World is to help the young Slugcat re-unite with his lost family, by exploring the hostile world around him. Rain World is a Metroidvania-like at heart, with every single area seamlessly connecting to one another that, while different, helps the world feel and act as one cohesive unit. Much like with any Metroidvania, players aren’t required to head down any sort of specific path. While it’s true that there is a “correct way” to go, it’s up to players to decide when and how they get there – although, to be fair, sometimes the player may not realize that themselves.
Rain World, though a Metroidvania-like, ends up feeling a lot like a maze. Until you have a firm grasp on your surroundings (which does happen, don’t worry), it can be difficult to judge where to go. Because of this, exploration often ends up being trial and error. You may spend 15 minutes wandering around only to end up back where you started – or worse, get killed by something – so both familiarizing oneself with one’s own surroundings and making liberal use of the map becomes incredibly important (although the map does have its limits). Rain World also comes with a lot of rooms – over 1600, in fact – but exploring every single one of them isn’t necessary. Being a “survival-platformer”, this game doesn’t hide secret power-ups or super-cool collectibles everywhere (although there are a few, to be sure). Most of the player’s journey will be about finding the best route to their destination, or sometimes even creating their own route – something that I’m not used to in Metroidvania, but is definitely cool in its own right.
Unfortunately, exploration ultimately ended up being a little too “free” for my tastes. Rain World is very much a game about players rescuing themselves. Outside of a basic tutorial, you’re given very little information on what to do or where to go. On paper this is a really cool idea, and Rain World definitely demonstrated this concept well in certain parts, but other times it fell quite flat. The game’s unwillingness to help in nearly every capacity often lead to an artificial increase in difficulty. There were several times where I discovered on accident that I could do something which, while happy that I made a discovery, made me question why it was up to me to discover said thing in the first place. The map, though useful, also had its limits. Due to how big the game is, Rain World’s map would only show me one area at a time. Because of this, I found out that it was possible to accidentally backtrack the hard way. Spending hours progressing in a game as unforgiving as this just to find yourself back at the beginning is incredibly frustrating, and left me feeling as though I was set up to fail from the start.
While exploring in Rain World, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. The first is that everything needs to eat – including you. While there aren’t traditional “levels” in Rain World, there is a limit to how long you can be out and about at one time. Thanks to that pesky rain, Slugcat will need to hibernate in order to avoid drowning. But, before that, Slugcat needs to eat. While exploring, players will need to make sure that they fill up their poor little protagonist’s belly by eating whatever they can find – primarily fruits and insects – along the way (which seems to be less and less the further you get into things). So long as you have at least four “hunger nodes” filled, you’ll be able to hibernate. While finding food generally isn’t overly-difficult, it’s important to note that food doesn’t stay in one place for long. It takes time for fruit to regrow and, much like with all creatures in this game, prey tends to migrate. Just because an area was overflowing with delicious flying delicacies before doesn’t mean that they’ll still be there later on! I was a bit worried about the “food migration” at first, but Rain World ended up having my back. Slugcat apparently has some sort of innate ability to locate prey while looking at the world map – an ability that I ended up relying on quite a bit. You definitely have to work for your food, but in my opinion that’s kind of the point of a game like this.
Going hand-in-hand with eating is hibernation. As I said earlier, hibernating is necessary to avoid the rain. Does hibernating do anything else, though? Yes, actually, it’s responsible for quite a few things – none of which is explained to you. Aside from resetting the timer and saving your game, hibernating also builds karma – Rain World‘s way of making responsible for staying alive. Each time you hibernate you gain one karma level, while dying (and quitting the game) knocks you down a level. High karma levels are needed to open up certain doors, and maintaining a maximum karma level can actually net you some neat benefits. I actually don’t have any major complaints about the karma system itself – it’s a good concept, and an interesting way of making players more cautious – but I didn’t like how sneaky the game was about it. I understand that Rain World wanted to keep the surprises a secret, but more often than not my reaction would be less excitement and more something along the lines of “wow, I really wish that I had known about this earlier”.
More terrifying than the risk of drowning or starvation are the monsters that lurk around every corner. Rain World boasts a nice variety of mostly-terrifying creatures – ranging anywhere from plants that pretend to be climb-able poles to surprisingly-lithe gigantic birds, and everything in-between – most of whom are constantly on the prowl for their next meal. And, sadly, slugcats seem to be delicious. Because of that, you constantly have to be on the defensive. Players will have to make consistent use of Slugcat’s small size and slippery maneuverability in order to bypass enemies, and stay out of harm’s way. Slugcat can also use tools, such as debris, spears, and even exploding plants, to fend off or, if you’re tenacious enough, kill enemies. On top of that, creatures seem to be easily distracted by other creatures. If you ever find yourself with lizards on one side and scavengers on the other, just hide – those two factions will end up killing each other off – pretty neat stuff, if you ask me. Of course, it isn’t always that easy. While Rain World‘s actual world may not be randomized, its inhabitants are. Each creature is procedurally-generated and, much like you, isn’t stuck in a single place (excluding stationary enemies). Ah, but this too comes with a catch.
Letting enemies roam free is a really cool idea, and I’m glad that Rain World did it, but but it could have used some polishing. Often times, I seemed to come across areas absolutely infested with monsters. Initially I just wrote these areas off as being scripted to be that way, but soon found out that that usually wasn’t the case. There were several instances where I ended up dying due to every creature in that area deciding to congregate around me, only to come back later to a completely empty room. This wouldn’t have been a huge deal if it happened a lot – but it did. Not only was it frustrating having to let Rain World‘s RNG decide if I was allowed to make progress, but the fact that you only have a limited time before needing to hibernate made for some frustrating situations. If all I had to do was wait for those lizards to kill each other, or that giant tentacled mass to get bored and go away, I wouldn’t mind. Thanks to my limited time however, I often ended up having to backtrack to a hibernation point just to “re-roll” the enemies for that area. And considering how scarce food becomes when you aren’t progressing, I sometimes had to backtrack even more just to eat. The entire process was frustrating.
I’ll admit I had a bone to pick with a lot of Rain World‘s gameplay choices, but I only have good things to say about its audio and visual quality. Rain World‘s cold and desolate tone was complemented well by its hauntingly-beautiful scenery, comprised mostly of destroyed technology slowly being reclaimed by nature. Each new area boasted differences that subtlety complimented one another, creating an environment that felt whole. Rain World‘s visual melancholy was further enhanced by its soundtrack which, comprised mostly of ambient songs and sounds, added to the imagery without ever overtaking it. If someone said that they played this game just for its atmosphere, I can’t say that I would blame them.
I wanted to love Rain World, I really did, but in the end I couldn’t. Although it starts out strong, and boasts a variety of unique gameplay features, it ends up coming out a bit muddled due to the abusive limits it places on players and overbearing confusion. It’s challenging, but a lot of that feels artificial – and I’m just not into that kind of thing. I don’t think that Rain World is bad. If you’re in the market for something new, something visually appealing, or want something that seems to be hard just for the sake of being hard, then check it out. Other than that, well, maybe Rain World shouldn’t be your first choice.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed). PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: Adult Swim Games ; Developer: Videocult ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 28, 2017 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+ ; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Rain World given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.