I was instantly drawn to Rain World from the moment I first saw it for two reasons: one, the art style of the game looked utterly fantastic, and two, the protagonist ‘Slugcat’ reminded me of my own pet cat – two very justifiable reasons to be interested in a game in my opinion. Besides that, it had an interesting premise, offering a Metroidvania-style experience where your main goal isn’t to just defeat some big nasty baddie, but rather survive the deadly world you find yourself in. Whilst this could’ve been utilised to offer a gripping adventure though, I instead found myself on a strenuous journey where it often felt like the game was actively trying to make life difficult for me.
Rain World’s story is told through static illustrations, with the opening showing a storm that separates Slugcat from the rest of his family. Thus begins your adventure to find them across the treacherous terrain whilst utilising what little resources Slugcat can find. You’ll do this by working through a variety of rooms that are full of randomly generated enemies, evading these said enemies by climbing and leaping around, and then finding a safe spot to hibernate in-between area progression.
Our protagonist Slugcat is as nimble as a typical cat, with movement seeing him able to make big leaps as well as being able to climb just about anything he can wrap himself across – this might be the countless beams you’ll be scaling to reach high areas, or maybe the tunnels he’ll glide through as you progress from one area to another. Seeing Slugcat make these movements is incredibly impressive too, with some slick animations in the game that look absolutely sublime. I haven’t seen animation pulled off so fluidly in a 2D game like this in a long time, with every part of Slugcat’s body seemingly in motion as he wraps himself around the environment. It really looks impressive.
Despite movement looking great, I couldn’t help but to find it… well… sluggish. It often felt a little unresponsive when trying to quickly move around the environment, whilst processes such as having to crouch in order to make a long jump just felt odd. I never felt like I had absolute precision when jumping either; I spent a good while at the start of the game simply finding the sweet spot to make a long jump, something which should be straight forward for a game that’s mostly based around platforming.
These awkward controls play a part in the game’s difficult nature too. A lot of the time you spend in Rain World is spent trying to outrun enemies, but the imprecision of the controls means scuttling away in a rush isn’t an easy task. The fact that Slugcat has no real means to defend himself doesn’t help either, with enemies quickly overwhelming him with their one-hit kill attacks. You can throw small items at your enemies to deter them, but the whole ‘David and Goliath’ approach of slinging a rock at an enemies face won’t work here; you don’t have a slingshot, so throwing small items at creepy lizards and nasty sea monster isn’t going to cut it.
One thing that’s worth bearing in mind is that Rain World is a pretty difficult game regardless of how clunky the controls can feel. Games of a high difficulty such as ‘Dark Souls’ have always had that trial and error process where you’re able to work things out as you go along, with small improvements coming to your approach until you’re eventually able to conquer the enemy or area that you might’ve spent the last hour stuck on. Whilst I’ll admit that you’ll slowly learn how to handle each difficult situation you face in Rain World, the fact that each death you suffer randomly generates a new set of enemies means you’ll never feel a sense of familiarity with your approach. Practice makes perfect in a game like this, so the fact that the odds are stacked against you in a different way on each attempt means you’re never able to properly find a way to improve.
I’ll admit it’s a bit of an unfair criticism since it’s an actual design choice by the developers, but it’s something I found a lot more frustrating than enjoyable. I can appreciate a challenge and overcoming adversity in a video game, but the unpredictable nature of how Rain World randomly generates each situation you find yourself in with enemies just felt a little too unfair.
Much like the name of the game suggests, rainfall plays a massive part in Rain World. This isn’t pleasant rain that you can sing along with as you swing between the pipes though, but rather brutal rainstorms that’ll pummel you to death if you don’t quickly find shelter. I actually really loved the threat that the rain imposed on the player; as soon as you see a sign of rain drops falling a sense of desperation kicks in, forcing you to scramble as quickly as possible to one of the game’s safe havens all whilst scurrying past the seemingly oblivious enemies. Revenge is sweet though, and knowing they’re about to meet their maker (aka RAAAIN) is incredibly satisfying in a sadistic kind of way. Sure, the unforgiving controls could mean that your escape could be tedious at times, but in some ways it added to the pressure and kept up the pace for Rain World’s most exciting moments.
It’s in the safe areas where you’ll have Slugcat hibernate, giving yourself a checkpoint and the chance to progress further into the game – well, provided you’ve collected enough food along the way that is. If you don’t have enough food you can’t hibernate, meaning you can’t save game or progress further unless you head back out into your deadly surroundings and gather some supplies. Much like the rainfall, I quite liked the idea of hibernation, but I found the difficult nature of Rain World meant it could be a little frustrating. The random enemy placement meant that some times it’s a lot more difficult to gather food than others, especially if you’ve been unlucky enough to have each food source surrounded by nasty baddies. It meant your success could feel a little random and whilst it’s certainly possible to evade your foe, actually doing so isn’t guaranteed. When these random instances block your progression through the game (and your opportunity to save game) you won’t be able to help but to feel frustrated.
The way that Rain World introduces you to the world and its mechanics left me with a lack of purpose. Sure, I understood my goal was to guide Slugcat to his family, but after starting the game and getting a brief introduction to its mechanics you’re left on your own to figure out what to do. I’ve played plenty of games where this approach has been used effectively to have the player’s intrigue help them find the way, but in Rain World I couldn’t help but to feel a little frustrated. There’s an incredibly high difficulty level that means death is around every corner (literally – the amount of times I headed into a new room only to be instantly met by a one-hit kill enemy was ridiculous), whilst the technical flaws with the precision demanded by the game’s controls meant that simply navigating could be a pain too. When each random encounter with an enemy or mistimed jump can mean the end for Slugcat, you won’t be able to help but feel frustrated that the game isn’t willing to give you more of a helping hand.
I don’t mean to be too hard on Rain World because it isn’t a terrible game. As you become more acclimatised to the game and all of its quirks, there is fun to be had – I remember a few occasions where the level design and placement of enemies made for some exciting platforming action that felt great to play, so there’s certainly potential there. The game world itself looks absolutely amazing too, with a simplistic visual style that’s absolutely oozing with atmosphere. Everywhere you go in the game looks grim, but in a beautiful kind of way; you’ll really feel like you’re exploring this desolate world where danger could be hiding just about anywhere. There’s certainly a lot of potential for Rain World to be something special, but it just never reaches those levels often enough.
I have to be clear and say that I don’t think Rain World is an awful game, but it isn’t a particularly good one either. It’s far too aggressive at making life tough for the player, whilst imperfect controls and awkward gameplay mechanics left me craving a lot more from the game. The stunning world and some enjoyable set pieces show that it does have its moments of brilliance, but disappointingly you’ll spend a lot more time frustrated in Rain World than you will having fun.
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Release Date: 28/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC