Get ready to experience a world of rain. No, we’re not giving away a trip to England, I’m talking about this innocent looking indie title, Rain World. I say innocent looking, because while I was originally charmed by the game’s comfy looking pixel world and platforming elements, this game turned my ass into burger meat.
The premise of the game is quite simple; you are a slugcat, one of these slick looking little critters. After being separated from your slugcat family, you must now not only survive in a harsh ecosystem, but also navigate the rusted remains of a long gone civilisation to try and find your way home.
As I mentioned, the game’s art style and visuals are what initially piqued my interest. An interesting feature is the fact that all of the character animation is procedurally generated in an attempt to make it look natural, and while it’s a cute idea, it’s pretty redundant in terms of what it adds to the game. While it can add a healthy dose of unpredictability to the enemies, I’ve seen more organic looking character movement in games with proper animations.
The world itself is this broken, twisted, rusted mess of industrial and natural environments, a sprawling complex of rooms with various paths, hazards, and the occasional predator who would love nothing more than a fresh slugcat dinner. The world is complimented by some beautiful backdrops that fit the theme and colour palette nicely, and nestled into the dark and dank world is the occasional breathtaking scene, should you have the time to stop and soak it in.
The gameplay is where the game starts to collapse on itself under the weight of its own bullshit. The mechanics individually are fine, most of them being tried and true in other games. Players start off in a den, essentially a small safe area, and there are a few of these scattered throughout the world offering respite from the harsh world, and a place to “save” your “progress” (I’ll get back to these passive aggressive quotation marks). So the game encourages exploration, yeah sure, but looming over your head is the ever present time limit of when the next downpour will occur, killing anything that happens to be caught out in the heavy rain (heh).
It’s not enough to just make it to a den before the rain either, players must stock up on enough food, either by hunting insects or finding low hanging fruit, to hibernate through the rain. It’s possible to stock up, meaning you don’t have to find as much food the following day, but you won’t always have time for that, because of the murder rain and all.
So as well as aimlessly searching for the next den in a non-linear world and avoiding predators, you’ll need to keep an eye on your food stock so that you can occasionally waste a couple of minutes jumping around trying to catch moths to eat. Now you could be doing quite well for yourself, covering quite a bit of ground and filling your belly, when the developers drop a big fat turd on your head in the form of a gate that only opens on a certain day.
For some godforsaken reason, someone decided it would be a good idea to interrupt any pacing and narrative momentum in the game by sticking in a gate that won’t open unless you visit it on the right day of the week. You see, every time you sleep in a den it advances some sort of day cycle, and arriving at a gate on the wrong day of the cycle means you can basically go fuck yourself and come back when you’ve killed a day or two. “Well that just sounds like a way to add some kind of progression to the game” you’re probably saying, to which I say shut the fuck up, and then I apologise because I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the game. I then go on to explain that every time you die, the game pushes you back a day in the cycle, which you might recognise as a load of bullshit in a survival game where you die a lot, and kills any feeling of progression between deaths. Oh, you discovered an invisible species of lizard by being digested by one? Hope you like being forced to fart around the same handful of rooms you’ve been stuck in for another day.
It’s a shame, because I really wanted to enjoy Rain World. The platforming mechanics are quite tight and once you get used to the way the slugcat moves, traversing the environment feels fluid and natural. After the initial patch that took out some of the teeth kickingly difficult parts like lowering the insane spawn rate of predators and making food slightly less scarce, the roguelike nature of the game started to shine through and appeal to me. Finding a spear became a resource that could be used to kill a predator, or stick into a wall to be used as a makeshift platform and get to those out of reach areas, but even then, the smell of the game’s bullshit mechanics permeated everything.
Rain World doesn’t have any major flaw that ruin the game on its own – the mechanics just compliment each other poorly, like someone brainstormed every survival mechanic from every game they’ve ever played and tried to cram them all into one game. If they’d focused on refining a handful of mechanics that work well together, then perhaps the game would have me coming back for more. After all, games where you die a lot aren’t necessarily bad, entire franchises have been built on the concept, but none have made me treasure the alt-F4 function quite as much as this game.
Also published on Medium.