Platforms PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer Videocult
Publisher Adult Swim Games
Release Date March 28, 2017

Review code provided

Rain World is a survival platforming game set in a post-apocalyptic world that sees players take control of Slugcat, a part-slug, part-cat character who has been separated from its family. Slugcat must embark on a dangerous journey across a ruined city, foraging for food and escaping the dangerous creatures that inhabit it, foraging food and hibernating at safe points to avoid the deadly torrential rain.

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Rain World is a fascinating game. It looks fantastically stylish, drawing you into a mysterious world with its 8-bit visuals depicting a quiet, desolate and dangerous landscape. It’s a world patrolled by neon-coloured predators looking for a quick snack and one where torrential downpours are frequent, flooding the entire world and requiring Slugcat to find shelter in sealed off safe zones, hibernating until the storm has passed.

It’s here where most of the game’s more enjoyable flourishes come from. The lizard-like creatures patrolling the world behave dynamically, not following set movement patterns but behaving as animals stalking the ruins of a city would (though this comes with its own problems). They’ll even fight each other over who gets to eat you while you cower atop a platform, looking for an escape.

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Unfortunately, Rain World starts falling apart pretty soon after it asks you to take control and guide Slugcat through its soaked environments. The biggest issue here is the game’s difficulty. I’m all for difficult games, but to have any chance of being an enjoyable challenge they need precise controls and impeccable level design. Rain World has neither – controlling Slugcat is difficult at the best of times, and the game’s levels have some really strange design quirks that make navigating them obtuse.

Platforming never rises above frustrating in Rain World. Whether you’re simply exploring the world or making a death-defying escape from the city’s predators, navigating the world is a constant source of aggravation. Slugcat is heavy and his movements are imprecise and, at times, impossible to predict. Jumping is hit or miss, literally, as Slugcat can’t really jump very far.

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Most of your traversal is accomplished by climbing the various pipes and poles you’ll find throughout the world. Scurrying up, down and across them is the core of how Slugcat gets around. Doing so, however, is so incredibly fiddly to the point that it feels like they don’t actually work properly. Sometimes getting Slugcat to simply grab a pipe can take effort, attempting to jump left or right will see Slugcat simply drop and grabbing one pipe after another is next to impossible.

It makes exploration incredibly annoying, especially when coupled with the baffling level design. Different screens are connected by pipes. Thanks to Slugcat being part-slug it’s able to slide through them to explore new areas. These pipes are also pretty handy for escaping predators in a hurry. For some reason, though, every level is littered with small nooks that Slugcat can (and will) climb into instead of the pipe that would grant freedom.

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Basically, you’re going to die a lot in Rain World, and a lot of the time it won’t actually be your fault. I met my demise more often than not thanks to dodgy controls and wedging myself into the wrong hole than I did because I had genuinely made a mistake. Death sends you back to the last point you hibernated, which usually wipes a considerable portion of progress from you. But it does something far worse in the process.

Rain World features a Karma system that the game doesn’t explain in the slightest. The only reason I know it exists and what it does is because I looked it up. Every time you successfully make it from one safe point to the next you’ll gain karma. If you die you’ll lose a point. It turns out there are gates that only open when you have a certain amount of karma points, meaning that each death comes with a massive penalty that could potentially halt your progress in its entirety.

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Rain World does this a lot. Outside of a brief five minute tutorial sequence that explains some of the basics of gameplay, you’re more or less catapulted into a harsh and hostile world with no real clue of what you’re doing or how you’re supposed to do it. There are entire mechanics and gameplay elements that you probably won’t know even exist, potentially for the entire time you’re playing the game.

While I admire the idea of forcing players to learn the world and the game by trial and error, the price of failure is so brutally high that you’ll probably end up getting stuck, wandering in circles with no idea what anything does. Dying is a given in Rain World – but where death offers a learning experience in other games that focus on difficulty, here it’s simply an aggravation that never goes away.

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When you die in Rain World, several things happen. As mentioned before, you’ll lose karma, meaning that to make progress you may have to grind out some more by making your way to another safe spot to hibernate and build it back up. Only the game also shuffles its hibernation locations on your death, meaning you have no idea where to go to actually do that.

Any new areas or paths you found will also be wiped out, and all the locations and enemy spawn points will be changed. Meaning that if you were killed by a surprise enemy jumping out of a vent, well that enemy will probably jump out of a different vent and surprise you all over again. Their dynamic AI makes the world feel real and fascinating to watch from a distance, however in gameplay terms it means they’ll probably huddle around the pipes you need to use to make progress.

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Rain World is an exploration game that actively discourages exploration. You need to explore and find a safe place within a set time limit, meaning you’ll need to limit your exploration until you’ve found an elusive safe space. Enemies can kill you in a single hit and will generally camp around pipes and vents, meaning that when you travel from one screen to the next you’ll probably have your head bitten off by a lizard who is just as surprised to see you as you are to see him.

Death traps litter the environment. Plants that extend their tongues into the air, which look exactly like poles you can climb, are frequent. Enemies will often exhibit unexpected abilities (such as being able to fly, turn invisible or crawl along the background). A lack of parallax scrolling makes it difficult to distinguish the foreground from the background. Slugcat itself may or may not grab the ledge you’ve just jumped at. And if you die, everything changes you might as well be starting an entirely new game.

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Rain World is a game that wants you to explore it and figure out what you can and can’t do in the world on your own. But the price of death, and even of lingering too long outside a safe space, is too high to accommodate any kind of exploratory instincts. I also need to mention a save bug that I hit twice while playing on PS4 – a bug which crashed the game while it was saving and corrupted all of my save data, forcing me to restart the entire game over twice.

Summary

 

Rain World is so very close to being something special. Its aesthetic is haunting and its dynamic AI creates a world that feels real, as opposed to one that exists purely for you to overcome its challenges. Unfortunately it’s a game undone by poorly implemented controls and a series of strange design decisions that undermine the type of game it wants to be.

Rain World wants you to explore, experiment and find your own way through its version of the post-apocalypse, but makes the price of failure far too high. Death can literally halt your progress through the game and, thanks to the heavy handed roguelite elements, render hours of play completely redundant, making Rain World feel like a waste of time to actually play.

3v2


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