Rain World likes to put on an innocent face. I remember seeing early gameplay trailers for this and thinking “oh boy, a sweet looking pixel art platform puzzler”. I remember watching it for years as it was being developed and we learned more and more about the game. As it drew closer I got excited to control this wonderful little rodent through this strange dark cityscape. Then the game released and I started to read the headlines like “I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing” and “I didn’t know such a beauty could crush my soul so quickly” or something to that effect. I was in denial. How could this adorable little creature bring such strife upon gaming critics? Well, when I finally got my hands on it, I came to see the one and only truth for myself. This game is hard as f*ck.
It sets the tone early
Rain World gets right into the mix from the first and only cut scene. For anyone that hasn’t seen anything about the game, players play a creature called a Slug Cat which basically looks like a ferret mixed with a tiny cat… face… thing. The adventure starts when you get separated from your family on some kind of hunting trip and you fall down into a dark desolate area of a strange deserted city.
From here you will have to learn to move, climb, crawl through pipes, and overall just survive. The game is fairly light on plot, but in an interesting way because even though your ultimate goal is to reunite with your family, there appears to be a lot more going on in the world around you than they explain. This was a little frustrating because I was intrigued by the deserted cityscape around me and the strange creatures inhabiting it, but there were no in game items to explain anything other than the basics of the controls. Lack of story items aside, the other issue that hampers your ability to learn or do anything in the game is the monsters that endlessly roam this strange underworld which brings me to my next point.
In the future, everything wants to kill you.
I’d like to preface this with the fact that I have been gaming since the Atari days. The Megaman series is one of most favorite of all time. I am avid Dark Souls player and overall fan of games that aren’t afraid to kick some player ass. Where those games shine with a fair balance of gameplay vs player skill, Rain World spits on that concept and says “Deal with it”. The main issue I have with the game is that the enemies are intelligent, numerous, and ridiculously over power you at every turn. Most games will slowly introduce concepts and solutions to enemy types so the player can learn to run or defend themselves, but in Rain World, everything just eats you or stabs you and you basically have no recourse from it. And if the over powered enemies weren’t enough, they are randomly generated and can basically travel anywhere your Slug Cat can go. For example, the first two enemy types you encounter are the green and pink snappers (I don’t know if they have names, but that’s what they are). The green snapper will follow you anywhere on the ground, but cannot climb poles, so luckily it has a weakness. But then there’s the pink snapper who can go anywhere on the ground and climb poles which means you HAVE to run away from it. One good thing about there being multiple enemy types is they will fight each other if they bump into each other along the way giving you a brief window to escape. So Green and Pink aside, then we get introduced to the Blue Snapper. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking but this thing literally crawls all over the background so it doesn’t need platforms, poles, or even physical matter to crawl on. And as you carry on you run into a few other enemies such as ones that hunt in packs, large birds that can eat you in one bite and even snappers with stealth camouflage… as if it was necessary.
Aside from the enemies, players will also have to make sure they stay well fed during all of this chaos so they don’t starve to death looking for shelter. Now tough enemies are a fine thing to have in a game if it’s just about exploring a world because they are the only challenge standing in the way of the player. Unfortunately this game doesn’t stop there as it will also straight up kill you for taking too long. The game is called Rain World for a good reason. Players have a small dot counter next to their map that game never really explains, but players learn pretty quick what it’s there for. When the timer reaches zero, a violent rain storm floods the world and if you haven’t found shelter, too bad, try again. And speaking of finding a safe haven.
Where am I going?
One the shining elements of the game is its pixel art. Most people will say they were instantly drawn to the game because of its art style and of course it’s furry little hero. The dystopian cityscape with its washed out sewers and towering heights looked like it would be the ultimate playground for little Slug Cat to run around in. When you watch trailers for it, they make the little Slug Cat so quick and nimble, but unfortunately it ends up feeling like a hamster doing parkour. True to its name, the Slug Cat is very… sluggish. It doesn’t move very well even on basic surfaces, but this may have been a level design issue with recognizing surfaces and corners. Typically players will find themselves clumsily stumbling from room to room just trying to figure out where they can even go. This is where the pixel art style hurts because the art is almost too deep for its own good. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you can or can’t jump on, where items are, and even where some of the exits to a room are. Other obstacles don’t fare well either. The world is filled with jungle gym like poles and rail meant to be traversed, but again, the clumsy little Slug Cat is very hit and miss with how it uses them. Sometimes it’ll latch on the first time and climb straight up and other times you’ll try to grab a pole hanging from the ceiling 20 times only to find yourself in the jaws of a snapper down below.
Even though world is interesting to look at, the rooms and areas of the world are poorly designed and have very little flow to them which makes traversal and evading enemies feel like a chore instead of a thrill. As far as world navigation goes, the game does have a typical map system that becomes cleared as the player explores but with one big draw back. If the player dies, everything that was explored becomes dark again which leads to a lot of trial and error and a whole heap of frustration. And speaking of frustration
Karma doesn’t work that way
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game try an interesting concept like this and get it so wrong. I know the game wants to be a little cryptic at times, but not explaining a core functionality of the game so the player can progress just seems like a total dick move. I, like many other players, had to go to the internet to even understand what was going on every time I died in the game. When a player dies, you are shown a screen with a strange symbol on it that you would instantly consider to be either lives, or a day cycle type of system. But apparently what it amounts to is a glorified progress vs punishment system. If a player dies, they drop a karmic level and if they survive and get to shelter, they raise one karmic level. As Players progress, they will come across gates with symbols on them. These symbols have to coincide with your “Karma” or they won’t open. So to recap, your life and death balance actually affect your ability to reach further parts of the game. In a game with no tutorial, deadly enemies, a confusing world, poor controls, and an insta-death timer in the form of “The Rain”, it seems like a poor choice to stack Karma on top of everything else.
Survival of the Fittest
If you’ve made it this far, you’re a fighter and I like that. I have spent most of this review being negative about this game but honestly, even at this very moment, I want to go back and play it. I want to figure out more about the strange dystopian world. I want to triumph over all of the evil creepy crawly creatures inhabiting the cityscape. And mostly, I want to get the poor little Slug Cat home to its parents. This is a rare game that has a mixed bag of interesting ideas, poor controls, and an overall lack of polish but has my attention because it’s ultimately intriguing and I also enjoy games that aren’t shy about being difficult. It’s just unfortunate the difficulty comes from an imbalance of gameplay elements. If you truly love 2D platformers and want a really tough challenge with a side of frustration, you should still check out Rain World.