Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Reviewed on: PC
There’s been quite a permeation of survival videogames lately, with some take on the style cropping up each day, no matter your platform of choosing. So when I learned that Rain World would be a survival-platformer game I was skeptical, yet intrigued. Could Videocult really offer what it promised? Can survival-platforming even work?
I’m going to start of by saying that Rain World really isn’t a game for everyone. That’s just how it is. The titular setting seems to be your standard post-apocalyptic fare. Broken apart by stray vegetation, strange skeletal ruins that were perhaps once part of a thriving whole make up each screen. Now they lie in ruin, reclaimed by plant and animal life. Rain World is harsh, and it does an excellent job of letting you know that.
Of Rain World’s colorful menagerie, you’re given control of a slugcat. A slugcat, if the name doesn’t already give it away, is a cat that’s also a slug. Separated from its family, Slugcat is dropped into what is one of the harshest worlds I’ve had to endure as a player. Near the bottom of the food chain, pretty much every creature can and will kill you. See, unlike most other survival games, Rain World does not have players chopping trees and collecting resources to eke out a meager existence. No, this is survival at its bleakest, with nearly every moment defining the thin line between life and death.
Rain World has little in the way of exposition. A beautiful opening cinematic shows the rain separating Slugcat from the rest of it’s family, leaving it stranded in the crumbling wasteland that it now must survive through. Here two key mechanics are explained: You’re told how to eat, either by catching bats or finding food, and you’re shown hibernation chambers. Hibernation chambers are key, and Slugcat needs to have eaten at least four units of food to rest in them. Unfortunately for Slugcat, these hibernation chambers are few and far between. They are also the only respite you have from the treacherous rain. Reminds you a little of Dark Souls doesn’t it?
Rain is Rain World’s other means of making Slugcat’s life hard. While you can avoid or even hurt enemies, only hibernation chambers protect from the rain. As you explore the world, the sky continues to darken, heralding the coming storm. If Slugcat isn’t within a hibernation chamber when the rain hits, it’ll either die – crushed by the rain – or drown as the world floods. Hibernating, fortunately, resets the day cycle. It also moves Slugcat up a ladder of sorts, depicted by a changing symbol. This in itself is important. It’s also something that isn’t explained to you.
The official term for these symbols is karma, though the game never really offers it. It doesn’t even explain exactly how important they are until you stumble across a room with one of these symbols plastered on the wall. This is Rain World’s way of locking away areas and forcing you to progress. I didn’t quite get what the symbol meant when I first stumbled across it early into my game, but it became apparent after a few hibernations. Accessing a new area, unfortunately, didn’t feel as rewarding as it should have. Not much of what you do in Rain World feels rewarding, actually. This can be touted as being thematic, yes, but feeling rewarded is an integral part of gaming.
See, Rain World is a savage unforgiving game. Death lurks around every corner, and with Slugcat being so weak, survival comes from playing it safe and smart. None of this is bad. It fits perfectly with the game’s premise. What is bad is just how punishing death can be.
Obviously, failure isn’t supposed to be rewarding, but there were times I felt like Rain World took it a bit too far. If Slugcat does happen to die, usually by becoming food, the game takes you back to the last hibernation chamber. It also drops you down the karma ladder. If you happen to make your way back to where you died, there’s nothing to pick up. Dying made my first few hours with Rain World excessively frustrating, especially because of the handful of cheap deaths I encountered. I would crawl into one of the many pipes that connect rooms to others, only to emerge right into the waiting jaws of a neon lizard. This happened more than once.
Okay, so sometimes pipes will light up the relative colour of the creature as a warning, but only when it’s moving through it. And the game’s soundtrack does also shift and arise to herald the coming of a predator. None of these things made walking straight into the jaws of death feel good. Enemies don’t even spawn in the same places. Death isn’t the only thing that feels cheap though. Say, for example, you stumbled upon some fruit. Slugcat eats them, fills up the four pips needed to hibernate only to meet the end at the claws of a vulture. Aside from everything I mentioned before, there would also be a chance of that fruit not being there when you returned. This doesn’t always happen, but finding a cache of food, dying, and then finding said cache gone feels awful. Especially for how important hibernation is to your progress.
Mechanics are not the only thing you have to wrestle with. Rain World’s controls often feel janky and unresponsive. Slugcat is squishy, flowing around edges and spaces when pressed in those directions. There were times when it would drop off a platform instead of initiating a long jump, or dive into a pipe mere pixels away from your intended one. And with two states of movement for slugcat, along with not all pipes leading somewhere, a lot of early Rain World consisted of dealing with controls. Fortunately, once Slugcat’s movements are understood, controlling it isn’t as obtuse as it initially feels.
And yet I slowly found myself liking Rain World as I progressed. Death still sucked, and controls disobeyed me occasionally, but with each new area I found appreciation. The more I identified with Slugcat, the more things started to feel thematically appropriate. Slugcat is meant to be a weak nobody, and the game does an excellent job at conveying it. There were times when progress still felt like a slog, and death felt as crushing as before. And I liked it. What I found can be best described as a begrudging respect for the game. One I built through understanding and discovering certain features and items that made things less difficult.
Rain World is a beautiful game. It’s dystopian areas are offset by the colorful and interesting creatures that roam through it, each with their own movement and abilities. There’s lizards that can climb, or camouflage themselves, vultures that rip you out of pipes, and even pole plants (the worst of the worst). Despite how much death these creatures bring, each is charming to watch in its own way. I won’t get into describing too many of them here because looking upon them yourself is worth it. Just beware the Pole Plant! (the name gives it away.)
Slugcat isn’t left entirely helpless either. Scattered across the stages are debris and spikes that Slugcat can wield, and various plants that either slow down time or work like firecrackers. Figuring out ways to use all these items is Rain World’s reward. Mix these up with Slugcat’s movement and, well, they make survival a very tiny bit easier.
I’d like to restate that Rain World isn’t a game for everyone. It’s cruel and harrowing, and you will find yourself turning it off in a fit of frustration many times. If you do choose to brave this dead world, there’s a chance you might find something you love. With everything said, Rain World is not a game I can openly recommend, that decision is in your hands. Just remember, don’t expect something you that you can just relax and play for a rainy afternoon’s entertainment.
Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Intel Core i7-6700HQ 2.60GHz
GeForce GTX 960M 2GB
Rain World certainly makes you feel weak and helpless as a Slugcat, unfortunately the feeling often detracts from the experience instead of adding to it. For anyone seeking a challenge, Rain World will surely stand up to the test.