Rain World (2017) is a cruel and confusing 2D platformer, one which causes you to think on your toes and tests your exploration abilities. It has the potential to be something quite special but doesn’t reach that level, due to tetchy control hick-ups and an obtuse, albeit wonderful, game world.
The opening cut scene outlines the scenario. You play as a slug-cat like creature who has been separated from their family by the intense rains which ravage the world. The game gives a brief opening tutorial where it teaches you the platforming mechanics and that you can eat smaller creatures which enables you to hibernate from the intense and deadly rains. When the rains eventually come, you are told to burrow underground and hibernate. Once awake, you’re on your own.
The level design is obtuse with no real sense of direction, forcing you to go blind into the world and face the many creatures out there who are all overwhelmingly more powerful than you are. You will die a lot and this forces you into a situation where you must grind through the same areas over and over to progress. To keep gameplay fresh, the spawn points of enemies will randomise after each death which keeps you alert and always wondering where the enemies will be. This becomes problematic, however, as the game world is split into separate screens which are connected by a myriad of tunnel systems. It frustrates when you come out of one of these tunnels to find an enemy directly at the exit where they weren’t previously. Due to the game’s one-hit kill system, you’re left with little time to escape, being killed immediately and sent back to your most recent hibernation point
The controls are often finicky and, for a game that relies on having a sense of urgency to every moment, this can lead to many cheap deaths. Exploring the world consists of jumping from ledges and vines, in addition to hiding between small gaps in the environment and traversing through the tunnel systems. However, there were numerous occasions where the player-character would not grab onto one of the vines or hide in the crevasse I wanted. It makes what should be an otherwise enthralling experience of exploration an annoyance. As such, the problem isn’t that exploring the game world is punishing by itself, but is let down by the controls. As though the mechanics are there for endless cat and mouse like escapes but it’s all too fiddly to execute as expertly as you would like.
It’s a shame, because the world is filled with so much intrigue and potential. It is a wonderfully crafted pixel-art depiction of a ruined, industrial world which is full of peril. Whether it be from the numerous predators roaming about or the torrential rains which, if you are unable to hide a spot to hibernate fast enough, will lead to death if not handled correctly, there is a level of tension that is palpable. Buildings and advertisement boards loom in the background, making you realise that this world may once have been our own and, if it was, what happened? Per the game’s title, the rains can sweep in at any time and, in such event, it is imperative to find shelter and hibernate or peril.
Sound design is also excellent, full of ambient sounds such as wind blowing through the environment and the remnants of the last rainfall dripping from the gaps overhead. An ominous hum persists in the background and, once a predator has sighted you, tense dubstep often comes into play, heightening the tension of already frantic scenarios. The creatures’ movements have a sickly slivering sound and you’ll encounter giant flies, whose wings flap incessantly and give off a low-pitched purring noise. It all combines to make a world that feels once lived in and now dangerous.
Rain World is a game full of solid ideas and concepts, but whose execution needs a bit more polish to become an all-round enjoyable experience. If you are able to persist through the unfairly punishing gameplay and touchy controls, then the atmospheric world that Rain World exists within may be for you.