Rain World is the first release from indie developer Videocult, a two-man team based in Boston, Massachusetts. With atmospheric visuals and a story told effectively without the use of words, it's no surprise that Adult Swim Games snatched up the project, and delivered it to us, the players of the world, to enjoy.
The game is a platformer that eschews combat in favor of the careful evasion of predators and environmental hazards, and tasks players with guiding a cute critter called a "slugcat" through a ruined future-world in search of it's family. With randomly occurring deadly rainstorms, giant killer newts, and a plethora of other hungry beasties on the prowl for a slugcat-dinner, Rain World will kill players again and again. The trouble's worth it, though–after all, an adorable mutant is at stake!
Right from the get-go, Rain World treats players' hearts no better than Pixar's Up did. Seconds in, and a freak rainstorm splits your tiny slugcat family apart, dropping you into a nightmare hellscape where the corpses of machines and the refuse of human failure looms all around.
Not all is hopeless, however, as a small yellow creature soon appears to help slugcat navigate the dangers of this terrifying world. When rain comes, cover must be taken, and when predators show up, they must be avoided. Oh, and don't forget to eat–starvation is the worst fate of all.
Rain World plays as a Prince of Persia-esque 2D platformer, where slugcat must climb, duck, and squeeze through many areas on its quest to return home. Combat is possible, though inadvisable, as throwing spears or debris at enemies usually just slows them down. This is okay, however, as the multitudinous non-player creatures in Rain World interact with each other, and their bickering often provides cover for slugcat's many escapes.
The game world is built of multiple screens or "rooms" ala Metroid, and can be viewed as a metroidvania without the upgrades, since exploration is the key to the story's progression. Screens are changed via walking off screen, or more frequently through the entering of exit points (which are indicated by three tiny parallel lines.) There are also fast travel tubes, which are indicated by tiny triangles; these move the player quickly from one area of the room to another, and are especially useful in evading enemies. The game screens are not procedurally generated, but there are 1600 (!) screens to explore. The items and various creatures, however, do spawn in different areas on every play-through. The creatures wander around, as well, so they'll pass from screen to screen of their own volition.
As there is no written direction in Rain World, guidance comes to slugcat via a little yellow stalk-like creature that guides the player to important areas, most notably to safe rooms. Safe rooms are tiny chambers that are the only places where the rain won't kill you. Rainfall is an intense event in Rain World, as it becomes more and more violent until the entire screen is blurred, and our poor little slugcat is battered to the ground. Some areas also fill with water during rain, making visibility tough and potentially drowning you.
When in a safe room, slugcat hibernates, which depletes its hunger meter. This isn't a problem, as food is plentiful in the form of bats, golden flowers, and fruit; still, if you're caught unprepared, your little slugcat may starve while in hibernation. Slugcat's sleep-state also triggers the next day or "cycle," which is counted and shown to you upon waking, along with the name of the region you are in. This is the only time writing appears in the game, aside from the occasional dilapidated graffiti. There are 12 regions in total, and each has different enemies and environmental designs.
Any game that has an element of stealth, where a missed jump or sprite stuck on a corner can mean death, requires excellent controllers, and Rain World succeeds in this where many have failed. Slugcat scampers up ledges and poles as naturally as a squirrel, and catching winged snacks is as fun to watch as it is rewarding to pull off. The landscapes of Rain World are full of shallow depressions that slugcat can curl into, as well as detritus that the little guy can pick up and hurl. The grabbing action of slugcat is especially excellent; its little limbs dart about, grabbing winged foodstuffs and devouring them in three quick bites. The animation is equally smooth when it's snatching up a rock or spear, and hurling it across the screen. The fact that slugcat can grab two carry-able items and still cling to poles and ledges is a welcome mechanic, as having multiple projectiles to hurl at charging enemies is useful in slowing them so you can escape.
While the weapons and sustenance offered by the landscape is wonderful, the countless nooks and crannies near exit points are less so; these occasionally result in slugcat's ducking into a dead-end alcove, rather than into another room and out of danger. The multiple crannies do add to the feeling of architectural disrepair, but it's complication of the movement system had us thinking that gameplay would be improved if the exit points were more isolated from them.
As you may have gathered from all this, Rain World is not a fast game, but one that takes it's time getting settled. This is welcome for some of us, but those looking for a Super Meat Boy speed-platformer are in the wrong place. If you enjoy atmosphere, though, then you'll enjoy the lengthy game, which promises well over 60 hours on the first play-through.
graphics and sound
As anyone who's watched the trailer for Rain World knows, the design of both slugcat and its world is strangely beautiful, and as familiar as it is alien. Graffiti litters the walls of collapsed concrete monstrosities, and mutated creatures and plants hunt the shadows for any easy meal that walks their way. In this respect, Rain World is both a resounding success and a slight disappointment. The success comes from the incredibly fluid creature movements that slugcat and every living thing in Rain World possesses, a result of Videocult's epic "procedurally generated animation" method. This allows slugcat's tail to drape perfectly over uneven rubble, and lets enemies slink around in an unnervingly natural way. It can occasionally go wonky for a split second, causing a character to tumble, but even that seems natural (what other game features the realism of a trip?)
The aforementioned disappointment comes from the world's muted pallet, and the distant view of the ingame camera. The latter serves the gameplay well, as the player's monitor or T.V. encompasses each game screen completely, but it doesn't change the fact that the excellent marketing for Rain World has left us with an overwhelming desire to see this post-apocalyptic concrete jungle closer, and in as much detail as possible. Perhaps this could have been accomplished by auto-zooming the smaller, non-screen sized areas to fill players' monitors. Regardless, it doesn't hinder gameplay, and is usually optimal as-is.
The muted greys, oranges, and reds do well to create a sense of depression and tragedy, as is fitting for a dystopian future, but they also don't reflect the high-color cutscene stills shown in the intro, and during the game's story segments. Those illustrations are beautiful, so rather than mute them to match the environs, I'd rather have had the environs amped up to match them. Even considering this, however, the design and character that Videocult has infused into their creation is evident and ever-present, and a beauty to explore.
The sound is often ambient, though a subtle percussion track is always behind the game sounds, which occasionally ramps up when a storm or other danger is coming. It's fitting, and does well in never overshadowing the melancholy mood of the graphics. The game sounds themselves are especially satisfying, with the slide of metal that accompanies slugcat's snatching up of a spear being spot-on, and the various predators' screeches of battle when fighting one another is excellently realized.
It comes down to is this: Rain World is a gorgeous game with great storytelling and a very slow pace. It has some bits and pieces that are more in favor of art than fun–such as non-skip-able animations and a dreary color palette–but there's still great gameplay and a huge amount of content for all that.
If you're the kind that likes to sprinkle some art house movies in between binge-watching cartoons, then you ought to consider Rain World a must-have, a 10/10, an insta-buy. However, if you're just looking for the average Mario-Meat Boy-Hedgehog experience, then consider that you'll be getting a game more focused on careful planning than twitch reflexes. Consider also that you'll be getting a beautiful story, though–for us, that's worth it.
+ Great storytelling
– Some unnecessary ledge-clutter
+ Tight controls
– Dreary colors
+ Excellent design and animation
– Visual disconnect between environs and cutscenes
+ Huge amount of content