Back in 1997, a game called Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee hit our shelves. It boasted a bleak world to survive in, an everyman weakling protagonist, and some of the tightest platforming of the decade – if not ever. You’d be forgiven, then, for getting reminded of it constantly while playing Rain World. After all, it boasts at least two of the qualities I just listed…just not the right ones for a platformer.
Rain World is a 2D platformer that follows a small (and very cute) creature called a ‘slugcat’, a mix between a slug and a cat. Shocking, I know. It’s set in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world filled to the brim with monsters, deserted and overgrown structures, and killer rain. Staying true to its name, Rain World offers the first deadly rain I’ve seen in a video game. In fact, a great deal many things in the game’s world can – and do – kill you. But hey, at least they look great. Rain World is gorgeous. Environments look completely distinct from each other, the lighting allows the whole game to look like a moving painting, and the great use of clashing colours allows you to find your slugcat instantly. Unfortunately, the levels aren’t as fun to play in as they are to look at.
Yeah, that’s a lot of rain.
Slugcat has his head in the clouds.
Rain World is a survival game in its spare time: You’ll need to gather food from dead enemies, find shelter when the rain starts to pour down, and escape when you’re chased by a ‘bigger fish’. However, these prove incredibly frustrating. Finding shelter is easy enough, but scrambling to get there when those first drops of rain trickle down the walls is nigh-on impossible. You’ll miss ‘by that much’ near constantly. Discovering the right path to take is a trial-and-error affair, which isn’t fun on its own (much less with a giant mutant centipede hot on your trail). Like Abe’s Oddysee, you get one hit before you hit an often watery grave and you’d better be damn precise with your movement if you wanna avoid that hit. But whereas Abe’s Oddysee clearly lays out where its obstacles and ledges are, Rain World fails to properly distinguish what’s grabbable and what isn’t. Abe’s Oddysee has clear and consistent animations that help you time your jumps and such, but Rain World’s animations are too shaky to get the same effect. Pretty, yes, but ineffective at what they’re supposed to do. This lends itself to the game’s excessive difficulty, and hoo boy, Rain World is a hard game.
I feel like I have a duty to explain one of the game’s core mechanics, because the game never did. No, seriously. A small bar in the lower left corner of the screen displays a set of symbols that roll back every time you die. I thought they were some kind of a phase counter, like night and day. Nope, it’s what you need to measure to progress in the game. See, some parts of Rain World’s huge map require a certain level of ‘karma’ to access. Each time you die, your karma gets worse. You don’t go back to the last place you rested, you go back to the place you rested at before the last place you rested…and lose the food you’d been storing. It’s apparently intended as a gamble system, but the game is too punishing of simple mistakes to make this anything less than frustrating. This entire system had been ‘explained’ by a glowing worm who talked in cryptic pictures, and painfully reminded me of what was Abe’s Oddysee’s only glaring gameplay flaw: its checkpoint system. That game gave you unlimited lives, sure, but mistakes were permanent. If you’d freed some slaves, you’d have to free them all over again. If they died, they were dead forever. Doing the same thing over and over is rarely fun, but Rain World never got the memo.
At this point, my food supply was in the red.
I got nothing. This is just a beautiful screenshot.
Look, I like a challenge. Who doesn’t? I got hours and hours out of Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls. The key to those games, however, is that it’s never the game’s fault for your loss. Rain World never gives you that feeling, with all the frustrations coming from the game’s unfortunate placements of resting points and its reliance on a continue system that’s inherently flawed. Rain World could have been something much greater, but it should have focused on making its gameplay match its gorgeous visuals.