Review: Rain World

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This game was selected as one of our February 2020 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.

This one just breaks my heart, it really does. I love atmospheric platformers, especially ones with grand, compelling worlds. I love learning to deal with strange, hostile creatures. And I love having a cute protagonist like, say, a slugcat. But I can’t deal with this game. I can’t deal with the awkward controls, ponderous maps, and sudden, tedious deaths. I hope you can, I genuinely do, because it feels like there’s something special hidden somewhere in Rain World. It’s something I’m never going to find, though, because every hour I spend in this game is more frustrating than the last.

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You, as you surely have gathered, are a slugcat. Your world was clearly once something else entirely, but has fallen into incredible ruin. That’s fine, though, because with your family of slugcats you can hunt and nest to your heart’s content. At least, until a terrible flood washes you far, far away from familiar faces. Now lost in the tangled wreckage of the old world, you must fend for yourself, scrounging up food and shelter wherever you can. These lands are teeming with vicious, ravenous creatures large and small, which you’ll need to avoid at all costs. And worse than them are the rains, which wipe out all life foolish enough to remain exposed when they pour down like divine judgment.

Rain World is equal parts platforming, exploring, and survival. The platforming comes from navigating the hundreds upon hundreds of ruined fields, chambers, shafts, and structures of the world with no upgrades or superpowers, just your nimble slugcat reflexes. Your platforming skills will help you explore the vast world before you, moving from one area to the next, searching out sources of food and locations to shelter in, and learning the patterns of predatory creatures. And the survival comes from needing to eat before making use of those shelters. If you stay out too long the rains come and wipe you out, so you’ve got to be ready to hole up and slumber before that happens.

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It’s a compelling bunch of interlocking systems, all tied up with some additional details that are never explained by the game. Resting at a shelter advances a counter, for example, which is needed to get you through certain gates between zones. There are special foods you can eat that confer unique and powerful effects on your slugcat. And on a much more basic level, interacting with enemies, water, and even your own moves requires a surprising amount of trial and error. I understand a huge component of the game is discovery and experimentation but there’s more than enough of that in the world itself that basic gameplay elements don’t need to be so fully obscured.

This is the thing that ruined Rain World for me, how incredibly unforgiving it is about everything it does. All three of the features I described, the platforming, exploration, and survival, ended up frustrating me more than I ever thought possible. Getting around the world is needlessly difficult due to the noodley nature of your slugcat, who flops to and fro as you try to mantle up a simple ledge. His special moves like the long jump and wall jump are just as fiddly, and fouling them up can cost you tons of time or your life. In a game as ready to kill you as this one, precision is at a premium and what you have is hidden behind some terribly touchy controls.

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The difficulty getting around makes the vast, sprawling world a liability, especially the way it’s paced out. In my hours with this game I’ve found ruined buildings, a sewer system, and very dark pipes. I’ve been waiting for something really interesting, some big hook or even small vista to promise something more, but it’s still all squalor and claustrophobia. The sewers in particular were a pain because everywhere I wanted to go required either precision jumps, long strings of awkward wall jumps, or swimming against a very narrow margin for drowning. Once I powered through all those dank pipes and cisterns, I ended up in an area of even denser pipes, half pitch-black, filled with enemies that would instantly kill me. Why in the hell would I carry on from there?

On top of all that, I’ve had too many experiences narrowly missing arrival to a new nest to save or having to backtrack through huge areas just to find food or a more reasonable path forward. I don’t know how much of my time Rain World has wasted by killing me, starving me, or washing me out, but I can’t point to anything that makes it feel worth it. Maybe you can, and if so, I honestly envy you. I’ve put several hours into this game because I believe there’s something good and worthwhile to discover here. It’s just that every time I look for it myself, I find no evidence it’s there. It’s sad, but it’s a cruel, unforgiving world, after all.

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