Rain World is one of those games that can be recognised from a mile off. From the gloomy pixel-art environments to the to the adorable protagonist, Slugcat. While some people are getting tired of the resurgence in pixel-art, Rain World should be an exception. Light and shadow drift across the screen as the day goes on, water ripples and surges with an unbelievable level of realism. Dark caves shimmer from the light of luminescent mushrooms, scattering shadows onto the backdrop.
Environments are complex to look at, foliage covers every surface, however they are satisfyingly simple to traverse. Careful use of colour makes it easy to distinguish what is important and what isn’t. Nothing feels out of place, the heads-up-display is suitably minimal and as a result you are never pulled from the experience with any inconsistencies in the design.
The naturalistic environments are complemented with the procedural animation. For those who don’t know; procedural animation uses artificial intelligence to control the minute movements of your character. Therefore you won’t be seeing the same animation over and over again. Slugcat’s little arms tense as (s)he dangles from a pole or when a piece of fruit is just out of reach. Since the movement is directly related to the physics engine it will take some time to get used to. The sheer charm of simply watching Slugcat will get you well over the learning curve. Every creature in the game is animated in this way too, each with their own methods of traversing the terrain. This adds an uncanny level of realism, the giant centipedes in particular made me squirm.
Without spoiling too much I’ll return to the creatures, but first, what do you actually do in Rain World? At it’s heart Rain World is a survival game, you need to find/catch food and hibernate. While you could spend the entire game in the first area searching for food and sleeping day after day. Slugcat is nomadic, ever moving onward to the next area. Each time you hibernate you “rank up” in a chain of karma symbols. However if you die, you will respawn at the previous hibernation point and go down a rank. You are never explicitly told how these ranks work, figuring them out is a large part of the enjoyment to unlocking many of the cryptic achievements.
Guiding you along is a small hologram, it will direct you to some key locations and teach you some basic controls without being too intrusive. You can even scare the hologram away if you don’t want it’s help. Rain World is all about working things out yourself, watching a detailed guide will frankly ruin the experience. However discovering all the mysteries this game has to offer will require a lot of discussion with other players. It respects your intelligence, making it all the more satisfying when you do work something out for yourself.
The design of the levels and the systems are so naturalistic, overcoming an obstacle does not feel like the intention of the developer. It’s hard to explain, it’s like the developer just created a world and plonked you in the middle of it. This world is cruel, Slugcat doesn’t feel like the center of all attention and to succeed you need to be resourceful. You don’t have a specific goal, for all you know there might not be a way out, you’re just pushing onward and trying to survive.
This unique feeling of actually belonging to a world is owed directly to the “ecosystem”. The creatures I mentioned earlier all have their own agency. They will go where they want, fight each other, hunt for prey, you name it. While the species of all these creatures are made by the design of the developers, individuals are procedurally generated at the beginning of your playthrough. If you see a purple crocodile for the first time, you won’t know it’s behaviours. Maybe it’s good at climbing, perhaps is fast on the ground, what if it isn’t very aggressive?
The only way to find out is by observation, and probably getting eaten, that too. Some creatures are easier to kill than others, but more often than not you’ll be frantically jumping over them trying to find some high-ground. The position of these creatures changes with each cycle too (each time you hibernate). Sometimes a crocodile will be guarding the very place you need to reach. This can be frustrating at times, however it’s the nature of such a diverse and unpredictable world. You will be frequently required to change up your plans, adapting just to stay alive.
There is always a way around these situations, it might involve distracting the crocodile, going a different way or simply hibernating for another day and hoping the coast will be clear. It certainly isn’t for everyone, if you don’t keep an open mind you will feel like you’re headbutting a brick wall for hours. Many people will argue this is unfair, but it contributes to the overall concept of the ecosystem in such an intrinsic way, you could argue one way or the other. In my opinion it provides such an original experience of survival any frustrations fade away.
The more you play, the more you’ll learn, slowly building up a catalog of what’s dangerous and what isn’t in certain circumstances. This makes venturing into a new areas exciting and terrifying in equal measure. You are constantly against the clock, if you don’t find a hibernation spot in time the rain will kill you.
The music has some procedural aspects too, different tracks will fade in and out depending on the situation. At some rare instances the music will swell giving you an opportunity to stand back and observe the desolate beauty of this place. It’s a short but welcome change in a world that is so against your existence, or rather, everything’s existence. Moments like these you truly forget you’re sat in your pants, playing a videogame.
I did not think a game could be simultaneously; cute, terrifying, funny and awe-inspiring, but videocult have managed to pull it off. There is one part of the game that will unfortunately make or break it for some people. One way to compare it would be Blighttown in Dark Souls, it’s not for the feint of heart, but the rush and the struggle of overcoming the impossible makes you feel warm and cosy when you finally reach a hibernation spot.
Rain World is a difficult game to review, some will argue the unpredictability of the world makes the game hugely unfair. Those people wouldn’t be wrong, but for each “flaw” with the game there is a counter argument to be made. The moment to moment interaction with the world is so compelling (partially thanks to the procedural animation) getting stuck only gave me a larger opportunity to spend more time in this world. Sitting back and watching all the other creatures scrabble around hunting and interacting with each other is mesmerising. This isn’t just a bizarre simulation, you have to harness these interactions to progress through the game, all of the systems interlock.
Rain World is a vastly solitary experience and you will probably feel lonely at times, especially considering completing this game will take most players about 30 hours. There are plans to introduce local co-op and versus multiplayer too as a free update. Co-op would greatly change the experience, for better and for worse, but it’s impossible to say for certain until I try it for myself. However, no game has had me glued to the screen like Rain World has. I don’t know how Videocult have managed to preserve such a fascinating simulation of an ecosystem, while maintaining playability. Rain World is the definition of emergent gameplay, Slugcat will go down in history.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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