In this broken, industrial wasteland, the rain is your enemy.
Torrential downpours that are so violent it’s impossible to survive them. They force you to constantly take shelter. In the few moments in between, you must peek out to search for food. Yet while the calm in between these storms may seem like short respites from danger, other prowling creatures are just as hungry as you. This is life in Rain World.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, the steal-platformer Rain World circled the web via a few gorgeously animated GIFs of gameplay. It was clear from the outset that this was something to pay attention to. Developed over three years by a team of two, its finally here. To my delight, it’s everything I hoped it’d be.
Taking control of an adorable ‘slugcat’, you venture through the worn-down and abandoned areas of Rain World in constant danger. As you’d expect a cat to do, you’re able to move nimbly and climb freely. As you cling onto the rusted-out pipes or old steel beams that litter the landscape, your movements flow with a stylized realism. Thanks to a physics-based animation system, the whole of Rain World moves beautifully. In fact, both in motion and in still frames, this is a gorgeous game on every front. If only you had a moment to soak it all in. Alas, there isn’t any time to dally.
As you progress through Rain World, there is the constant looming threat of the next rainstorm. As creatures of the world scurry and the skies begin to darken, the game gives a very real sense of danger without hammering you over the head with any on-screen prompts. Its subtlety is almost poetic: just a few pats of rain fall from the sky to signal the coming doom. It only takes a few moments to realise what’s next. The rain immediately slams to the earth, crushing everything in its path. The only way to survive these rainstorms is to find shelter, specifically within various hibernation chambers throughout the world. Make no mistake, the rain is the true threat of Rain World, but there are plenty of other perils to contend with.
In the large, labyrinthian levels of Rain World, exploration is key. As you search for the family you were separated from,along with enough food to survive your naps in hibernation, other predators are constantly on the prowl. It’s this dichotomous nature of slugcat’s position in the world, both predator and prey, that forces you to always be on your toes. Survival feels like a boot holding you down, consistently making you weigh your options. Do you go out to explore more of the level in hopes of making it closer to your family? Or do you take the food you’ve found and find shelter before one of the other creatures gets you? These are not always the easiest decisions to make and a lot of the time it’s all too easy to get yourself killed.
Where other stealth-platformers may put you in the shoes of a veteran spy or a skilled ninja, Rain World’s slugcat lacks any real sense of agency. Constantly vulnerable to the elements and other predators, it can at times feel next to impossible to make any progress. Unable to do anything but throw things at would-be predators, Rain World forces you to either sneak your way around enemies or outrun them entirely. Both options are difficult to pull off.
Because of most of the game’s layout, it’s difficult to stealthily sneak around enemies. Usually, your only option is to duck into a vent shaft or to scurry around larger objects. Yet there are plenty of enemies that can move just as easily as you can, following you through every tight corridor you try to run through. With no option to run, you’re forced to think creatively and use your surroundings to escape. Yet thanks to the metroidvania level structure of the game, that can often mean returning to areas that already have tons of enemies that you cannot avoid. It makes progression seem daunting at times, sometimes forcing you to reload and reproach environments altogether.
Even worse is slugcat’s awkward controls. Since slugcat appears so small on the screen, it can be difficult to tell where exactly you’re making him go. There were countless instances where I was attempting to outrun predators only to realise I was just standing still on a small incline or hitting a wall just beneath an exit. While you may be able to walk, climb, and jump effortlessly, determining where and how to do it with any amount of precision is extremely difficult. Add in the tension of being chased by numerous enemies, all licking their lips and ready to eat the defenseless slugcat, it can be a harrowing experience just trying to traverse normally.
Luckily, these issues all play up Rain World’s overall tone. Its constant sense of danger helps build towards the mystery of the world at large and with both food and shelter difficult to find, there’s a palpable sense of danger that you don’t often find in games like these. Sometimes feeling more like a horror game than just a straightforward stealth-platformer, Rain World is master of its tone. Riding the line between beautiful and bleak, it’s a wonderful example of a game that lives and breathes its own aesthetics.
Not since Mark of the Ninja have I played a stealth game that felt so impactful, lingering in my thoughts long after I put the controller down. It doesn’t wait up for you or make sure you’re comfortable. It forces you into a corner, snarls its teeth and dares you to try again. It can be frustrating, God knows I cursed plenty of times while playing it. Yet at the end of the day, Rain World does what it seeks out to do with such finesse and vision that it feels like a game that was meant to be made.