It’s difficult to objectively judge Rain World – the game is a hardcore platformer with a unique pixelated art style and atmosphere.
When you boot it up, you’re greeted by a cute cinematic that is oddly reminiscent of Ori and The Blind Forest; but you shouldn’t be fooled. The world of Rain World is dark, in ruins and maddeningly obtuse.
In the recent years, we’ve seen an influx of gloomy physics-based platformers; but even if you’re familiar with those, expect some hiccups in learning the ins and outs of the systems in place here. This ain’t no Limbo.
Rain World gained its initial bit of popularity from its almost-uncannily fluid animations, and tediously detailed background pixel art. The aesthetic of this game has been generally agreed to be the best aspect of it – particularly the special effects with water and environmental lighting.
Personally, I found some difficulty with the garish colour scheme. While this is very subjective, I found that most of the time, Rain World looked extremely drab – covered in shades of black, brown and grey – a look I thought we’d all agreed to leave behind in 2010. Sometimes, the scenes looked too busy visually for me to discern what was going on – and many times this led to deaths that weren’t my fault because the environment wasn’t communicated clearly. In a platformer with a focus on difficulty, this is a sin of the highest order.
It fits with the theme of the game though; the world is in ruins and pollution and treacherous weather conditions collectively impose a grim and oppressive feeling over every level. Many times, Rain World did have scenes that visually impressed – when the mood came together just perfectly. Still, I would have appreciated some cleaner design.
Even with some frustrating design choices, it’s not difficult to find little moments of joy in the gameplay of Rain World. The hardcore survival mechanics coupled with the Metroidvania-esque level design ensure that there’s more than just platforming challenge to keep you on your toes. The exhilaration of just surviving in the harsh environment and besting all the enemies and hazards can feel really nice.
The problems start to rear their ugly head in the minutiae though – firstly, the tutorial basically explains very few of the gameplay systems adequately and leaves you to fend for yourself. It’s never explained too clearly why you must do most of the things that you do – hibernation for example – it’s a complete break from the usual playstyle to fetch things to eat and try to hibernate, and the game forces you to do this. Hibernation is tied into the game’s core and is required to unlock areas for exploration. Furthermore, elements tied to this crucial mechanic are randomised – and not always in a good way. What results is that players will often find themselves backtracking, grinding, and being confused.
For a game with such obtuse core game design, exploration should be rewarded – but the level progression in this game requires you to not die, which is counterproductive because you’re likely to rack up deaths trying to learn the core gameplay loop. Those kind of deaths are somewhat forgivable, what is less forgivable is when you try to enter a new room to die instantly due to bad RNG, when enemies spawn right at the entrance and insta-kill you.
It also takes a long time to get used to the protagonist’s movement – the jumping is more than a little finnicky and strangely unpredictable at times. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s a strange issue in a hardcore game with a focus on platforming. Even if something works 95% of the time, it’s not good enough. Could you play Mario if I told you one in twenty jumps would just fail to execute? Too many basic moves rely on “hold” mechanics to perform and it would have been nicer if players had the option to dish out moves as soon as they wanted.
I don’t mean to sound overly negative. I’d say that for fans of platformers, metroidvanias and survival mechanics – Rain World is well worth checking out. I’m just worried for its appeal to genre newbies or outsiders; I myself had a difficult time not being alienated by how unforgiving the challenges could be.
The music in this game is filled with pieces that make you appreciate the world and the lore; the backdrop of rainy sounds lend a desolate and solemn atmosphere to all the levels. It complements the presentation beautifully and the way these two elements come together really make for some of the game’s best moments. For most of the time, all you’ll hear is the ambiance of winds and the sounds of the creatures in any of the levels – it’s all very minimalist and sometimes it can even get overwhelmingly depressing.
Rain World is one of the more unique platformers to come out in a decent while – it has an impressive amount of depth to it, and its surreal presentation is an amazing achievement of pixel art and procedural generation. For genre fans, there is no doubt, I would definitely recommend checking this indie title out. However, I can see people who are new to the genre getting frustrated by some of the design choices that the developers have chosen to implement – which is a shame because it’s the little things that stop Rain World from being almost perfect in its own right. Perhaps in the future with some balance patches, (or a separate gameplay mode?) it would be a much more appealing adventure. Unfortunately, this means that in its current state, you have to be a die-hard fan of unforgiving platformers to enjoy it.
I’m giving Rain World a 6/10