If there was one person at PC Invasion who should not be playing a platform game, it’s me. Tim will tell you how terrible I am at whichever Super Mario it was he made me play once. So why am I going anywhere near Rain World? Simple; it intrigued me. It has a cat (well, a Slugcat), and it looks really grim. I know that’s slightly weird justification, but I really wanted to play it.
Playing as the Slugcat, you’re torn away from your family after a huge flood and find yourself stuck in a dreary industrial wasteland. Now lost, you are wanting to reunite with your family. The heart-wrenching introduction explains all of this and sets the scene perfectly, thanks in part to some great music (which I’ll revisit later).
At the start of the game you really know nothing and are plunged right into this depressing looking world. The game immediately conveys a feeling of complete vulnerability. Your instinct is to simply get moving, though without knowing exactly what you may be progressing towards. The only guide you have is a weird little yellow insectoid creature that pops up around the level to pass out hints on what you should possibly be doing or in which direction you should be moving in. He’s actually damn handy at the start of the game. I thought I was supposed to eat him for the first ten minutes. And, if it were possible to catch him, that would have been a huge mistake.
Eating in Rain World is essential because you need to store up energy for hibernation. If Slugcat is hungry he can’t hibernate, and that’s a really, really bad thing in this game. You see, you have a limited amount of time to explore before the rain comes, and, once it does, Slugcat is going to die. It takes a minimum of four pieces of food to hibernate, and Slugcat can eat up to seven at a time to fill his food dots in the bottom left of the screen. Without enough food stored/eaten hibernation is impossible. New types of food are slowly but surely introduced and each may have a different effect on Slugcat. This is the joy of figuring out the world and its predator-prey relationships.
When the rain is coming you know about it. The camera starts to shudder and as it gets closer things start to go mental until eventually the rain overtakes everything on the screen and Slugcat dies. It’s brutal. The only way to avoid this is to find a waterproof hibernation chamber and sit the rain out. Should Slugcat fail to make it to safety with enough food, it’s death time.
The Hibernation chambers also act as save checkpoints, which makes sense, but feels like one of the more frustrating elements of the game at first. Navigating around for 15 minutes then realising the rain is getting close and forgetting which way to go or not finding a new chamber and then dying means you need to restart back at the last save. This really irked me to begin with, but after playing the game for a few hours it started to feel manageable. Rain World is about survival, cunning, and quick thinking. The game was actually making me try harder with every restart. While retracing steps might not be to everyone’s liking, with creatures moving around at their own free will the same sections can always pose a new challenge.
Rain is not the only peril Slugcat has to worry about because this game is all down to the survival of the fittest. It’s crammed with weird creatures and comes with its own food chain. As Slugcat progresses through the levels, more weird looking creatures start appearing and they often love Slugcat meat. Not only that, they also like to eat each other. This is what makes Rain World really intriguing. You’re never quite sure where you are in the food chain and which creatures are going to attack each other. There’s a sense of danger every time something new is discovered, and with some quick thinking and movement, you can wrangle your way out of the jaws of some of the beasts.
Rain World’s map is vast, with interconnecting levels in which these creatures freely move about. With creatures never in the same place twice, Slugcat has no idea where they are going to appear from, where they are hiding, or where they are going next. It can turn into a game of PacMan at times as you try and navigate through tunnels with two creatures in hot pursuit. Thankfully there’s a world map that can be brought up to help stop you retracing steps; but you do need make it to the next hibernation chamber for that to be saved. This is where a good memory comes into play.
The levels are complex, with hidden tunnels, doorways that automatically move Slugcat to the next screen, things to climb, and objects such as sticks which can be used to create ledges. You have to look very carefully at the screen to spot some of the hidden areas. With the clock ticking until the next rainfall or an enemy in pursuit, every nook and cranny should be explored.
Controlling Slugcat takes some mastering too. For review purposes, I used a Steam controller which was not the easiest to setup and had to be done manually by pushing the button config in the options screen. Controller setup felt like a game in itself to get the buttons bound correctly. There are presets for PS4 and Xbone controllers and it’s shame the Steam controller doesn’t have one of its own. Hopefully this will be updated because there is more to come for the game, including a co-op mode.
But back to controlling Slugcat: There’s an art to it. It feels incredibly clumsy when you first start playing, and it took at least an hour to figure out when to push what to cling on to things. A lot of that early time is dedicated to experimentation. For example, should you leap into the air towards a vine and you want to grab onto it midair you need to push up on the stick. If you don’t do that you simply fall to the ground. I also figured out after about an hour that Slugcat can use his sluginess to stick to walls and climb up narrow gaps. But of course! He’s Slugcat.
There’s no doubt the game controls could to with some tweaking. It’s easy to press the wrong button, which can mean dropping an object that’s essential to progression; and, should you die, you need to do it all over again. It needs a little fine-tuning.
Finally, I want to return to the music in Rain World. It’s absolutely perfect. It’s not in your face, and it subtly sets the tone for the gameplay. A great example of this is when a known dangerous creature appears in the part of the level you are on. It changes to a bassy thudding beat just raising the tension enough without being over dramatic. Key areas are also peppered with these subtle audio changes and cues. The sound design just feels right.
While there is definitely some room for improvement with the controls, Rain World is a gem. I have been hooked on this for the past week on and off. Just when I started to get frustrated from dying, I stopped and thought about where I went wrong and what things I have seen could mean, then fired the game back up. Rain World’s brutal nature is challenging, but it’s highly refreshing to find a game that’s not holding your hand every step of the way. I will admit I have not managed to complete Rain World as yet, I could be here for weeks attempting that, but I do want you to know how good this is right now.
Any player in search of a real platforming challenge should be playing Rain World. It can be brutal at times and it has its quirks, but it will keep you coming back. Plus, it has a Slugcat.