Reviews

Rain World review - Slugcat can go die in a ditch; I'm done

Videocult
Rain World - Oh Slugcat, don't worry. If you hit the ground at terminal velocity, you are sure to respawn as far back as your mother's womb Videocult
Rain World - Oh Slugcat, don't worry. If you hit the ground at terminal velocity, you are sure to respawn as far back as your mother's womb

Rain World has a lot going for it. The core mechanics are simple and functional, the sound design is great; Slugcat is cute; the story delivery has an endearing quality to it; the environments are gorgeous; but when everything comes together it amounts to a never ending exercise in frustration.

Every video game out there, struggling for a players time and attention, needs to enable the player to do some simple math in their head, and it has to do so seamlessly. The moment this mental calculation moves to the foreground, the spell is already broken. It's a simple equation, the player invests his time and effort into a game expecting to be engaged, entertained or find some manner of catharsis in the experience in return. This is where Rain World fails, and worst of all, it does so unceremoniously and unspectacularly.

VideocultRain World - Rarely was I tempted to savescum so intensely. Once I tried, I realised that there is no shelter from frustration in Slugcat's world.Rain World - Rarely ever was I tempted to savescum so intensely. Once I tried, I realised that there is no shelter from frustration in Slugcat's world.

It's hard to point to a single thing that could have caused me to decide that Rain World simply wasn't worth my time any more. Especially since all the individual elements of Videocult's survival platformer seem to be up to the task when observed independently. From the protagonist Slugcat's appearance and admittedly endearing procedurally animated movement, right past its gorgeous hand crafted levels, straight on to functional and straightforward mechanics, everything about Rain World was built to capture your attention for a moment, but it doesn't last and leaves the experience as a whole feeling oddly superficial.

VideocultRain World - Milliseconds away from yet another pointless respawnRain World - Milliseconds away from yet another pointless respawn

Rain World's primary currency is failure, and the game tries hard to balance between severely punishing players for the smallest of failures, and keeping them involved enough in the experience to carry on. While running through a maze of interconnected sections I would inevitably get mauled by some critter or drown in rainfall. The game then proceeds to force me through its beautifully drawn levels again and again, in some misguided attempt to mask its repetitiveness as something other than padding. It makes sure you see all of its artfully designed backdrops, but doesn't know what to do with them once you do so. Slugcat can be as cute as it wants, the moment I realise I'm squeezing through the same set of pipes, looking at the same backgrounds and running past or jumping over the same enemies for the fifth time, while the slightest misstep could potentially force me to do so again, I am either forced to give up or question my sanity. To add insult to injury, the game randomly reshuffles its insta-kill harbinger of frustration enemies every time Slugcat ends up on their dessert menu.

VideocultRain World - Slugcat wondering whether it has enough time to hang itself from one of those cables, before that falling crocodile thing inevitably ends its life in a more unpleasant mannerRain World - Slugcat wondering whether it has enough time to hang itself from one of those cables, before that falling crocodile thing inevitably ends its life in a more unpleasant manner

A lot of games manage to pull punishing difficulty off without feeling like a waste of time, and fun isn't the be-all-end-all of video games, as Dark Souls and Papers, Please demonstrated with absolute clarity. In addition to being greedy with its demands on the players patience, Rain World refuses to be clear on what its trying to do, or what it wants the player to do for that matter.

VideocultRain World - The levels are nice to look at, but smelling the roses wastes valuable time and seeing the same background for the 20th time doesn't is a poor substitute for a quality first impressionRain World - The levels are nice to look at, but smelling the roses wastes valuable time and seeing the same background for the 20th time is a poor substitute for a quality first impression

After coming back to the game several times, assuming that I just need to get into the right mindset, I started realising that the game knows it's wasting my time and it almost felt as if it was daring me to give up. I reminded myself that video games aren't sentient, and made for one last grand push to see if I could wrestle anything from the experience that couldn't be filed away under superficial passing charm.

Maybe there was some sort of rhythm to the mechanics I was missing, perhaps some intriguing bit of story hidden behind one of the gates with which the game separates its zones from one another, anything really, that would dissuade me of the notion that the only thing driving me was a perceived mocking tone coming from an insentient piece of design and programing. Soon after I made some actual, real, honest to Margaret, progress - I led Smugcat past one of the walled barriers, only to realise that I was stuck in a new zone, without enough food to hibernate and save the game, and with no time to look for more before the next rainfall sends me back to square one. Even if time wasn't in short supply - if the rain wouldn't seal my fate, some other random cruelty certainly would. Enough, was enough.

VideocultRain World - It might not look like much, but figuring out these barriers was the only moment of triumph my brief time with Slugcat allowed me to experienceRain World - It might not look like much, but figuring out these barriers was the only moment of triumph my brief time with Slugcat allowed me to experience

I gave up. I don't care if Slugcat finds its family or not. I don't need or want to know whether the next pole I try to grab a hold of is glazed with more unannounced and pointlessly cruel murder or not. Videocult have gambled on a fine balance between challenge and creating a mechanical sense of vulnerability and caution on one side, and the players willingness to continuously indulge the game just a bit more in order to keep going in spite of frustration and repetitiveness on the other - and they lost.

VideocultRain World - These graffiti might have something to do with the overall story of the world. I will never know.Rain World - These graffiti might have something to do with the overall story of the world. I will never know.

Rain World desperately wants the player to keep giving Slugcat and the entire adventure another chance, but doesn't give back nearly enough to justify a continuous time investment. When a game gets me to wondering whether I should be doing something better with my time, instead of playing video games, then it stops being relevant on what level it failed to connect, because it failed entirely.