Rain World review
If you’ve ever watched a raccoon or cat cautiously, gingerly explore a new place, then I think you already understand why I fell in love with Rain World. Step over a branch, nose around a bush, taste an unfamiliar food, test its weight before jumping to a new perch, then, startled, streak at full tilt into the unknown.
Rain World’s appeal is in its aesthetics and physics. You are a slugcat, a little precious creature that’s surprisingly fierce when cornered. You move your weighty little form through the world, every part of which has a satisfying weight and heft to it. From its dead factories and rusting pipes to its half-collapsed rooms and surprisingly clear pools, it’s clear that something has gone disastrously wrong in this near-future world, but that is not slugcat’s problem. Slugcat’s problem is the very, very broken atmosphere: The rain falls hard enough to kill, and the next rain is never far away. You need a sealed shelter to hibernate in when it comes. Your job is to run, jump, and sneak around the world to make sure you’re ready when it does.
It’s a drab world, but a meditative one. Despite the limited palette, everything has a charm. Part of that charm is the creatures who inhabit these places alongside your slugcat. I gave them all names as I played: Lizardgators, gas vultures, wide-eyed hominids, squid mosquitos, and the big ones that look like fifteen foot tall giraffe-elk-rabbits. They all play by their own rules, with their own physics, like you do. They climb and hunt, moving from room to room. You learn which can move and how, what senses they use to notice you, and how to avoid them. They feel alive, like part of an ecosystem around you. They are part of what you are part of, and the magic of Rain World is exploring thais muted place.
Moving through the world you might clamber up a grid of pipes, jump up and grab hold of a ledge, pull yourself onto it, then pounce from there to a suspended globe, but miss, managing to snatch the pole beneath it… and now you’re suspended above a nasty predator waiting for you on the ground below. In Rain World, you’re always going somewhere because there’s a constant time pressure. The core drive of the game is first making sure your belly is full, that you’ve eaten and hibernated enough times to progress, then finding the gate that lets you move to the next area.
Everything else you meet wants to fill its belly before the rain comes, too, and a slugcat is near the bottom of the food chain. Only a few things, like the critters I came to call batbugs, are food for you. Blue pears, batbugs, noodle flowers: these are the things a slugcat wants. Near everything else will kill a slugcat, including lizardgators and larger predators, grab grass, too long a fall, and yes, the ever-looming rain.
But the action is not always frantic. Many of the game’s beautiful ruins are puzzles you have to calmly navigate using your limited toolbox of movement abilities. Sometimes you do this in the looming shadow of a threatening predator, sometimes not. Eventually slugcat has comfortably hibernated enough times you can move on to the next area, but that entails finding the gate to take you forward. Slugcat’s world is huge, intimidatingly so, and it’s easy to get so far from a safe haven that when the rain comes, you die, and you start over. Your map only updates when you hibernate, so you often hold the layout of rooms in your memory for half an hour of play before you uncover a new safe haven.
Not much of the game is explained to you. Some of the basic movement, and how to do a single advanced move - a pounce - is explained to you. I navigated much of the game without ever learning more than that, but I did discover wall jumps and a rolling, cartwheeling bounce as I went. It is unequivocally true, though, that it does not matter how little Rain World explains to you. It is a difficult game because it tells you very little, but that makes each and every discovery you make into something you have uniquely earned for yourself. Each new room, each new way to solve a puzzle, each new way to use a tool against a predator are all things you come to treasure.
That doesn’t mean that your failures can’t foul up the experience somewhat. It’s not a game that those of us without deep platformer talents will sit down and finish without some frustration. It’s a game about exploring and often exploration brings frustration - a promising new path becomes a dead end. A seemingly safe room holds a camouflaged predator. In this, Rain World is unlike other so-called Metroidvania games, because many of its rooms are pointless in the grand scheme. There are more than a few pointless cul-de-sacs in the game that do nothing more than lure you in, leaving you too far from shelter when the rain comes.
This is good. You learn from this, you see new things, you are not left empty when you awake, again, safe and warm where you last slept. You stretch your limbs and yawn and pick up your favorite shiny rock and you keep on moving, knowing that today will be the day you find the way forward.