How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. The object of the game is to learn about the world, not power up by finding goodies like a normal Metroidvania. However the world is still open, and some might argue that ''knowledge gating'' is a trait that can replace ability gating.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~25 hours
Review Info: Rain World was played using the Steam version.
Buy Rain World if you like…
- Pure discovery
- Brutal difficulty
- Beautiful Imagery
- Systems based mechanics
- Buried Lore
▼ Review continues below ▼
One of my major rules for posting on this site is that I have to finish a game before I review it. There are several games that if I were playing them for any other reason I’d have put them down because of other distractions. In Rain World’s case, I would have done that not because the game isn’t good, but because I wasn’t good. It’s so incredibly different from anything else I’ve played that playing it is sort of like learning how to video game all over again. Whatever pride I had developed in my skill for playing games was laid to waste, and I was humbled completely. It should then go without saying that Rain World is definitely not a game for everyone; I think very few are looking for that same kind of harrowing realization. On that same token though, if you’ve played a lot of open world platformers, finding an experience that makes you feel new again is going to be very rare. Rain World is thus something special. I’d be lying if I said you’re guaranteed to have a good experience with it – you most definitely will not if you give in to putting it down at any point. But if you have the time and an interest in solving your own mystery, then Rain World is something special indeed.
It all begins with a slideshow of a family of slugcats traveling through a harsh world. You become separated from your family and alone you have to make sense of things. Except that’s not entirely true. There is a strange yellow being that gives you subtle hints, or sometimes blatant ones, to make sure you’re not completely left in the dark. Through this strange entity you’re told the rules of the game: After a certain amount of time it will start to rain. If it rains you die. To avoid death you must hibernate. To hibernate, you need to have eaten enough food to not starve. On the normal difficulty you have to feed at least four times, which means hunting for bugs or fruit to eat. Oh and by the way, there are other animals out there that count you as food for themselves.
It doesn’t take more than a couple of deaths and a few surprises to make you afraid of basically everything. To make matters worse, every time you die you lose karma, which is required to progress the game. Between each major area are these gates that don’t open unless you have a specific Karma level. You gain karma each time you hibernate, and you lose karma each time you die. Accumulate karma by hunting and eating and sleeping without dying, and then pray to whatever powers you worship that you make it to the next karma checkpoint without dying again. There is a bottom to your karma level, so at some point you can enjoy the glorious freedom of experimentation without consequence. Once you’ve figured out what you want to do though the karma system keeps the tension levels extraordinarily high, and makes you even more terrified of just about everything.
You’ll learn to hate lizards especially. They are giant crawling bullies with rock hard heads and a voracious appetite for slugcats. One bite will snap you in half, thus their imposing presence is enough to make you turn the other way. Besides the lizards there are many other animals you can meet, and it’s really easy to just assume the worst out of everything, especially when things you might not expect to be dangerous suddenly eat you alive. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for you, many creatures aren’t that bad, and some you even absolutely need to help you along the way. Figuring out who is friend or foe is one of the main knowledge gates of Rain World.
The other knowledge gate of Rain World is simply figuring out how to control your slugcat. The controls are actually quite great, but only if you spend enough time with them to get used to them. Rain World uses a systems-based physics engine, and variables like where your tail is when you try to move are factors you have to consider any time you make an input. This is in contrast to the predictable grid-like pixel perfect movement you might find in other platformers. There are dozens if not hundreds of ways you can move your slugcat at any given point, which means that in the learning process you’re probably going to find hundreds of ways to move the cat in a way you didn’t intend. As you master the controls though the fluid animations reward you by making you look amazing. Watching players at a professional level is also very entertaining as a result.
Besides the nuances of the controls there are also numerous ways you can interact with your environment. The first you’ll probably become familiar with are the many objects that can be found lying around. A slugcat is sort of like if a ferret stood on its hind legs, and with your two hands you can hold up to two objects at any given time (plus an extra in your storage space – but that only applies to certain objects.) The most basic objects you’ll find anywhere are rubbish and spears. Rubbish can be things like cinderblocks, or bricks, or anything that is otherwise useless if it weren’t for the plethora of lizard skulls you could throw them at. Spears on the other hand are basically the metagame of Rain World, being useful as a weapon or as a tool. If you throw a spear against a wall it becomes a makeshift platform, and this is sometimes required to get to where you want to go. The spear is so good in fact that you’re not allowed to carry more than one of them – leaving your other hand open for a different tool. Because of your limited capacity you have to be constantly vigilant about learning all of the possibilities available to you so you can adapt to your environment on the fly.
Adaptability is in fact more important than level layout memorization, because what tools are available and what enemies you have to face is somewhat randomized. This does of course lead to some completely unfair situations. One cycle you may enter a room to find it completely empty, while another you may find three lizards there waiting with a dinner table arranged according to proper lizard etiquette. For better or worse, Rain World doesn’t include scrolling screens, meaning you can see everything that wants to kill you all at once, that is until you move one screen over to find an unfriendly maw waiting just off camera. I had to weigh very carefully on whether I thought this setup was game breaking in any way – especially considering the karma system. While I was in that thought process though, the game seemed to offer up just enough hope to keep me going – almost as if there was some kind of dynamic difficulty system at play. There are these flowers that spawn that protect your karma from dropping, and they always seemed to appear just as things seemed to get unbearably frustrating. More important though is that this unfairness led to some amazing triumphs when I did overcome the odds. When considering whether to judge the game design down because it might not always be fair, I don’t think I’d give those moments up for anything.
Nevertheless you probably will get stuck at some point, and likely reach a point of hopelessness that may tempt you to drop the game. Thanks to the karma system you’ll meet up with literal walls. Even though the game gives you at least two paths to anywhere you need to go, switching paths can be just as daunting as swallowing your pearls and pride and trying somewhere else. I hit this “rock bottom” point many times in my play through. While the game is technically beatable in under five hours if you know what you’re doing, expect to spend an hour or many hours just trying to learn a single section. It’s worth noting that there is a much easier difficulty available that I might recommend starting with. At least playing on Monk mode you can learn the game world a little more that way before you tackle the “normal” mode if you so desire. Ultimately though you can’t escape the Samsara cycle without facing the challenge at least a little.
With lower lows come more glorious highs, and when the game finally clicked for me everything that came before made sense. This is that moment of clarity that often comes from playing any challenging game to the point where you get good at it. For me that moment truly came when I wandered back into the earlier starting areas. Nothing had changed, but everything was different. The things that initially frightened me there were laughable compared to what I had seen along the journey. What was originally a wretchedly dangerous frontier suddenly felt like home. The final moments of the game are symbolic of the game’s overall themes both overtly and subtly; subtly because what really changed by the end of the game was me.
It’s difficult to strike a balance between what a player is willing to put themselves through, and something that is worth putting yourself through. It’s a fact of life that hard things often reap rewards and to capture that in a video game is an accomplishment. For this reason Rain World is a beautiful masterpiece. It’s also the reason it’s hard to recommend to everyone, because if your real life is also a cruel situation it’d be sadistic of me to suggest you spend your game time that way as well. But ultimately the message of Rain World is that it can be overcome – and if you actually do it the outcome is wonderfully positive. Weigh carefully whether all of the warnings I’ve put into this review are enough to dissuade you, but if you’re feeling brave enough to see it through to the end, then know for me at least it was totally worth it.
The best combat is avoiding combat entirely, but if you can master the controls well enough there are few games that make you feel better for being successful.
Slugcat is really awkward to control at first, but mastering those controls reaps some awesome rewards because accomplishing every small thing feels like an achievement
Discovering the world is what Rain World is all about.
Platforming is half control mastery and half spatial reasoning.
Rain World has ''souls-like'' style lore to discover, but the true story is ultimately the one the player creates. The mechanics all but guarantee the player will have many stories to tell by the end
Discovering gorgeous locals and imagery is crucial for what Rain World creates
Very minimalist but always appropriate for setting the perfect mood
There are three difficulty levels and some sandbox options, plus dozens of ways to traverse the game on a single mode. Note that the hard mode is basically a completely different game.