Rain World Review: Turn Around, Don’t Drown

Credit: Adult Swim Games
Credit: Adult Swim Games /

Earning success after repeated failures is usually a good feeling, but Rain World takes hardship to a whole new level.

Developer: Videocult

Publisher: Adult Swim Games

Platforms: PC (Version reviewed), PS4

Release Date: March 28, 2017

The joke about the definition of insanity is a well-known one, if not necessarily accurate. It’s that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. While the dictionary will rightly disagree, after playing Rain World, I’m willing to give some credence to the idea. Failure is a nigh inevitable part of video games as a medium, so wise gamers do well to accept their losses and push themselves to become better and overcome challenges. But there’s a point where the frustration and time commitment required of that failure overcomes the reward offered for success, and Rain World crosses that point again and again and again.

You play as a slugcat: a strange, slow little creature living in a post-apocalyptic world where heavy rains pour from the sky on a regular basis and obliterate anything unlucky enough to be out at the time. To survive, you must consume enough food during the dry periods to sustain yourself through a hibernation, then find a safe location to sleep through the rain. This is the basic cycle of Rain World, performed over and over as you progress through the world’s maze-like areas.

rain world
Credit: Adult Swim Games /

But simple as it sounds, the fact is that you just suck. The slugcat is slow and awkward; it cannot jump high; it has no distinguishing attacks or defensive measures beyond an ability to play dead (more on that later). It can eat bats and fruit, and itself serves as a food source for literally everything else on the planet, apparently, from colorful lizard creatures to enormous, vulture-like flappy things. If I’m not being clear enough, basically everything in Rain World wants to kill you and is incredibly good at doing so either through having excellent hunting skills or by accident.

If there were some benefit to merely surviving, Rain World might not be quite so frustrating (though it would lose its positive points as well), but there’s a story to be found in this strange, demolished world. A strange yellow creature greets you at the start of the game and, after giving you the basic controls, can guide you toward other friendly faces, should you accept its help. Thus, Rain World becomes a slow crawl in a vaguely-defined direction. You wake up; you either consume enough food to last you this cycle and part of another, or you strike out for the next area; you hope you find a new shelter before the rain hits and that you can successfully avoid predators along the way.

rain world
Credit: Adult Swim Games /

Hint: you will not be able to avoid the predators. Not often, not even sometimes. Rarely. You will succeed rarely. The monsters are not merely deadly; they’re also random as hell. You might find yourself stuck on top of a pole, waiting for three lizards to move their slow, ragdoll-physics butts out of your way so you can progress. They won’t, and you’ll be stuck on that pole until the rains come unless you can find another way around.

It’s easy to get caught in an endless cycle of death and frustration, dropping your karma to zero and forcing you to spend hours catching up to open a door again.

Or, you’ll travel through a tunnel, only to find an enemy on the other side who gobbles you up the second you appear there. You won’t get any time to react, dodge, or sneak. You’ll just be dead. You might get surrounded in a small space by enemies you could not predict or see, or you might be trotting along on an empty map and be devoured by an unexpected vulture from the sky. And that doesn’t even mention the occasional broken moments where enemies will flop uselessly in circles for minutes at a time, fall randomly from the sky, or get stuck on top of you.

On the occasions you do manage to sneak up on your enemies and form a crafty plan to bypass them, you’ll be hindered constantly by how terrible your slugcat is. Surprise! It can do backflips, wall kick, and perform several other handy jumping moves, but the game never tells you about any of them. You have to discover them by accident when you mash a bunch of buttons in a frustrated escape attempt. And they only help a little.

rain world
Credit: Adult Swim Games /

You can also, apparently, “play dead” when eaten by a predator. You won’t actually be dead until your corpse disappears, meaning if your captor gets distracted by fighting something else, you might be able to escape. But you’re never told this. And once you figure it out, you might spend long, arduous minutes watching your stupid predator spin its wheels with god-awful physics before it finds a safe place to eat you. You don’t want to hit Space to continue, on the off-chance you can escape, but the odds are so poor your hopes will almost inevitably be dashed.

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Confidence is an insidious killer, too, because rare, long streaks of hibernation and progression success can easily be broken. Rain World features a “karma” system of sorts where you move up a karma level by hibernating and lose one by dying. Certain karma levels are required to open doors to new areas and progress. But remember what I said earlier, about all that dying? Dying resets you back to your last hibernation point, and food doesn’t properly reset with you. You might find a stash of fruit upon emerging, or you might not. If you rolled the dice for “less fruit, more evil lizards” upon waking up, it’s easy to get caught in an endless cycle of death and frustration, dropping your karma to zero and forcing you to spend hours catching up to open a door again.

rain world
Credit: Adult Swim Games /

All this aside, there is a spark at the core of Rain World. Rain World makes an overture at the philosophy of asking its players to learn by observation, and on the rare occasions when the stars align and it works, boy does it work. The best moments of Rain World were the ones when I learned to carry a light through a dark area by watching an enemy, or discovering how to use a spear as a platform by a foe inadvertently throwing one at me. I tricked vultures into swiping up lizards to remove them from my path and lured giant bugs into trick vines. These gameplay moments, while rare, felt natural and rewarding. If they weren’t so heavily bogged down in random, inevitable deaths, this education by observation would make for a truly enjoyable game.

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The story beats, too, are fulfilling, especially because of their illusory nature and the branching paths the game can take. Rain World is far larger than I expected, with different areas accessible in different orders depending on how I chose to travel and offering different opportunities depending on how I progressed. Though at times exasperating to traverse due to the vague visual blending of tunnels, throwable objects, and stuff you can climb, Rain World stuffs its environments with subtext, telling of a beautiful, destroyed world and the beings that lived there in a time before. If only my slugcat could have lived to see every corner of it.

Rain World is not a game for everyone, or even for most. When I say it’s brutal, I mean brutal, and not in the immensely rewarding way we’ve come to expect when we compare things erroneously to Dark Souls. It is rarely kind, frequently unfair, and sometimes even broken in absurd ways. Players who enjoy insane platforming challenges and have the patience to persist through failure after failure will bask in the rich rewards at the heart of Rain World’s gameplay and story. But if you like to enjoy most moments of your video games, steer clear. Rain World has no place for the faint of heart.. Videocult. . Rain World. 5

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.