The second title of Sony's indie Spring promotion, Rain World offers a drastically different experience from Everything, the initiative's first offering. Developed by Videocult and published by Adult Swim, this newest in the long enduring Metroidvania genre offers something rather unique from its ilk: Rain World is more a survival game than anything and this draws attention to several interesting features that aren't all that common in the genre.
You assume the role of the "Slugcat" – an adorable creature seemingly separated from its family in the game's opening cut-scene – in a hostile formerly industrial world. Right off the bat, the game's environment does a wonderful job of conveying to you that this is not a friendly place. Everything looks degraded: water drips down from everywhere. If it were real life, it would give the impression of a factory gone to hell – think the facility crafted in David Fincher's Alien3. And just like that the game thrusts you into its world.
You get a weird helper – some kind of mechanical flower thing – that guides you in the general direction of where you should head in the beginning, but that's about it. This sense of freedom is both freeing and rather overwhelming. Being a Metroidvania-style game, you can go in many directions right away, and while the map gives you a good sense of where you are, it's not super easy to grasp where you want to end up. This is problematic as the map is absolutely massive. This is a huge game, make no mistake: the release has several different regions with easily hundreds of chambers apiece, and it can be pretty easy to get lost. And this can be a problem if you're scrambling frantically to get to a safe room, which is where the "rain" in Rain World comes in.
Periodically, a downpour of rain starts to fill up the map and in these instances, it's up to you to navigate Slugcat to select safe rooms, where you can ride out the storm. To simplify it, it almost functions like a calendar. Each safe room brings you to the next day, as Slugcat hibernates – so long as you have eaten enough food that is.
One of the major mechanics of the game is to consume food through the chambers that you navigate, allowing Slugcat to safely sleep through these massive rainstorms. The threshold for what you need to eat isn't bad at all, so it never actually interferes with any gameplay. However, it is something you will always want to keep in mind, as these safe rooms are also the only form of save points the game has. And if you don't – or can't – use them, you can find yourself losing large chunks of progress. This happened to us many times when encountering many of the other creatures in the world for the first time. Once you learn how to properly avoid them, it becomes easier to navigate the world, but we found ourselves frustrated on several occasions by some of these losses of gameplay. Luckily, the game has enough other things going for it that we found ourselves wanting to soldier on despite this.
Chief among the reasons to stick around is the art direction. The contrast of the dreary shades of the grey of the industrial environments with the neon coloured and menacing wildlife make for a game that is simply beautiful to behold. This use of colour is also functional, though, as fairly quickly, you will learn that the brighter, vibrant colours generally mean danger, allowing you to legitimately learn how to survive in these harsh environments. Not to be outdone, though, are the animations. Pixelated platforming-style games generally have a pretty limited scope when it comes to animations, but Rain World differentiates itself here yet again, by offering a wildly varied, dynamic animation system that makes all of the creatures – especially Slugcat – feel much more alive than they would be in other games.
These elements make the desire to survive even stronger, which is why it's good that the game presents a surprisingly wide number of ways to navigate through each chamber. This is useful as the wildlife frequently springs into rooms unexpectedly, leaving you to scramble and find a way around them. Sure you could try and fight, but your means of defending yourself are fairly limited – make no mistake, you are not at the top of the food chain in this game – and running or outmanoeuvring other creatures is almost always preferable.
Sometimes escaping can prove to be tricky, as the controls aren't quite as tight as they could be. Navigating the environments can feel rather awkward from time to time, which is problematic, but really more of speed-bump as opposed to a full-on roadblock when it comes to enjoying this game. Much of the fun stems from the game's challenges; the thrill of frantically surviving while you scramble away from creatures room after room is one of the game's strongest attributes. Unfortunately, you also have to navigate around some of the game's weaker or clunkier aspects to truly enjoy this.
Rain World has massive world that can be pretty easy to get lost in and enables some real survival adrenaline rushes. Unfortunately, these positive aspects – alongside its exquisite art direction – are at odds with some of the less satisfying aspects: the slightly awkward controls, the overwhelming feeling of almost too much freedom, and the fairly constant threat of losing large chunks of progress take away from the experience. The end result is complicated: it's a game we bounced off quite a lot but one we still greatly appreciate. The game does something new with the genre and it does it well for the most part, making the game worth at the very least giving a look.