|Publisher(s)||Adult Swim Games|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 4, Windows|
|Release||March 28, 2017|
Rain World is a 2017 survival platformer video game in which the player controls a part-slug, part-cat creature searching a hostile, derelict world for its family. The Slugcat uses debris as weapons to escape randomized enemies, forage for food, and reach safe hibernation rooms before a deadly torrential rain arrives. The player is given little explicit guidance on how to survive, which was the intention of the developers, who wanted players to feel like a rat living on subway tracks, in which they learn to survive in an environment without grasping its higher-level function.
The game was developed by Videocult, a small indie team, over six years and published by Adult Swim Games for PlayStation 4 and Windows in March 2017. It received mixed reviews from critics, who praised its art design and fluid animations, but disliked its brutal difficulty and imprecise controls. Some of this criticism was addressed with later updates, which also added a multiplayer mode.
The player's character, the part-slug and part-cat Slugcat, uses spears and rocks to survive a hostile, ruined, and obtuse 2D world in search of the family from whom it was separated. The player is given little explicit guidance and is free to explore the world in any direction via pipes and passages that pass through 1600 static screens, each with randomized enemies. The Slugcat can jump and use debris as weapons to avoid and hurt other creatures while foraging for sparse food, which is used to hibernate in scarce, designated safe rooms. Hibernation resets the day cycle and saves the player's progress. The player can move between regions by having the Slugcat hibernate multiple times without dying. If the player does not reach the hibernation point quickly, a crushing rain will pour, both flooding the world and possibly pummeling the Slugcat to death.
Upon death, the Slugcat returns to the last hibernation save point and loses any map progress made since. The player also loses a karma point, which are indicated at the bottom of the screen. The player needs to meet a karmic threshold to reach specific areas of the game. Karma is restored upon reaching a new hibernation area, and the player can shield their current karma level by eating a yellow flower. The flower appears at the start of each area and is re-planted wherever the Slugcat dies.
Enemies range from camouflaged plants to large vultures to Komodo dragon-like lizards and huge leviathans in water. Many enemies can kill the Slugcat in one hit, and some species have internal variation, such as the pink lizards that can climb. The enemies spawn at random, such that the player cannot progress through trial and error experimentation. These creatures possess dynamic AI and exist in the game's world perpetually, even when not on the same screen as the player. The player does, however, need to experiment with spears to climb walls and knock fruit out of trees. The Slugcat can hold two objects at once and switch between them. It can also eat power-up plants, which grant status effects, such as slowing time.
Rain World's setting is destroyed by ecological catastrophe and illustrated in pixel art. Its story is communicated through details in the environment, images during hibernation, and holograms from a worm that monitors the Slugcat. The game offers little to guide the player, apart from the worm, who gives some hints about where to go and what to collect towards the beginning of the game. The player can view a map to check their progress through the large in-game world, and this can help to reach the game's multiple endings.
Prior to creating Rain World, Joar Jakobsson was a graphic designer in Sweden who taught himself how to animate sprites. He had played few games and had little industry experience when development began in 2011. He began with a sketch of an elongated cat, which was named "Slugcat" by one of his YouTube viewers, though the character has no official name. Jakobsson had previous interest in derelict environments, and what they reveal about the humans who previously occupied them. Partly inspired by his feelings of foreignness while living as an exchange student in Seoul, South Korea, a core idea in the game's development was to recreate the life of "the rat in Manhattan". This rat understands how to find food, hide, and live in the subway, but does not understand the subway's structuring purpose or why it was built. Jakobsson and his development partner, James Primate, hoped that players would similarly feel as if they were close to making sense of the game's abstraction of an industrial environment without fully understanding. Jakobsson designed Rain World's enemies to live their own lives, in which they hunt for food and struggle to survive, rather than serve as obstacles for the player. Enemy placements are randomly generated, and in final playtests a week prior to release, the developers noted how some players became more or less interested in the game based on the luck of their enemy spawns. The developers expected players to learn to avoid combat and play the game primarily through stealth and flight.
Jakobsson served as the game's artist, designer, and programmer. His levels are made by hand in a standalone level editor. The designer brushes recurring, cloned elements, such as plants and chains, onto the map. The software combines and processes to add shadow. At one point, Rain World included a multiplayer mode, and separate story and custom modes. Primate, who is also known as James Therrien, wrote Rain World's soundtrack, handled the indie studio's business, and designed levels. Primate first found the game on an indie game Internet forum and sent Jakobsson 12 tracks as a successful pitch. He originally composed a chiptune-style soundtrack with his musician partner Lydia Esrig, but turned to field recordings of litter for otherworldly sounds. Rain World's music is low-fi and electronic. Primate wanted the music to approximate the game's eclectic visuals, which mix industrial, science fiction, jungle, and various architectural elements. In lieu of traditional character dialogue and narration, Rain World's story was partly communicated through its soundtrack. The early game sound is primitive and based on the Slugcat's feelings of fear and hunger, and eventually builds to describe new areas. Rain World has over 3.5 hours of recorded music across 160 tracks. At any given time, between eight and twelve tracks will simultaneously layer to create ambiance and respond to the Slugcat's in-game context. The development team successfully crowdfunded some development costs via Kickstarter in early 2014. By early 2015, about four years into development, the team had switched to the Unity game engine and released a test version of the game to its Kickstarter backers.
The team announced that it was in the last phases of development in early 2016. Animations from Rain World were popularized on social media in praise of their "uncanny fluidity". The game was developed by Videocult, published by Adult Swim Games, and released for PlayStation 4 and Windows on March 28, 2017. Previews compared Rain World to predecessors, including the difficulty of Super Meat Boy, the soundtrack of Fez, and the puzzle-platforming to Metroid and Oddworld.
After release, Videocult announced a series of major content updates, which were planned for release later in 2017. Slated features included local multi-player functionality, featuring over 50 new rooms; and two alternative Slugcats, which make the game easier and harder respectively. Subsequently, the '1.5' patch, which contained all of those features, was released on 11 December 2017. .
The game received mixed reviews, according to video game review aggregator Metacritic. Reviewers praised the game's art design and criticized the harshness of its gameplay mechanics, particularly its unpredictable deaths, ruthless enemies, and time-consuming hibernation requirements. Eurogamer compared its savage, survival elements to the 2012 Tokyo Jungle.
Rain World's punishing gameplay frustrated reviewers, who often descended into apathy. Considering the random enemy spawns, one-hit kills, infrequent game saves, frequent repetition, crushing rain, some inexplicable enemy movements, and sometimes clumsy controls, IGN wrote that any of the game's challenging elements taken alone would be "tough but fair", but when considered together, "the odds are stacked so high against the player that it risks toppling the entire structure of the game". Reviewers were bored by the repeated navigation of rooms with random enemies after each death, which tempered their strong urge to explore. Polygon's reviewer was miserable following the loss of her multi-hour progression. She wrote about futility as a central tenet of Rain World, and felt that she was not given the proper tools to survive. Reviewers lamented, in particular, how Slugcat's jerky animations and imprecise throwing mechanics led to many unwarranted deaths. Multiple reviewers concluded that while some hardcore players might enjoy the tough gameplay, Rain World excluded a large audience with its design choices, as its choice of emergent enemy strategy would feel unfair to most players. Rock, Paper, Shotgun called the game's checkpointing among the worst in modern platformers, and its challenge, unlike the similarly punishing Dark Souls, without purpose. Rain World's karmic gates, which require players to have a positive hibernate to death ratio, were arbitrary goals "disrespectful" of the player's time, according to GameSpot. Making players trudge through an area a dozen times, IGN argued, is "antithetical" in a game in which exploration itself is the reward. PC Gamer's reviewer, with time, began to see Rain World's cumbersome controls less as "bad design" than as "thematically appropriate", given the game's intent to disempower the player.
Some reviewers fondly recalled serendipitous in-game encounters as they learned the game environment's unwritten rules. Not knowing how foreign figures would react, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's reviewer treated new encounters as puzzles. This experimentation led to moments of fearful scrambling across a room to avoid a new, encroaching enemy type, and discovering that other enemies that are harmless if left alone. Rain World was abundant with opportunities for a player to demonstrate ingenuity and improvisation, according to GameSpot's reviewer, whose highlights included making a mouse into a dark room's lantern, using weapons as climbable objects, and luring enemies into battle to distract from the Slugcat's presence. Those critics considered these mysterious, perceptive interactions to be among the game's best features, though far outweighed by Rain World's punishing game mechanics.
During development, Rain World animations became popular on social media for their "uncanny fluidity", which reviewers continued to praise at release. IGN described Slugcat's animations as beautiful and reactive to the angle and physics of movement, from clinging to poles to squeezing through ventilation. The reviewer said it was among the best aesthetics in a 2D game, with each screen showing abundant detail and meticulous craft. The graphics were more interesting than beautiful to Polygon's reviewer, who also praised the limited color palette's role in distinguishing the Slugcat, prey, and enemies from the environment. While some journalists compared the game's aesthetic to that of Limbo, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's reviewer felt that Rain World had more in common with Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee's aesthetic: both featured similarly dark yet attractive worlds, scary yet fascinating characters, frequent inter-enemy conflict, and frustrating or masochistic controls. Oddworld, though, had more frequent saves. Rain World successfully depicted "the cruel indifference of nature", according to GameSpot. Its imaginative and compelling landscape—surreal inhabitants in a bleak, alien atmosphere—recalled the spirit of games like BioShock and Abzû, in which the reviewer was too attracted to the artistic detail to contemplate the credulity of the man-made environment.
The game was nominated for "Best Platformer" in PC Gamer's 2017 Game of the Year Awards, and also for "Best Platformer", "Best Art Direction", and "Most Innovative" in IGN's Best of 2017 Awards. It was also nominated for the Statue of Liberty Award for Best World at the New York Game Awards 2018, and for "Excellence in Audio" at the Independent Games Festival Competition Awards.
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Media related to Rain World at Wikimedia Commons