No, I haven’t completed Rain World. Haven’t come anywhere close, in fact. And if I’m being totally honest, I probably never will. There’s something pretty sad about that, because it’s a huge waste of potential.
Set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of an industrial city, Rain World is an action platformer where players guide a bizarrely deformed cat through rusty, overgrown landscapes in search of its family. It’s a visually striking game, with densely detailed pixel art and rubbery creature movements. Besides the game’s mutated Metrodvania DNA, there’s also a strong dose of Dark Souls at work – die repeatedly while travelling between safe zones, and memorise the optimal path through patient baby steps.
There’s some crucial differences at work, however. From Software titles reset the playing field after death in a way that rewards learning and tactical adaptation, but Rain World randomises its enemies in such a way that areas can become near impassable if the algorithmic dice land the wrong side up. Worse still, a timer effectively kicks in each time the player leaves a safe zone – rain intermittently pours down, and it’s fatal when it gets too heavy. The only way to survive is to reach the next safe zone, so instead of methodically sneaking past enemies, attempted progress becomes a frenetic and sloppy rush job, usually ending in death from a harried button input. I’m all for a challenge in gaming, but that kind of brutality goes beyond risk/reward principles – it’s just plain bad design.
As I write this, Rain World’s all-too-familiar “Game Over” screen is keeping my TV from burning out. The torrential rain has washed across the screen, turning it into roaring static. Beneath the chaos is a softly swelling synth loop from composer James Therrien, a strangely soothing moment in the wake of yet another frustrating failure. Just as Rain World looks fantastic, it also sounds wonderful – The Verge wrote at length about Therrien’s “junk audio” techniques, where he recorded and distorted the sounds of common objects to compose the game’s minimal techno and ambient soundtrack.
It’s a shame that I won’t get to hear the soundtrack in its proper context, as I won’t be persevering with Rain World for much longer. All the painstaking work that went into making the game look and sound spectacular has been undermined by its unfair mechanics. I’m still curious enough to want to hear the soundtrack in full, but I’ll be taking the indignant coward’s way out and listening via Bandcamp.