Rain World

A game by Videocult for PC, PS4, PS5, and Switch, originally released in 2017.
Rain World is an open world action adventure starring a little creature known as a slugcat. One day, a family of slugcats is wandering through the forest, and they stop occasionally to grab some bat-like creatures out of the sky and munch on them to fill their tummies. But when the rain comes, the family scrambles to seek shelter, and one young slugcat falls and becomes separated from the rest. Alone in a hostile and unforgiving world, the slugcat must traverse the landscape, hunting for food and avoiding being eaten himself as he tries to find his family once more.

The game’s design focuses strongly on its atmosphere and ecosystem. The world is dark and filled with mysterious architecture and ancient machinery, and danger lurks around every corner. The soft (and possibly tasty) little slugcat occupies the lower end of the food chain, and must therefore be constantly wary of predators, most of which can kill him in a matter of seconds. As such, players must take advantage of the slugcat’s small size to slink around and hide, and remain watchful of predators’ behaviors to determine when it is best to sneak past.

But the slugcat is also a predator, and he needs food to survive. The omnivorous creature may occasionally stumble across a cluster of fruit-bearing plants, but more often, he must hunt. Small bat-like creatures are his food of choice, but they are quick and mobile, requiring that he wait for the best opportunities to jump and strike at them, grabbing them out of the sky and shoving them into his mouth, chewing them up wings and all. Eating is a vitally important aspect of gameplay, as the slugcat must store up food in order to hibernate.

Torrential downpours come frequently, flooding caverns and killing the slugcat if he is caught out in the open, and the only way to survive is to seek shelter. There are audio cues to let the player know when rain is coming (as well as a countdown clock in the menu), and there are a handful of designated areas that act as shelters, sealing the slugcat off from the rest of the environment. Additionally, the player needs to have acquired at least four food items in order to hibernate and wait for the storm to pass.

The player can store up to seven food items, four of which are consumed during each hibernation period, meaning that each time the slugcat awakes, the player must seek out food in order to survive the next storm. Furthermore, the game features a levelling system, with the slugcat gaining one level each time he hibernates… but also losing one level each time he is killed. This is important, as doorways to new regions will not open unless the slugcat reaches the specified level.

However, this design also means that it’s distinctly possible for the player to lose a significant amount of progress with just a few mistakes, preventing him from moving forward until he has eaten and hibernated several times over. There are numerous occasions where the player may be killed suddenly and unexpectedly – especially given that creatures appear randomly, sometimes appearing immediately after a screen transition – which causes the player to lose progress, thus punishing exploration. Conversely, consuming fruit and other creatures causes them to temporarily disappear from the area where they were found, thus requiring further exploration that may put the player into new perilous and unexpected situations.

Being killed upon entering a new region – usually by some new and unknown creature – sends the player back to the shelter in the previous region while levelling him down and taking away his ability to return to the new region without going through an eating-sheltering-hibernation cycle (i.e., repeating a significant amount of gameplay). On the game’s initial release, being killed also wiped out all of the player’s visual progress on the map, but a patch has since reversed this design decision.

The game’s design is at odds with itself as players are both rewarded and punished for exploration. Players need to explore in order to find food and hibernate to level up, but they risk being killed and levelled down in the bargain, thus requiring additional exploration to recover lost progress at the risk of being levelled down again. This can potentially put players in a loop where they are simply repeating the same actions in a small geographical area without making any logical progress.

By comparison, Out of This World (a.k.a. Another World) – which is also a dark and atmospheric game with detailed animations and danger lurking around every corner – offers mysterious creatures with unknown behaviors, along with numerous opportunities to die unexpectedly. Here, death punishes the player by resetting his progress while rewarding him with additional knowledge about the nature of his environment (and some stylish death animations), but the player returns to a nearby checkpoint to try again, which encourages experimentation to determine enemy behaviors and how to avoid deadly situations.

In Rain World, experimentation is dangerous. Tossing a rock or moving in close to see how an enemy will react could result in putting yourself further behind. And if you find yourself cornered by a fast-moving enemy whose behaviors you don’t understand, an unceremonious death is usually not be far behind. The game presents an atmospheric and mysterious environment with a hierarchical ecosystem – including creatures that will attack one another – while simultaneously punishing the player for taking the risks necessary to understand them.

Another oddity that impacts the player’s survivability is the game’s procedural animation system. On one hand, this system allows for some beautiful moments where the slugcat’s tail hangs off a ledge or where he looks totally natural slinking around a corner to escape a charging foe… and enemies feature procedural animations as well. In practice, however, this means that the player’s control over the character can be imprecise…

Attempting to perform a jump gives different results depending on how the slugcat is positioned, making it possible to undershoot targets. Trying to climb into a narrow passage and move into the next area may see the slugcat sliding into a dead-end passage just below the player’s intended target – a very common design occurrence – which can be a deadly mistake when an enemy is in pursuit. Tapping down to make slugcat crouch while he is on the edge of a platform (which is needed to charge a longer jump) may cause him to simply slide off the platform if he isn’t positioned perfectly.

Attempting to enter a narrow passage may cause the slugcat to walk into it while moving backwards, which also means that he moves more slowly, potentially preventing him from escaping the long tongue of a pursuing lizard. Quickly alternating between standing and crouched positions while navigating between horizontally- and vertically-aligned poles is a slow process that results in occasional missteps… which is fine when there isn’t a giant vulture swooping down to snap your neck and drag your limp carcass into the sky.

The slugcat has a short jump but is otherwise very mobile. He can shimmy up through narrow passages, climb up rods and balance himself on the top, perform wall jumps, and swim above and below the water… which is home to some dangerous creatures of its own. He can take a pretty long fall and be momentarily stunned, but dropping off certain edges causes him to be killed instantly, which is not always apparent beforehand.

The player is aided somewhat by the presence of colored holographic bugs that follow him around the environment (unless the player purposely antagonizes them), offering basic tutorial instructions as well as hints regarding the locations of shelters and doorways to new regions. These bugs can also highlight enemy threats and point the player in the direction of food items and yellow flowers. Yellow flowers appear very rarely, but consuming one allows the slugcat to lock his level in place, preventing him from being levelled down when he is killed.

Players who take the time to understand the environment will find a lot of nuanced behaviors and hidden secondary functions in this dark and fascinating world. It’s possible to stun certain enemies with spears and then sneak past them, or to lure two creatures into fighting one another while you make a hasty escape. Glowing rodents aren’t dangerous, but they can be used to light dark areas, provided you manage to keep ahold of one and prevent it from being eaten by something else. Even the plants offer some surprises, with firecracker plants allowing you to stun enemies, and popcorn plants that can be activated by hitting them with a spear, creating an abundant food source.

Rain World was developed by Videocult, which is comprised of Joar Jakobsson, credited with concept, characters, design, programming, engine, and game art; James Therrien, credited with world building, level design, music, sound design, narrative, and project management; Allegra Northern, credited with illustrations, logo design, and testing; and Lydia Esrig, credited with music, audio assistance, voice acting, and creature sounds.

The game was published by Adult Swim Games, which is responsible for publishing a number of 2D action games, including Super House of Dead Ninjas, Völgarr the Viking, Fist Puncher, Super Comboman, Oblitus, Westerado: Double Barreled, Rise & Shine, and Death's Gambit.