2021 is the year of Rain World

On March 28, 2017, four years ago today, Videocult released their debut game, Rain World. In Rain World, you play as a little creature called a slugcat, desperately trying to survive the harsh world you were born into. It is a unique and challenging game unlike any other. Enigmatic, uncompromising, and beautiful.

2021 is the year of Rain World.
Why? I don’t know. But it is.

It released at first to very mixed reviews. As for major outlets, it received a 6.3/10 from IGN, and a 5/10 on Polygon. Most people agreed that the art and animation were stunning, but many found the game too difficult, punishing, and uncompromising to be enjoyable. Its mechanics are opaque and strange, and almost nothing is explained to the player. Janine Hawkins wrote in her review on Polygon:

In essence playing Rain World too often felt like trying to turn a screw with the wrong sized screwdriver — not just a challenge, but more as if I hadn’t been given the tools I needed for the task at hand.

I think a lot about it in the way Austin Walker has spoken about Far Cry 2. He refers to it as an “incoherent” game. It rejects and recontextualizes the structure of the first-person shooter. In this way, Rain World is an incoherent Metroidvania, and may be one of the most incoherent games I’ve ever played in my life. Its story, its structure, its controls, its world, they all seem to defy everything I know about games. (Austin, on the off-chance that you’re reading this, you should consider playing this game!)

Rain World is a game that broke me. I don’t know how else to explain it. It got under my skin, twisted my stomach. I think about games differently, about living differently. One day, I die to the same obstacle over and over again. The same mistake. The same death. I grit my teeth, I grip tight, I sweat and swear. I think about quitting. But I don’t.

So it’s impossible to recommend it without caveats. Rain World is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. The term “hard but fair” gets thrown around sometimes. Rain World is not fair. It is not kind. It is unforgiving and uncaring about all your plight and failure. This is going to turn many, if not most players off completely.

But underneath all that is a vast, beautiful, and albeit frightening world that enchants me endlessly. It is full of mystery and terror in vibrant shades. I want to tell you all about this sprawling ecosystem, but I don’t even want to elaborate; I dare not steal the wonder of discovery away from you. It constantly surprises me.

I cannot stop thinking about Rain World. It’s in my bones now.

Here’s my review on Backloggd. I’ve spoilered the more thematic analysis in case people want to go in completely fresh.

“Destroy the darkness of delusion with the brightness of wisdom. The world is truly dangerous and unstable, without any durability. My present attainment of Nirvana is like being rid of a malignant sickness. The body is a false name, drowning in the great ocean of birth, sickness, old age and death. How can one who is wise not be happy when he gets rid of it?” - Gautama Buddha

Rain World is not a game about living. It’s not a game about dying. It’s a game about both. It’s about samsara.

Why do so many yearn for annihilation, for silence? Why are we caught between quiet and din? What are we tied to? How do we remember the past? How permanent is history? What is it made out of? Is it in objects? Is it in something spiritual? Is it in technology? What are the driving forces of technology? Can technology be spiritual? Why do we make machines? Why do we make them look like us? Why do we make them look so different from us? What do they do when we are gone? How different is technology and nature? What is nature in the first place? Is nature cruel? Is nature kind? What does it mean to be cruel, to be kind? Is there such a thing as morality in an ecosystem? What is nature made out of? What is an animal? What is the life of an animal? What is the life of two animals? What is the life of a thousand animals? What is life at all? What does it mean, really, to be living? Why is it so painful? Why do we go on? What do we need? What do we want?

“Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still. All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett

I am not, nor have I ever been, a spiritual person. I don’t think I ever will be. But Rain World helps me understand why people become Buddhists. This game was a spiritual experience for me. I mean that. I hate it, I love it, I am endlessly fascinated by it. It is an utterly singular game. I don’t think there has ever been or ever will be another game quite like Rain World.

One of the best games ever made. Beautiful, fascinating, haunting, terrifying. But it’s hard to recommend. It’s one of the hardest and most grueling games I’ve ever played. It’s profoundly frustrating. But it’s a masterpiece. Even without my unique connection to it, it is full of incredible ideas, beautiful art, and shocking design. It’s a vast ecosystem full of wonder and terror. It’s stunningly beautiful on almost every level. I feel it on a visceral level. It’s constantly on my mind. I cannot escape it; it’s inside me. It’s one of the best games ever made.

You might be reading all this and feel certain you would hate Rain World. That’s okay. I totally understand why. It’s not a game for a lot of people. Most, I would wager. This year, some moderators have started streaming the game on the WaypointCommunity Twitch Channel, which might be a preferable way for some to experience the game. I’d be more than happy to offer tips and tricks, too. The game also has a vibrant mod community, which you can learn a bit more about on RainDB.net. Videocult is working on a new game, too, and I cannot wait!

It may not be for you, but I think it’s worth at least taking a gander at this incredibly singular experience.

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This has some light spoilers here if you’re interested in going in fresh, but the way animation and AI is handled in this game is fascinating. If you’ve seen clips of this game, you’ve probably seen these really incredible naturalistic animations for all these animals. The reason for this is Videocult’s design philosophy here: the AI is the animation. All of the movement the creatures make is procedural and based on their AI. The result is really erratic and lifelike animation, and it rules.

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Thanks for a nice, interesting write up! I’ve known of this game and that it inspires a following, but never got around to playing it. I should fix that sometime.

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vehemently’s Rain World Primer

Rain World is a super daunting game, as I tried to explain. So I’ve collected an assortment of suggestions and tips here. I’ll put them behind spoilers.

The only tip I feel good about giving out without a spoiler is very broad, but very important: Don’t be afraid to explore and experiment. Be willing to learn from failure and success.

  1. So… what is this game? How do I win?

Rain World is a game about surviving. You evade predators, obstacles, and gobble up any food you can before the devastating rain begins to fall and you have to search for shelter. When you rest, you gain a level of Karma. When you die, you lose a level. This is important, because in order to traverse the world, you have to pass through Karma Gates, which only open for you when you are at their required karma level. Rain World is somewhat of a sandbox, but the little yellow friend will try to direct you towards the critical path.

  1. What’s the difference between these characters?

The survivor is the game as it was originally released. The monk is an easier mode, where you need less food to sleep and the world is less hostile. The hunter is only unlocked on finishing the game, and is a hard mode (read: absurdly difficult). There are story differences between all of these playthroughs.

  1. What’s up with this yellow flower?

The Karma flower (which the game tells you has a “strange energy”) is essentially a corpse-run mechanic. When you eat it, you will gain a “shield” around your karma, preventing loss when you die. When you die, it will sprout near where you met your end.

  1. What’s up with the map?

The map in Rain World is very weird. It has multiple levels, which you can switch between with the face buttons. It also will tell you a lot of other information, such as shelter locations, Karma gate levels, where the Karma flower is, batfly movement, and even more! The map is your friend. Be willing to check it often.

  1. I keep dying. Help?

That’s normal. The game is hard! As I said, be willing to explore and experiment. Try new things. If you keep struggling to advance through a specific route, try exploring different ways forward. Use your wits and resources to overcome obstacles. Remember: the point of combat is not to win, it’s to survive. Sometimes you won’t even need to fight an adversary to get past them. Keep at it; I believe in you.

  1. What’s this story you keep talking about?

The story to Rain World is more or less inaccessible until about halfway through the game. A ton of it is told through late-game encounters, and there’s some environmental storytelling here and there. Most of the lore, though, is hidden in these little pearls. They’re actually data storage. Most of them are corrupted, but the pearls that are special colors have unique information. You can’t read yourself, so you’ll need the help of a certain someone. I may make a lore write-up as my next post!

Assorted tips and tricks!
  • Do you keep drowning? The little light around slugcat tells you how much breath you have left. You can swim faster with the jump button but will use more oxygen. When you resurface, you may need to wait a moment to catch your breath. Also, there are certain bubble-like items in the environment that can give your more oxygen.

  • Want more inventory? You can swallow certain items and store them in your stomach by holding down the eat button. You can barf it up by holding that button down again.

  • Keep getting caught in the rain? The time can be seen in the lower-left corner as dots surrounding the karma symbol next to your hunger meter.

  • Noticing bars filling up at max Karma? These are little achievement points. When you fill one up, something cool will happen.

  • Want to know what Passage is? Passage is a limited use warp ability. You gain one use of Passage for every little achievement mentioned above. Use it wisely!

  • Want more out of animals? Many animals can be grabbed and you can hold onto them. Some of them will be very useful to advance through the game!

  • Still hungry when the rain comes? You can sleep without a full stomach, but be warned that this may have consequences.

  • Worried about food supplies? Food sources, like batflies and blue fruit, will respawn over the course of cycles, even if you keep dying. The karma flower also replenishes if you lose it.

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Oh, this is a lot!
I always meant to check out Rain World, but in the way I mean to get to a lot of games, I never got around to it. This might push me to give it a fair shot, because if anything, that game is gorgeous.

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I’m considering writing my own take on a lore explainer, but here’s a few resources for what’s going on within the story. Like I said above, the lore of Rain World is hidden in these pearls scattered throughout the game, so it can be very hard to find. Despite that, it’s truly some of my favorite lore in any game.

Huge spoilers ahead! Like, the entire game! All of it!

A youtuber named Israel Blargh! uploaded a video that gives a pretty thorough overview of the history and story of Rain World.

Here’s a video with all of the lore pearl translations from BSM.

Also, here’s a playlist of all the Echo encounters.

There’s also an explainer page on the wiki here, with transcripts of the above videos linked near the top.

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I’ve been on break (still am to an extent cause work sucks), so I missed this thread, but y’all:

2021 is the year of Rain World.

I back up everything vehemently says above about the game, but I just want to emphasize, Rain World is a lot of things and there are a lot of reasons to get into it, or be repelled, but the big thing that kept me coming back, multiple attempts at play through until I did the whole thing last year, was it’s just a neat habitat!

The game feels wild in a manner I don’t get from too many other games. Animals are unpredictable. They rest, meander, shamble, pursue. When they kill you, you can watch them continue to carry your body back to their homes. The rain - when it comes - is torrential, loud, upsetting, obfuscating. New biomes bring fear and delight as you discover new surprises, creatures, plants, constructs.

Basically, Rain World feels like a really upsetting nature documentary sometimes, and that’s great.

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What kind of hard is Rain World? I get that it’s not particularly fair, so it’s not the Hollow Knight kind of hard (which I was fine with, despite not being great at 2d platform games, generally). Is there a game that if you are good at that game, you’re probably going to manage in Rain World?

I think the short answer is no. But I can think of kind of slight similar examples.

The reason the short answer is “no” though mainly has to do with Rain World’s controls. They’re very wobbly and wonky (in a GOOD way, mind you), so it’s hard to compare them to anything. There are other games with physics based controls, but they’re usually not as difficult as here.

But I think if you abstract from that, and look at games on a more systemic and experiential level, there are other games that come to mind.

One thing that comes to mind is Spelunky. Lot’s of other Rogue-likes and Rogue-lites, too. Like Spelunky, Rain World has a ton of interlocking mechanics where you can employ a lot of experimentation, and failure can often be a way to learn. It’s also a game where surviving is sometimes a matter of just reacting to unexpected circumstances.

I also think a big part will be how you react to failure. If you often feel frustrated or discouraged by failure, Rain World will not be enjoyable for you. But if you enjoy climbing up difficult hills and pressing on despite constant failure, you’re more likely to fair better.

This is also a reminder that if you are not a fan of the difficulty, there is a slightly easier playthrough, The Monk, with only some story differences. In the Monk’s playthrough, you need less food to survive, and the world is less hostile towards you. You do less damage with the spear, though. Karma Gates also open permanently once you pass through them, making getting through the world easier. I’m also willing to be there are some mods on RainDB that help ease the experience, too.

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Agree with @vehemently 's thoughts. Movement was consistently a challenge in the game - especially at first - but I eventually found myself comfortably navigating most areas with a few select moves and a very basic understanding of how physics affects a slug-cat.

System-wise, flat out, the game is terrible at explaining itself. It wants to be secretive with how the world works, and I think it succeeds in some aspects because of that. But it also means sometimes you’ll see a tutorial prompt that is incredibly vague about some mechanic and never explicitly explained again. I was fairly quick to ask vehemently for hints during some parts of the game, and resorted to the wiki a few times too. I’d encourage anyone picking up the game to be okay with asking for hints or checking the wiki if they’re stuck on something, because again, the game isn’t great at presenting itself, as clever and interesting as it can be.

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I’m quite good with failure. I spent quite a long time on most of Sekiro’s later bosses, so that doesn’t bother me too much. I’m intrigued by games with simulation-type mechanics that take some experimentation to get right (Immersive sims for life!), though I do greatly dislike it when small mistakes can lead to a disproportionate amount of what feels like lost time. The kind of difficulty here sounds like my kind of thing. And the slug cat is adorable.

In short, thank you! It doesn’t sound like the kind of difficulty that would be an obstacle. It’s difficulty that requires a very long period of near perfect execution without quick retries that I eventually stop enjoying.

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Reviving this thread now I’ve got the game and… you, you all didn’t tell me this is a horror game!

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Oh, yeah, sorry: this game is also fucking terrifying!

I’m curious if there’s a particular thing you are referring to with the horror (something specific comes too my mind), but in general, the game is, yes… kind of horrifying. But I don’t think it’s terrifying in the way most horror games are? It’s not scary like a ghost story; it’s scary like seeing a spider. A animalian response to the sense of a predator. The fear is a visceral, fight-or-flight twinge.

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Well, I actually made the post after somehow making it through the entire second area and half of the third in an endless mad dash, so it was sorta a laundry list of horrible things that had grabbed my slugcat but somehow not finished it off.

The one that does stand out to me are those horrible plants that pretend to be poles though. Everything about them is just upsetting to me! >_<

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Meeting anything in Rain World

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I feel certain you will meet a few things that do spark joy. Like [REDACTED]

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Five Pebbles: So I’d really been loving the game so far, but this area makes me want to put it down? It feels like if Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy was a precision platformer? Everything’s so stretchy and springy but if you grave a wall you die? Am I missing something here?

It depends on the issues you’re having. The only tip I can think of right now that might help is that throwing an object will give you a boost in the direction you threw it. That might help with navigation. On a meta note, if it’s an area that’s really bothering you and making you want to quit, I wouldn’t discourage you from just looking at a map so you can get in and out as fast as possible. There’s a specific location you’re gonna want to head to for the critical path.

Update

Spoilers

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This. THIS. This is the moment Rain World goes from great to masterpiece to me. The game waits until you’re like halfway through the game to reveal that it has dialogue??? And lore??? It recontextualized everything for me.