I have not finished Rain World. It’s entirely unlikely I’m ever going to finish it either. Most people push back from getting to the end of something because it’s bad. Take, for example, Weeds or Jupiter Ascending.
That’s not the crux here with Rain World, though. It’s not a great game—not even close—but it’s also not bad. The real problem is that it’s just so goddamn brutal. The Thing is that it’s not deliberate in its difficulty. It is instead wantonly putting you into the grinder just for the sake of doing it, like a kid frying ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass.
In some ways, it should be expected given the premise. You are a slugcat, a creature that is exactly what it sounds like, and you must survive a bleak and deadly world. If it’s not the hunger that gets you, it’ll be the randomly spawning enemies. If it’s not the randomly spawning enemies, it’ll be the crushing and eponymous rain. And if it’s not that, it’ll full and completely psychological assault that is simply playing and dying in this game that eventually convinces you that you are Prometheus and that damn eagle found a book on programming.
There are games that do this sort of thing well, this Soulsian torment that feels good even as it is happening to you. You could throw in with the combat-centric lessons of said Souls games where death is a teacher and your education is in not being an idiot. Or you could go the way of Ninja Gaiden where technical mastery should only be matched by your quick reflexes. There’s even Don’t Starve, which isn’t exceptionally hard but it does let you learn how to survive.
Those sorts of games (of a certain threshold of quality) have something in common, though. You can even see it in that one little paragraph: you are accruing knowledge. If there’s a certain arrangement of enemies, you can eventually figure out how to overcome it. Or if there’s a particular hard opponent, you can slam your head against a wall until you gain the dexterity to win. Or you can learn how to simply exist.
Rain World isn’t interested in any of that, though. To its credit, it is uncompromising in its vision, and that’s an unfortunate rarity in the industry. But in refusing to bend, it has instead cultivated a series of systems and mechanics that make playing it impossible. Instead, you suffer for it.
The randomly placed enemies, for instance, can be fine. It gives you a chance to hone your ability to think on your feet and gives you the opportunity to further explore what is possible within the game. But so many of them only have one-hit kills to offer you in return, which teaches you nothing except to avoid them.
And that’s fine, too, since avoidance can be its own intrigue as shown by the immense stealth genre. But the slugcat moves almost exactly as what you think a slugcat would move like, especially with physics-based procedural animations. Making jumps between poles isn’t about dexterity or skill; it’s about overcoming the innate imprecision of the character, which makes sneaking around a more time-consuming prospect.
But guess what: that could be fine, too. Games like Starwhal and Human: Fall Flat are based entirely around the idea that your character is hard to control and have found success. But Rain World instead only ever delights in pushing you to move fast but never giving you the tools necessary to do so. The threat of a debilitating and fatal rain that will shred you to slugcat pieces should you take too long to get to the next hibernation spot is constant and unrelenting.
I don’t mean to solely bash on Rain World. It’s not a bad game by any stretch. There are many moments, in fact, where it made me feel precisely the way I assume it wanted me to feel. Taking a guess I could throw spears into a wall and use them to climb up and then doing it was pretty damn cool.
There simply aren’t enough ways to get to those moments, though. Rain World seems perfectly content not giving you the proper tools to get where you and it want you to go. It has cultivated a perfect ecosystem of despair where myriad mechanics put it in a strange internal conflict of intent and execution, and you get the dubious honor of being right in the middle of it.