Rain World: A Guided Tour

June 6, 2020

{-- This review contains spoilers for the entirety of Rain World. If you haven't played it, go watch the trailer and play the game if it seems interesting to you. This video is in-depth, don't let me ruin the game for you. --}


Rain World is an open-world survival game made by indie developer Videocult and released in 2017. It's one of the few actually good Kickstarter games, and unlike anything I've played before. The bulk of the game was made by two people and development started in 2011. The game received mixed reviews on release, with most reviewers citing its unpredictable and sometimes unfair enemies, clumsy controls, and generally excessive difficulty.

Rain World's developers usually describe the core gameplay as "learning to navigate through [the game's] ecosystem". If I were reviewing Rain World in a few words, or worked for Kotaku, that might suffice, but I think there's much more to this game than that. Hopefully, as we go through the game, looking at Rain World simply as a game about "learning to navigate [an] ecosystem" will allow us to illuminate Rain World's deeper success. This video will be a guided tour of the game, and I'll cover points of interest along the way. I hope to give a fair assessment, and convince you that Rain World is a great game.


From the very first screen we see Rain World's dedication to immersion--the three difficulty levels and the various changes they implement are contextualized in the world. The Monk is more in tune with nature, so it needs less food to survive and can open karma gates permanently. The Survivor is the standard character, and the Hunter is trained in battle, so is more maneuverable and can carry an extra spear. The Hunter also needs to eat more and has a limited time in the world. We will be focusing mainly on the survivor, since that is what most players will experience first.


We learn from this short opening that you are a slugcat, and have been separated from your family due to some mysterious torrential rain. This sets up the events to follow. Stills like these are used to convey story throughout the game, and I interpret them as slugcat's dreams or memories. After the opening they usually appear when you rest, and their style is more painterly than the game's normal pixel art. Cutscenes are another "gamey" element which is contextualized in the world. Instead of pointing this out every time it happens, I'll just list a few examples of contextualized game elements now.

Slugcat has to stop and think to see the map. The map is revealed slowly, as though slugcat is retracing his steps.

Instead of an inventory you get two hands and your stomach

Lore and story are revealed by actual characters and objects in the world, instead of item descriptions.

Respawning is a vital component of the game's story.

Rolling all of these elements into the action of the game draws players into the world; you and slugcat are going on the same journey, and have the same tools. These mechanics also make gameplay feel seamless, even though the game is cut up into ten-minute sections. I find it easy to spend hours playing Rain World, and a big part of this is that there are no interruptions except for the hibernations, which give me a few seconds to relax.

Rain World's marketing material leans pretty heavily on the slugcat, and rightfully so. He's a simple, cute element of a game that is otherwise quite brutal. That's not to undersell how well-designed slugcat is, but I find it somewhat ironic that a game as bleak as Rain World was marketed by appealing to cuteness.


After the opening cutscene we are tossed--literally--into the world. A mysterious yellow Overseer, who the developers call Iggy, delivers the game's tutorial. According to an interview with Gamasutra, the tutorial was a concession for new players. The developers originally wanted players to figure everything out on their own. Iggy indicates the controls symbolically, which is a good idea, but there is also explanatory text placed at the bottom of the screen. It's not a big deal, since the tutorial is only about two minutes long and never takes control away, but everything else manages to integrate seamlessly into the world. On top of that, the opening cutscene gives a lot of information about the gameplay: it shows that slugcat can hold objects, can eat bats, and should avoid the rain {== make a ten things you missed YouTube thumbnail joke here ==}.

After their first sleep, the player is thrust into the world with no obvious limit or goal. With the amount of handholding in most modern games, it's refreshing to see one that asks players to figure things out on their own. There is no bestiary to describe all of the different creatures, and no path is forced on you. Making the player a fish out of water brings them closer to their character, since just a day ago, the slugcat had a whole tribe to help him survive.

On the day, you're likely to see the game's AI at work: Lizards will hang around and look at bats, fight each other, or go after the slugcat if he's unlucky enough to encounter one head-on. The first thing you notice is how organic the interactions and creatures feel. Outskirts is by far the calmest area, but Rain World doesn't weaken the AI for new players and there is potential for some desperate situations if slugcat gets trapped.

Outskirts does act as a kind of second tutorial; its threats usually appear in such a way that they are easy to avoid. Since the developers are committed to avoiding scripted interactions, encounters in the Outskirts never disrespect the player's intelligence. Even if the level design gives you multiple exits, using them is still up to you. In this way travelling through Outskirts remains interesting on subsequent playthroughs.

Outskirts connects to three areas, and we're going to Drainage System. It is difficult to tell, but I think the Overseer tries to direct the player this way with his arms and positioning.

Here we encounter our first karma gate. As you might guess these tie in with the karma system, which is a measure of survival. Making it to a shelter causes the karma meter to tick up, and dying causes it to tick down. The gates act as bottlenecks, which allow the developers to check your skills before you enter a new area. If your karma level is at or above the one shown, you can pass through.

Drainage System, Garbage Wastes

This game is hard, and often overwhelming. A first playthrough starts off directionless, and forces players to rely on exploration and the hope that a shelter is somewhere ahead. Every mistake is costly, because it either causes a death or wastes time. The huge amount of variety makes sure new areas feel unfamiliar and dangerous. This all brings you closer to slugcat, and it really begins to feel like you're on a journey through the world.

The game is cut into days that last around ten minutes, the time between rainstorms. The length of each day forces the player to make a strategic judgement, do you want to take a risk to travel farther, or play it safe and return to a shelter close by? Since first-time players don't know the regions, tension builds as the day goes on. Returning players may wish to challenge themselves by travelling large distances in a single day, and as the Hunter you are asked to beat the game in 20 cycles.

Since progress is only made when shelter is found, in theory the player can only gain or lose ten minutes of progress at a time. In practice this isn't always the case, as when the player has to farm karma to pass a gate, but usually dying doesn't lose much progress. Much of the time, dying will also cause a karma flower to grow where slugcat was killed. These prevent the Karma wheel from moving backwards after the next death. Karma flowers incentivize players to retry difficult sections by removing one of the punishments if they die again.

As we travel through the Garbage Wastes I'd like to talk about the scavengers. They are an organized, social species, and they are the crown jewel of Rain World's AI. They also show off the game's reputation system. Trading with them, or saving them from danger will allow you to befriend tribes of them. Conversely, killing or stealing from them will make them your enemies. Lizards, and a few other creatures actually use reputation as well. There are Scavengers in most areas, and their presence helps the regions feel like a cohesive world.

But there's more; each individual scavenger has a personality which falls on a scale from timid to aggressive, and your reputation with individual scavengers can change as well. If you befriend one, they will follow your lead and hibernate with you. There's even more; they also use body language to express a wide variety of emotions which I will put on screen now.

Credit to the Rain World wiki at https://rainworld.gamepedia.com

To signify that a toll has been paid for and that Slugcat may pass through, they will wave their hands in a circular "come through" motion.

To indicate a threat, they will point their hands or spears at the animal.

To indicate an ally, they will point at it and jump excitedly.

To indicate a warning, they will hold their spears up as though about to throw them.

To indicate they want something, they will stare at Slugcat and restlessly dig at the ground, sometimes reaching out towards the object.

To indicate fear, their spines will start to vibrate and their eyes will widen.

To indicate anger, their eyes will widen and slant, and they will begin to twitch.

To indicate sadness, their eyes will narrow, slanting away from the center of their faces.

To indicate annoyance, they will slightly bristle.

To indicate friendship, they will walk up to Slugcat or another scavenger and touch spears.

The scavengers are stunningly well-executed. While most creatures give off the impression of a volatile, animal intelligence, the scavengers feel like an evolved and emotive species. Their varied colours and intelligent looking eyes communicate their nature before slugcat even interacts with them.

Shoreline, Looks to the Moon

Shoreline is where Iggy's been leading us. It is a very distinctive area, with outdoor sections that feature empty skies and swathes of water. You can use these jetfish to move quickly in the water, and they can be lured toward slugcat by placing fruit in the water. Although the game uses another text box when you first see a jetfish, it doesn't tell you explicitly that you can ride them, and doing so for the first time feels like a discovery. As we approach our destination I'd like to talk about Rain World's story.

The plot of Rain World is your journey through it. By learning to navigate the ecosystem, you are driving the story forward. The ultimate goal of the beings in Rain World is to escape endless cycles of death and rebirth. Although it is spelled out later on, all of this can be inferred, and it's Rain World's great triumph that these ideas are so effortlessly communicated through the player's direct experience of the world. There can't be a happy ending in the traditional sense; you may as well be the last of your species and there is no final boss to slay. The purpose of your life is to find its ending. This dawns on you as you play and it's absolutely sublime.

The initial feeling of directionlessness gives way to a struggle against the unknown. A survival game morphs into a spiritual quest, acted out through gameplay. Your ascension of the food chain is also your metaphysical ascension.

{== LTTM ==}

My first meeting with Looks to the Moon was the most effecting experience I've had with a game. The contrast between this moment and the bone-crushingly difficult journey preceding it was really striking. It was like finding an oasis in a desert. Something about slugcat staring back at her as I began to leave stuck with me. This moment feels like the climax of the first part of the game, and it gives us some hint as to what the world used to be like.

We can't communicate with Moon yet, but she is able to read the data stored on the pearls scattered about the world. The pearls are initially used to befriend scavengers, but are eventually revealed to contain fragments of information about the world. Revealing this hidden facet of an established game mechanic gives the world a sense of history and hidden depth, even if we never see that depth. The coloured pearls hint at this hidden purpose, since they are unique and therefore collectible. Like so much of Rain World putting the pieces together feels like a discovery. Bringing the pearls to Moon is a difficult quest well worth pursuing if you enjoy the game. For now, I'll just give you the gist.


Far in the past the world was inhabited by a highly evolved people who built the world that slugcat is now travelling through. It is clear from the massive extent of the world {== SHOW THE FAR-OFF CITIES AT THE WALL ==} that these beings were above humans in terms of development. However, the inhabitants were faced with a problem. The world is best described as "industrial-religious"; in its heyday the inhabitants were highly industrialized, but their machines have explicitly spiritual purposes. Spirituality in Rain World is not an abstract concept: the inhabitants are forced to recognize the cycle of death and rebirth, and it obsesses them.

"Its entire memory is filled with a mantra repeated... 5061 times - and then a termination verse. It was worn as an amulet, probably together with many identical others forming a pattern on some garment.

The repeating mantra is important because it symbolizes the cyclical nature of life and death, and the termination verse is a symbol for ascension above and beyond it. I don't know how familiar you are with the nature of life and death, but I imagine like all living creatures you have some intuitive knowledge?

Then you know that death isn't the end - birth and death are connected to each other like a ring, or some say a spiral. Some say a spiral that in turn forms a ring. Some ramble in agonizing longevity. But the basis is agreed upon: like sleep like death, you wake up again - whether you want to or not."

Eventually they discovered Void Fluid, which slowly dissolves whatever it touches. Deep beneath the earth there is an endless horizon of Void Fluid, called the Void Sea. Those who enter it never return, and are believed to have escaped the cycle. You can guess why their cities and buildings are abandoned.

The Void Fluid itself has an industrial-spiritual duality; it's a source of practically infinite energy which allowed the ancients to build the Iterators. These are sentient biocomputers tasked with managing the inhabitants' cities and solving what they call the Great Problem: helping the world's lesser creatures ascend. By the time we learn all of this the iterators have largely given up, and are instead working on their own ascensions. The iterators eventually die, as their systems decay, but their biological parts will be reborn. Much of Moon's complex has been destroyed, and she lives on her little island now.

The ancients built a lot of iterators--there are seven that we know of, but they are referred to as the local group, so there are likely many more. One iterator, Sliver of Straw, purported to solve the Great Problem, but she somehow managed to self-destruct immediately afterwards, which is supposed to be disallowed by the Iterators' programming. Some factions view her as something of a saint.

There is quite a bit more to Rain World's lore, and it's best experienced within the game. The story is doled out in small chunks and often out of order, so you're given a lot of time to put it together on your own. As you discover more of it, your awareness of Rain World as an accumulation of historical events is amplified more and more. I find it hard to believe that any of the background elements, pearls, or creatures were placed without some kind of purpose.

Shaded Citadel, Memory Crypts, Exterior

AI and Ecosystem

Now that we're done visiting with Moon, Iggy is pointing us toward something new. Our next destination is actually what is casting the shade on Shaded Citadel. Although it is completely shrouded in darkness, there are hints of grand, religious, architecture in this region's backgrounds. The area is populated with some very skittish Lantern Mice, spiders, and black lizards that navigate and hunt by touch and sound alone. There are also scavengers, but we talked about them already.

The attention to detail in the creature designs is impressive. The black lizards are only present in dark areas, since they are blind and would quickly be killed in any outdoor area. These properties are communicated by the lizards themselves; they have feelers on their faces and their heads light up only in reaction to sound. Lantern Mice have big eyes and they glow, which tells us they aren't dangerous, and probably helps them navigate. They also hang from ceilings to stay out of harm's way. Spiders are an obvious choice for a dark area, but the way that they group up to kill their prey is an inspired mechanic. This attention to detail is everywhere, and I could do this for most of the creatures.

All this design supports AI that behaves just as organically as you would hope. Head developer Joar Jakobson had this to say about designing the AI.


"Instead of thinking 'how can I make this creature act and serve as an obstacle in the game, I went at it from the angle of 'how can I make this creature behave in such a way that it can find food and move around and get back to its home before the night comes.'"

You might assume that the AI's behaviour is achieved by just making each creature search for food, but it is much, much deeper than that. I'll give a few examples. Lizards will fight each other for territory, and you can befriend them or make them fear you. They become visibly frustrated if they can't reach their targets, and they have a whole host of other emotive behaviours just like scavengers.

Vultures become extremely aggressive towards anyone that steals their mask. Squidcada will start knocking you around if you bother them. Lantern Mice and Eggbugs flee from threats. Bats hide in their nests, which are built to provide camouflage, or flee the room if access is blocked. Dropwigs hide in dusky ceilings and can lay out food as a trap for anything that comes by. There are many more, and each creature has a variety of behaviours that aid their survival. This gives the impression that you are always outwitting your enemies, rather than passing by them. The AI combined with the animation make creatures so expressive that even the ocassional glitch feels like a personality quirk, like how some creatures enjoy moving in tight circles.

The third piece of this ecosystem puzzle is the food chain in each region. My impressions are mixed. Let's trace the food chain in Shaded Citadel. This is based on assumption, but I don't think there are any leaps in logic. Lantern Mice and bats could feed on slime mold and fruit that grows in the citadel as well as small insects. The black lizards probably feed mainly on Lantern Mice and occasionally on scavengers. The spiders eat small, non-threatening bugs like flies. They may also consume slime mold which grows on some walls. Scavengers probably know how to butcher lizards, and their larger bodies would make eating small creatures inefficient. This is a pretty well fleshed out food chain. This line of logic can be followed in most areas, but the regions that make up the Exterior fall short.

The Exterior only has four creatures. Grappling worms don't seem to eat anything, though their sticky tendrils might pick up particles from surfaces or the air. Lizards and dropwigs can eat each other, but there are only a few dropwigs for the many, many lizards in the area, and Daddy Long Legs will eat just about anything. Despite the lack of a food chain, Rain World had so engrossed me by this point that my immersion wasn't hurt by this; who's to say there aren't hidden pipes leading to areas full of food?

The last facet of a believeable ecosystem is the interactions between creatures. Watching this video has probably convinced you that the creature interactions are quite varied, and they only get more impressive as the game goes on. It's important that these interactions happen whether you are on screen or not. The makeup of the ecosystem can change, albeit in a limited way, without you effecting it. This makes the whole thing much more believeable, since the creatures don't just exist for you. It also creates some interesting gameplay situations where you can walk in on a battle in progress, help creatures out if they're in trouble, or even be saved by something attacking your attacker. Several times I have been saved from the jaws of a lizard by a second lizard trying to pull me away.


Memory Crypts is the most linear region, but makes for a fantastic set piece. The player has to traverse a land populated by sprinting, terrifying Scissor Birds. It's a long, tense section that often becomes a race against time. The quiet ambience of the region is pierced by the beaks and feet of the birds, which nicely signal that danger is nearby.

The game's sound is actually worthy of some discussion. The ambience is made from many layers of field recordings that blend natural and industrial soundscapes. In its quiet moments Rain World's only sounds are the wind and slugcat's feet. The sounds made by creatures and objects are also sampled, and they cut through the relative silence. Every effect is crisp, visceral, and satisfying. There is a huge amount of dynamic range, and the sound seems to be mixed "realistically"--your footsteps are almost silent, creatures are moderately loud when in combat, and explosions almost clip the game's audio. Choosing to sample the sounds and mix them this way once again grounds the game--the sound manages to be effective as game sound, but is also believable as the way a world sounds.

{== First room of the Leg ==}

On my first two playthroughs I leapt directly into this pit as soon as I got in here.

Animation and Movement

Areas in the exterior are platforming heavy, and very difficult. It seems like an apt time to discuss the game's movement. All of Rain World's challenges rely on its movement system, and it is one of the game's best features. If you have only played Rain World for a few minutes and gave up, I would guess your main question is how I'm doing all these backflips. The first thing to explain is the novel way that Rain World's procedural animation works.

Imagine we wanted to represent Mario with a simple shape. He could be represented with one rectangle and nothing about Super Mario Brothers would change mechanically. In fact, as far as the game's code is concerned he is a rectangle. Things are done this way to save on processing power, because checking if two rectangles are touching is easy for a computer to do, while checking if two complex shapes are touching is much harder.

Characters in Rain World are described by the devs as "blobs of physics", a bunch of simple shapes connected together, with what they call "paper doll" graphics pasted on top. Doing things this way allows Rain World's unique animation system to work to its fullest extent. {== Show the tentacle side-by-side from GDC ==}

The developers of Rain World did a talk on their procedural animation process which sheds a lot of light on how it's done. The idea is best summed up with a phrase they use:

{== PUT A GDC CLIP HERE 13:35-13:45 "AI is animation in Rain World, you cannot really draw a line between the two" ==}

In Rain World animation is like behaviour. Basically, the AI is in control of what each "blob of physics" does on screen. The developers know what tools a vulture has in its arsenal, but how it achieves its goals, how it moves, and what the movement looks like depends on what the AI wants to do. To put it metaphorically, the AI animates creatures the way your mind animates your body.

Slugcat is given the same amount of freedom as all the other creatures. This is to say that movement in Rain World is complex, precise, and feels very organic. Learning to play Rain World is like learning to walk again, because that's exactly what you have to do. The tutorial gives you the bare essentials, but to really thrive you need to learn advanced techniques. Trying to detail how the movement feels is impossible, but I will show you all of the movement tricks that I can consistently pull off.

You can:


Turn around to boost your speed

Backflip by changing direction and jumping

Backflip over enemies

Throw spears straight down while backflipping

Stick a spear in a wall and climb to higher ground

Throw items to gain momentum

Turn around in tunnels to speed up your crawling

Boost off corners for extra speed

Boost out of a pipe or tunnel

Roll when falling from heights

Slide around on your belly

Slide around on your belly, jump, then roll

Slide around on your belly then do a flip

Slide around on your belly into the mouth of a lizard then stick a spear through it

And most importantly, juggle pearls {== do a little smash cut joke where Slugcat gets speared in the head or something ==}

The game also asks you to figure all of these maneuvers out on your own, and the sheer amount of variation forces movement choices to be instinctual rather than self-evident. In Mario Brothers, there's only one way to cross a gap, while in Rain World there are many.

The movement system is what makes Rain World such a unique survival game. Your survival isn't measured by the size of your base or the quality of your tools but in the development of your skills. The satisfaction derived from Rain World is in mastering the movement, and pulling it off to kill or avoid enemies. There is also an aesthetic progression as your skill grows; slugcat looks and feels awkward at first, but perfect movement is graceful and smooth.

My point is that the initial clumsiness in the controls is a necessary part of the Rain World experience, from a technical and thematic perspective. The developers crafted slugcat's movement mechanics with a stunning amount of depth, and this risks alienating some casual players {== show reviews ==}. The struggle of learning and mastering the game mechanics is what gives the quest for ascension its poignancy. If the world was easy to live in, there would be no motivation to ascend versus continuing to survive.

It's admirable that a game is willing to ask so much of its players, and I think characterizing Rain World's commitment to its premise as a flaw is a great way to keep games stale, repetitive, and mind-numbingly easy for years to come.

Five Pebbles

Five Pebbles is a standout region; there is no gravity in here, and we see some actual functioning technology. I'll discuss the art and music briefly as we make our way.

Rain World contains over 1600 screens of lush, complex art. The Steam store page says that the art style is "inspired by...16-bit classics". I'm glad Videocult didn't follow the indie trend of blocky, indecipherable pixel art and instead managed to take inspiration while still making use of modern technology. The art style incorporates the best of 16-bit art by using a small palette and distinct hard-edged pixel art, while not limiting itself to obvious pixelation or traditional sprites. Particles, gradients, and lighting are used very effectively to highlight areas of interest. It all melds surprisingly well, and none of the visual effects clash with the art style. It feels as though Videocult used the pixel-art style because it was a good fit, and not because it was easier to make than another style. In point of fact, making the art must have been extremely time-consuming with the level of detail on display.

The creatures are splashes of neon on backgrounds that use just a few muted colours. Slugcat contrasts the levels and enemies by being completely white. These differences make the screen easy to read at all times.

Each area manages to have a distinct look and feel, but also coheres with the others, and each is a logical progression from the last in terms of geography and enemy placement. The art lets the organic and industrial mingle together, which is appropriate for a game about life in a deserted civilization. Small background details, like the scavenger paintings in Garbage Wastes, tie the world together and make it seem lived in.

The developers released the level editor they used to make the game, so if you would like to learn how levels are actually made, check out raindb.net and the modding wiki.

Rain World also has a non-diegetic score. This might seem like an odd choice for a game so firmly grounded in its world, but the score is stunningly well-implemented and always compliments what's onscreen, instead of drawing attention to itself. Each track is made up of 8 to 12 layers, with different tracks and layers fading in and out depending on the occasion. This technique allows the music to react to whatever happens in the game. The way that threat music builds and morphs as enemies appear and disappear is particularly impressive.

According to the composer, thousands of samples were used to make the game's three-and-a-half-hour score. All of the samples are so warped that the music becomes as alien as the world itself, and it bounces between serene, bizarre, and frantic. Much of it is ambient, but in combat you'll sometimes be treated to alien techno from a dusty old cassette. All the music in this video is from the soundtrack.

My favourite track is the one that plays at the end of Five Pebbles. It blends the mystical, technical, and mysterious together, and is quite unique.

{== Play 5P lead-up and scene without commentary ==}

Five Pebbles is actually the source of the rain. Iterators use water to function, and Five Pebbles tried to rewrite his own genome, which would allow him to kill himself. Doing this takes quite a bit of time, so he ran many, many parallel processes, using tons of extra groundwater. This starved Moon, who used the same reservoir, and her complex collapsed. Moon interrupted Five Pebbles to save her own life, and part of Five Pebbles mutated into the Rot, which we can see in the incredibly difficult Unfortunate Development area. Now, Five Pebbles is attempting to flush out the Rot with water, though it seems hopeless. Iterators exhale as much water as they use, which results in the deadly rain.

Wall, Chimney, Sky Islands

We just arrived at the top of the Wall, but let's switch characters for a bit so we can climb it from the bottom. The Hunter is unlocked after you beat the main game and offers a much harder experience than the Survivor. On normal mode, killing an enemy gives it a chance to advance its lineage, which evolves the creature. The Hunter faces the most challenging versions of each enemy right out of the gate, he needs to eat a lot, and he only has 20 cycles to live. Fortunately, deaths don't increase the counter. The Hunter is not so much a hard mode, as a whole new quest, so gating him off was probably a good idea. The Hunter starts in Farm Arrays, and his goal differs in some ways from the Survivor's.

Chimney Canopy is kind of a crossroads; it connects the beginning, middle, and end of the game together. Normally, getting to the top of the Wall requires climbing all the way from Industrial Complex, so reaching the summit is an endeavor. Chimney Canopy's level design is very vertical, but it is less straightforward than the Wall. However, in the interest of time we're going right to Sky Islands, which is just a few screens away.

Sky Islands is optional, but first-time players don't know that. It's dense with life, very unpredictable, and dials up the difficulty of the game's platforming. It must have required some discipline to keep every area from being this chaotic, since it is so impressive. The Hunter dials up the action quite a bit in every region, but for a first playthrough it's best to have this sort of chaos in smaller doses.

Sky Islands also shows off one of Rain World's flaws. Although I think the static camera is on the whole a good choice, and the screens are designed around it, I suspect it was implemented due to technical limitations, and it has some problems. At times, it is unclear whether a fall will kill you or just scroll the screen. This doesn't make sense, because slugcat should just be able to look down.

It happens in unexpected places. I can jump down here and die, or go through this pipe and end up in the area I would have just fallen into. This happens a lot in the more vertical regions, and there's no way to tell when. Additionally, the screen sometimes scrolls in a disorienting way, usually when you're in the corners. It's very rare but also very annoying, since being able to see is a big part of not getting killed.

Farm Arrays (Gimmicks/Gimmick Areas)

Five Pebbles told us to go this way, and since he doesn't seem to wish us ill, we'll take his advice. Five Pebbles oversaw the abandoned city we saw earlier, so at one point he would have managed the farm arrays. Like so much of Rain World they now stand in disarray, since the inhabitants are all gone. One of the bleakest pieces of lore comes from the teal pearl, found right at the end of the game:

"If you leave a stone on the ground, and come back some time later, it's covered in dust. This happens everywhere, and over several lifetimes of creatures such as you, the ground slowly builds upwards. So why doesn't the ground collide with the sky? Because far down, under the very very old layers of the earth, the rock is being dissolved or removed. The entity which does this is known as the Void Sea."

Everything built by the inhabitants inevitably decays, but they have no way to die. The iterators are Rain World's most human characters, since they experience decay. Moon is completely crippled and purposeless, and we can see the beginning of Five Pebbles' doom in the Rot that is slowly eating him--he is completely frustrated and purposeless.

I digress. The Farm Arrays are a relatively linear region that relies on a gimmick to move through it. Rain World does this a number of times and I think the use of the Rain Deer here is both the most transparent and best use of a gimmick in the game. The Rain Deer are well-considered; they eat a type of food that grows in the area, they break up the gameplay a bit, and they are uniquely docile, gigantic, and majestic. You can either feed the Rain Deer or wait for them to come by of their own accord, which deepens the ecosystem just a little bit more.

Although they are all implemented well, Rain World relies pretty heavily on gimmicks as the game progresses. I'll put them on screen now:

Squidcada jumps on Sky Islands

Scissor Birds in Memory Crypts

Daddy Long Legs in the Exterior and Unfortunate Development

Gravity throughout Five Pebbles

Grappling worms in the Exterior

Darkness in Shaded Citadel

Rain Deer in Farm Arrays

I think if the gimmick items were present areas where they are not required to progress, their inclusion wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. The grappling worms are a lot of fun to play around with, and I can't think of any areas that would be worse for having them. Scissor Birds are reused later, and seeing them interact with scavengers and lizards makes the ecosystem more believable.

Farm Arrays is a nice break in gameplay. Coming here after Sky Islands, one of the most difficult areas, is a nice change of pace, and leads up to the final sequence of the game.

Subterranean, Filtration System, Depths

Although gimmicks are used well, the core of Rain World's gameplay is the slugcat armed with only his wits and some debris. Subterranean gives Rain World the chance to leave nothing on the table, and create a final big challenge. I'm glad to say that it is among the game's most biologically diverse and mechanically satisfying areas. It blends the spiritual and technical, featuring religious statues, a train yard, and a filtration system in close proximity.

The environmental storytelling here is great, in its heyday this place filtered Void Fluid, and served as a freight hub to transport it around the world. In the Inhabitants' last days it would have been in high demand. There's another layer of history in the sinkholes and cave-ins that let the light shine in from Farm Arrays.

Light is used to great effect on certain screens, and the spiritual core of everything the inhabitants built is more obvious in the architecture, since it is mostly intact. If Outskirts is the introduction to Rain World, showing you just the core gameplay of slugcat and his relation to the ecosystem, then Subterranean is the climax, laying out the most difficult challenges without any gimmicks.

Subterranean is, to me, a synthesis of everything that makes Rain World great. You enter it at the height of your survival ability and it asks you to navigate screen after screen of beautiful architecture packed with danger. The level design gives you multiple routes through the area, and each has different threats.

Something I've struggled with in making this video is how to relate the feeling of playing Rain World. Maybe I haven't really succeeded, but if I had to pick an area that typifies it, it would be Subterranean.

Filtration System is a maze of tight tunnels patrolled by black lizards who are usually invisible in the dark. Going through the area is quite tense, but it isn't very difficult or long if you just want to get to the Depths. If you get caught by lizards you'll have quite a challenge on your hands, but moving stealthily allows you to avoid most encounters.

Stealth is another way the game's movement is utilized, since different routes and maneuvers make different amounts of noise. You can also throw objects to distract and confuse the lizards.

The Depths is the final region, and I'll use it to say my final words.

Great art escapes any attempt you make to describe it. You can list every great thing about it, and try to explain in detail, but ultimately the work is greater than the sum of its parts. Throughout this review I've tried to stick to what is mechanical in Rain World, but really what I admire about it is ethereal. As I played it, the game made me question why I continued living in its world, and that question made me think about my world. Rain World's atmosphere is grim, but it ultimately wants us to keep venturing into the unknown, and to keep living.

What I like most about this game is how uncompromising it is. It's a labour of love on behalf of everyone involved, the product of six years of work, and manages to simultaneously invent and perfect a number of brand new game systems. Rain World is short on compromised, streamlined mechanics, and I mean that in the best of ways. Playing it really feels like taking in someone's vision, which is quite rare in games. Rain World is singular, and its quality is exceedingly high. Even if you don't enjoy it, you have to respect it.


"The Rain World Animation Process" GDC talk


A survival action platformer...you're kind of existing in this large open-world ecosystem of AI creatures...the intention for us is that they have as much agency as the player...all of the creatures exist perpetually on screen and off screen...The gameplay is learning to navigate through that ecosystem

"Crafting The Complex Chaotic Ecosystem of Rain World" Gamasutra Article "How the composers of Rain World created an alien soundscape using old cans and pipes" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wZE9FMK3aA https://www.polygon.com/2017/3/27/14951492/rain-world-review-pc-windows-ps4-playstation-4

{==If I wanted this video to be even longer, I might ruminate on how the phrase "intelligence is animation" builds on the ecosystem concept. To further this unity of AI and animation, creatures are very expressive and often become frustrated or scared. We will discuss this in-depth later, but this expressiveness makes the occasional physics glitch feel more like a personality quirk of the creature than an error.==}