Rain City - Switch Review
A point-and-click adventure by Cotton Game and published by ORENDA, Rain City is ostensibly about a cute anthropomorphic cat searching for his sister, a journalist, after she goes missing on assignment in the gloomy titular metropolis. What it’s actually about, however, is learning how to interpret the arbitrary and inexplicable intentions of the game’s puzzle designer, and, subsequently, learning how to suppress the rage that accumulates as you come to appreciate the scale of incompetence the game exhibits in both mechanics and writing.
Consider the kind of thing point-and-click games are known to be criticized for: puzzle solutions obscured by the lack of a logical thread for the player to follow, or by clues that are badly telegraphed, or ambiguous, or absent altogether, or just plain wrong; puzzles that are more tedious to apply the solution to than they are to figure out; the excruciating backtracking that results from getting stuck; clicking around the screen with every item just in case you missed some option that was too well-hidden; you can look forward to all of these in Rain City.
But that’s not all. Rain City has plenty of uniquely terrible design choices, including: a character who needs to be spoken to multiple times to progress the story, despite no other character having more than one thing to say; a Lost Woods puzzle ripoff where you have to slowly trudge through all ten rooms before you find out whether the pattern of doors you walked through was correct or not; objects that are interactable under certain conditions, but there is no indication of when you have met those conditions yet; and, most frustrating of all, having to try everything at least three times because the game will randomly not register your button inputs, tricking you into thinking a solution hasn’t worked when in fact the game just decided not to notice.
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The sheer lack of conscientiousness of how the player is expected to view a situation and interpret the clues presented to them, if indeed there are any clues to be interpreted at all, pervades the game at every stage. The best that can be said about the gameplay is that, first, you never have more than two or three items at one time, so your options are always limited, and second, the game never requires you to go back to a previous area to find a solution to a present problem, so if you are stuck, you can be glad in the knowledge that whatever bafflingly obscure thing you need to do to progress must be found within the last few rooms. Also the game is only a few hours long. Speaking of…
Oh boy, where to begin?
The first thing you will notice are random grammatical errors and strange phrasing in the dialogue. These are the result of a bad translation (presumably from Japanese, which would explain nonsensical phrases like “Why are you selling oil?” which are figures of speech in Japanese – in this case, selling oil means to loaf around when you’re supposed to be working) and, to be honest, I’m not too bothered by this. For one, it results in some hilarious moments: following a violent cutscene where a character trashes a laboratory and jumps out the window, interacting with the destroyed medicine case results in the observation below:
For a moment I thought the protagonist was so shocked that he’d started speaking French.
More than the bad translation, however, what really irked me was the flat tone of the whole game. Characters are rarely written with any personality, and when they are it’s by mistake, or a quirk of the translator. Everything is written in a blunt, unimaginative voice that does nothing to bring the city, the characters or the various objects you interact with to life. If nothing else, it tells me that whoever was in charge of the writing had no emotional investment in the characters.
There’s also something weirdly random about the items you find. Nothing about them tells you anything about the world, except perhaps to reinforce the industrial/pollution theme, as they are mostly tools and mechanical parts. I guess, since the story begins with you investigating the whereabouts of your sister, I was expecting more of a detective type of story; but every puzzle in the game seems to be a physical obstacle rather than a informational clue you need to work out, resulting in a sequence of unrelated tasks that could have come from any other game.
Graphics / Art Direction
The setting of Rain City is beautifully depicted in watercolour illustrations. I was especially charmed by some of the building interiors. Little details that have nothing to do with the rest of the game, like the sheep guy who has a tiny room in his flat devoted to a one-seat cinema with a bed-sheet used as a projection screen, or the vine that flourishes inside, away from the acidic rain, while its counterpart outside is withered and dead. Details like these are the game’s life-support, and it serves to show what the writing in Rain City is missing by not letting us see the details of the protagonist’s mind as they explore the city, which would allow us to become emotionally invested in their story.
Unfortunately, the art can often get in the way of the gameplay, making interactable parts of a room hard to detect, and making puzzles needlessly ambiguous. One early puzzle has you repair a system of water pipes to drain a flooded plaza. Once you’ve gathered the right items to solve the puzzle (a convoluted ordeal all on its own) you need to figure out how to connect the pipes so the water can drain away, but the illustration of the tangle of pipes does not clearly define which pipes are connected to which, making the solution a matter of guesswork.
Music / Sound Design
The music is suitably melancholic, and unobtrusive to the point where many rooms in the game have no music at all, but rely only on sound effects like dripping water, wind, and so on. This can work very well to build atmosphere, but it gives me very little to say. One weird thing that stood out was that the sound effect that plays when you use an item is almost identical to the sound that plays on the Switch menu when you select a game. Even if coincidental, I probably would have changed it just to avoid the sudden feeling that a different game was about to boot up whenever I solved a puzzle.
Final Score: 40%
Ce jeu vidéo est le siège d’un véritable désastre. I recommend that you find some screenshots from Rain City so you can sit and look at them while you have some Satie playing in the background. This would be a more engaging experience than actually playing the game.