Ayo: A Rain Tale is a game claiming to shed light on the struggle of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa as they’re forced to trek long distances to fetch water. I don’t know about that (I mean, main character Ayo ends up in a volcano early on, and a later area is filled with bright green toxic waste that looks like a Captain Planet caricature), but it’s colorful and fun to play regardless. I started it up thinking that I’d play 30 minutes to get a feel for what it’s like and work on finishing it when I have more time, but ended up playing almost two straight hours despite a few nagging issues. In a lot of ways, this feels like a better Never Alone. Both games strive to highlight real-world issues, and both tell their stories with platforming and puzzle-solving. I’d also characterize the movement in both as being kind of awkward, but Ayo has proven a million times less buggy, and that’s made a huge difference. Games like this can actually be fun when you don’t have to worry about being teleported into a pit or glitching out and shooting through the floor! Who knew?
It gets better as you obtain abilities
Ayo’s running speed is a little slower than her leg movement seems to suggest, which is a bit of a weird disconnect at first. There’s not a lot of platforming at first, either, and one of the earliest sections of note involves wind slowing and speeding her up in weird ways that can be a little frustrating and cause you to hit a hazard:
From there, it’s all about pushing blocks and hitting blue and yellow magical air things to swap out which set of blocks are solid and which can be moved through. Platforming is kind of slow and deliberate, though, and jumps are tight enough that you see a lot of the Ayo’s slow “pulling herself up on a ledge” animation:
But the more you play, the more abilities you unlock. The first couple aren’t all that special (digging open tunnels at predetermined points and pushing blocks kind of seem like things she could have done on her own), but before long she obtains a double-jump and the ability to swap between the blue and yellow block sets without having to hit the magical air stuff. That’s when the game hits its stride:
Since the double-jump is usually a big enough boost for Ayo to reach platforms without having to slowly pull herself onto them, it speeds up the game significantly and makes everything feel much more fluid and enjoyable. And whereas the early game is fairly easy, having to carefully time when you swap between block sets mid-jump adds to the difficulty quite a bit in a way that feels fair:
There’s some bad mixed in here
It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. Even after playing for almost two hours, I still have no idea if there’s fall damage. I’ve certainly died from falling, but I’ve also fallen the exact same distance and survived it for some reason:
Part of me is convinced that the game is programmed so that Ayo dies if she falls below the camera’s viewport and that’s what happened there. This wouldn’t be a problem if the camera played ball, but it sometimes becomes fixed in place until Ayo reaches a certain threshold, at which point it swings over to center her:
And that’s not only true of side-to-side movement. It can also be slow moving down, which causes many jumps to be weirdly blind. This game would definitely be bettered if there was some way of moving the camera down (like in old console games where you could hold down and it’d eventually give you better look of what’s below you). If such a thing exists, I’ve yet to figure out how to accomplish it.
There are also a small handful of bugs, though thankfully only cosmetic ones. At one point, I was really struggling to get past some lava. Eventually I landed on a platform that crumbles shortly after you stand on it, but moved to a block that can move in the lava (by standing on its edge—that took a little figuring out at first). When I moved the block under the platform, though, it started to get a bit shake without breaking (this happens about a minute into the video). That’s entirely harmless, though. Another harmless bug I found was when I tried going the other way through a tunnel after dying, only to have Ayo do the tunneling animation from the wrong end:
To be totally honest, I find bugs like that more endearing than anything. And hey, I haven’t come across anything game-breaking or otherwise maddening like in Never Alone yet, which is a positive. The next two things I’m going to mention are the only things I was actually irritated by, and it starts with lightning. Right off the bat, the full-screen flashing effect is overwhelming and means that this game can’t be recommended to anyone sensitive to that type of thing. An equally annoying problem is that the lightning seems to be random (and the timing varies slightly), so having it strike ahead of you while you’re trying to move quickly and jump off of a breaking platform feels like a random number generator is setting you up to lose:
Finally, we have this scorpion. This EFFING SCORPION. The very first scorpion you face is a nightmare because it’s not obvious how you’re supposed to get around it. You can’t jump over it without dying. You can’t push it. Ayo has no other moves at this point in the game, and it doesn’t move close enough to the edge to use the added height to clear it. I managed to land on the tail for a split-second once, which was enough to make me think that this was the way past it, but nope.
Maddening beyond description. This thing was such a barrier for so long that I feel like it should have a special name that the annals of gaming history will forever know it by. Something like “Scully the bad times scorpion.” Ugh. What’s so frustrating about this thing is that the solution here isn’t obvious at all. You have to bait it into attacking (something never required up to this point), and only then jump over it:
There’s more of the good, though
Scully’s reign of terror aside, I really like this game thus far. The art style is great (including a bunch of little touches like shooting stars in the background during a nighttime stage and Ayo’s clothes changing when she switches between the blue and yellow blocks), the platforming evens out once the double-jump is acquired, and the game is constantly throwing new things at you. At one point there are a bunch of jackals—or at least what I think are jackals—and my first instinct since things hadn’t been too hazardous was, “aww, these things are adorable.” Then I noticed that they became physical and non-physical based on which blocks are active, which was kind of interesting. Then I tried getting close and the things lunged at me while barking. Now, I’ve played a lot of games over the years and had a lot of things jump at my characters, but the rest of the game lulled me into such a sense of false security that having something suddenly lunge was unexpectedly terrifying.
It’s also refreshing that there’s no killing in this game (thus far, at least). You can jump on early enemies, but they’re mildly inconvenienced at best. And if you’re going, “hey, I totally saw you trick a jackal into jumping into a pit in that last video, thereby killing it,” I’ll remind you that they’re spirit jackals and obviously don’t count.