During this bustling holiday season that is traditionally flooded with AAA game releases being sold at huge discounts to guarantee a place under the tree, it’s all too easy to overlook the wonderful and lesser known titles being created by visionary indie devs. Ayo: A Rain Tale is one such title; a charming, colorful masterpiece that mixes puzzles and platforming with a dash of educational discovery as you join Ayo on her challenging adventure to fetch water for her family while facing all the perils of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Much like the 2014 game, Never Alone that dealt with Alaskan Native culture, Ayo: A Rain Tale uses thoughtful gameplay mixed with periodic splash screens of text to convey educational and inspirational tidbits of wisdom. The actual game mixes traditional platform jumping and climbing to navigate increasingly complex level design in search of 54 water collectibles. As you’d expect, some are obvious and others require exploration off the beaten path or even the solving of some fairly ingenious puzzles.
I’m a huge fan of the storybook art style used for Ayo, one that favors a simplistic watercolor design for the characters and smooth scrolling backgrounds yet somehow manages to work in fancy effects like colored lighting and crisp design elements that pop off the screen. A day and night cycle periodically changes up the look and feel of the game, and I was impressed at how relaxed I would get as a player during the cooler night sequences after empathically dealing with the oppressive heat of the orange-hot daytime color pallets. Even going underground seemed to offer a visual respite from the heat, at least until molten lava entered the picture.
Puzzles are part observation and navigation whereby you actually need to spot the unobvious branch in the path and find a way to get there – usually with a water icon reward as your prize. The more traditional puzzles involve blue and orange plumes of polygons and vapor that will turn matching colored platforms solid allowing you to climb and walk on them. It’s a simple either/or proposition in that if blue is on then orange is off and vice versa, yet the concept is used masterfully to create some increasingly thoughtful navigation puzzles.
As the game progresses Ayo will gain additional abilities like being able to crawl through narrow tunnels using the power of the mouse, or summoning the strength of a rhino to move large boulders, or the dexterity of the antelope to double-jump, or the power of the owl to change the color of her shawl to toggle the orange and blue platforms without a natural trigger. It’s a great system of progressive powers that perfectly match the ramping challenges of the gameplay and level design.
At its core Ayo: A Rain Tale is a fairly standard platformer that checks off all the game design boxes while adding in a rare and appreciated cultural significance to give the game a bit of social relevance we don’t typically see in the genre – it’s been three years since Never Alone; the last game to do this. Complementing the visuals is a fantastic audio package that blends in serviceable sound effects and a delightful soundtrack to set the mood and fuel the intensity in those rare moments of action and suspense.
My only minor complaint is with the flow and movement of Ayo herself. Her animation seems a bit mechanical, and I especially didn’t like the jump-hang-pull-up cycle of movement every time you did a platform jump. Instead of scrambling to the next ledge Ayo would hang from her fingertips forcing you to push up to complete the vault to the ledge. At least there was good collision detection so she almost magnetically attaches to a ledge or platform. I had very few deaths from falling in this game, and if you do happen to die the game is great about check pointing itself frequently. Expect 3-4 hours to finish the game and add a couple more hours if you plan to find all the water, either on your first pass or going back and finding them later.
Ayo: A Rain Tale is a delightful game that the entire family will enjoy thanks to its charming art style, challenging yet approachable platform gameplay, and immersive soundtrack. The game may resonate even more with girl-gamers due to the lead character, but there is definitely something to be enjoyed and lessons to be learned by all from this wonderful platforming adventure that no one should miss.