Rating: None Given (Probably E)
Ayo: A Rain Tale is a platformer that takes a young girl on a journey through dangers both natural and magical. By traversing wild lands and surviving encounters with evil spirits, she searches for water to bring home to her family. It’s a short game, but one packed with heart and love for craft.
Ayo uses traditional African folklore to help tell its story. It has a shamanistic undertone. Ayo’s journey is aided by an old spirit man as well as two mischievous fairies. Ayo also runs into two dark spirits, one in the form of a snake, the other a bull.
A few creatures, like snakes and scorpions, attack you. There are a few ways to die, like falling too far or drowning in lava.
Ayo travels far to bring water to her village, simulating a strong message in perseverance. The game’s Steam page links to a press release about water collection on UNICEF’s site.
It’s rare that a game with a genuine message applicable to real life comes out, though on a site like Geeks Under Grace, it’s something worth considering. Ayo: A Rain Tale demonstrates how to do a game with a message well, which is something I wish to see in more games from developers, Christian or not. Normally I’d want to keep reviews as centered on the game as possible, but since Inkline Ltd. puts a UNICEF article right on the game’s Steam page, I feel compelled to talk about how the game functions as both a game as well as a platform.
In addition, the game also is rare in that it portrays an unusual setting. Ayo is a young girl who lives in a village in Africa. It’s never explicitly stated where, but the muddy huts and sandy ground suggest somewhere in the savannah. Ayo’s mother sends her off to fetch a canister of water. Ayo ties said canister to her back, and the rest of the game is her traveling through different environments.
Along the way, she comes across a wise shaman who gives her bits of knowledge and advice, as well as the guidance of two fairies. Over the course of the game, Ayo moves from African plain to volcanoes all the way up to storm clouds. These two spirits guide her along the way, granting her different powers to traverse the terrain, like double jumping or crawling.
Ayo: A Rain Tale is a platformer, and a good one at that. The controls are simple and intuitive. This is the first game in a long time where I used the actual arrow keys. Sometimes the levels can feel a little maze like, but I never felt truly lost. Most of the stages are small enough that a little exploring will get you where you need to go.
There are a few puzzle elements in the game, and most of them aren’t difficult. One of the small complaints I have is that sometimes the elements needed to progress aren’t explained beforehand. There’s a part of the game where, to cross a river of lava, Ayo has to drop a boulder into it, and then stand to one side of it, causing it to float across. The game beforehand never explained that boulder could move while in the lava, and since the part where this is needed also includes a second boulder positioned over the lava just barely out of reach, my first thought was to make a boulder bridge.
This is also a game that looks good. The animation is nice and flowing, and the backgrounds are very suggestive and atmospheric. It’s a platformer that feels like a real environment instead of just a 2D stage. The game uses cel-shading and is similar in tone and style to games like Journey or Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
As stated before, Ayo: A Rain Tale is a game trying to portray a message and explore a genre often overlooked in video games. The message is clear: many women in Sub-Saharan Africa go to great lengths to collect even the most basic necessities of life. The reason the game works so well is that both aspects—the game and the message—are strengthened by the other. The game takes you across different realms and face to face with sandstorms and thunderstorms, and it works because there’s a subliminal idea that this quest should yield water for Ayo and her family. And the message works best as a game, because the struggles that Ayo goes through to get water are struggles she shares with you.
This game says a lot through what it doesn’t say (overtly). Ayo: A Rain Tale trusts its audience to fill in the blanks and doesn’t condescend, avoiding a main pitfall of message based games. The game can be enjoyed without the overlaying message, but the message makes it stronger without being a distraction. It would’ve been so easy for Ayo: A Rain Tale to tell us that these things are happening, but as with any great piece of media, the game knows to show and not tell.
Ayo: A Rain Tale also gives us a glimpse into the cultures of sub-saharan Africa, and like with its message, knows that less is more. The game suggests interesting things through details: Ayo lives in a hut, though the water basin on her back looks like a modern gas canister. She meets a few spirits and an old shaman who impart knowledge about hope and togetherness. Even her power upgrades are flavored after different animals. Her double jump is granted to her by an antelope spirit, and her ability to push boulders comes from a warthog.
I only wish the game explored this more, which is not a bad complaint to have. Ayo gives just a small glimpse at folklore from the region, but it’s enough to wet my appetite. Cultural references like this are rarely found in mainstream games, and Ayo: A Rain Tale makes the case for more of it in the industry. With strong gameplay, a message worth saying, and an introduction into a culture gets little attention, Ayo, a Rain Tale is a great casual platformer to explore. It’s not only fun, but it both edifies and educates without being preachy or boring. At the price of only $10, it’s worth a play.
Review code generously provided by Novy Unlimited.
The Bottom Line
Ayo: A Rain Tale spices up a platformer with a unique vision and backs it up with a strong central idea, making what would otherwise be a merely adequate game a rare gem.