What’s the worst you had to do for water? Forgo a bath for a day or two? Skip laundry for a couple of days? Brush your teeth with bottled water? Or how about crossing the desert, traversing the underworld, and walking through a storm cloud just to get a jug of water?
Ayo: A Rain Tale by Inkline Games aims to highlight the struggles faced by Sub-Saharan African women just to get clean water. Citing a 2016 UNICEF report, Inkline uses the medium of video games to raise awareness about the lack of accessible clean water.
Who is Ayo?
Ayo is a desert dweller who finally turned old enough to start venturing out daily for water. Ayo seems to be all smiles about this, never protesting one bit about her task. Her mother, along with the village elder, sends her off and wishes her a safe passage. For them, this is a routine occurrence that everybody must go through.
You learn the controls as soon as movement is relinquished – left/right to move and spacebar to jump. The beginning area does its best to acclimate you with the terrain, using tree branches and stacks of boulders as platforms. The game also briefly informs you that purple thorns temporarily hurt Ayo, while red ones will immediately kill her. There are more special mechanics for Ayo to learn later, all of which are introduced one at a time.
A Tale of Struggles.
The first area is also where you learn that Ayo takes a while to turn to the other direction, and that she always clings to the edge of the platform. The cling mechanic is great for the most part – this enables Ayo to reach platforms that seem unreachable. But as the game goes on, the clinging becomes less of an assistance and more of a required mechanic. Platforms are far enough that Ayo is always clinging to it and trying to climb up, which really slows everything down. It’s even more of a nail-biter when the platform disintegrates under her weight.
The slow turning, on the other hand, is clunky. Some of the platforms are small and require precise jumps, which in turn require proper positioning. It’s hard to adjust where she stands if she has to spend an entire animation frame just to turn.
It’s also frustrating how Ayo is immediately locked into a slide whenever her toe touches a slope. There’s no way to counteract this – once she starts sliding there’s no stopping her. The entire ordeal becomes a very dangerous gamble because the other end could either be a safe area or a pile of deadly thorns. There’s no way to know what’s at the bottom unless you’ve been there before.
On the other hand, the camera does not help with the view most of the time. Its focus is fixed on Ayo so it moves up and down as she jumps and falls. It also takes the liberty of zooming in and out. Unlike in older Sonic games where you can crouch and take a peek below, you usually just have to throw caution to the wind as you jump or slide down. When you’re not taking a chance with a camera, you’re having to deal with its attempts to keep up as you move around. It’s discombobulating to say the least.
A Tale of Beauty.
You don’t have to struggle with the camera to realize that Ayo: A Rain Tale has a beautiful aesthetic. Its art style complements each area perfectly – it’s easy on the eyes but never gets in the way of gameplay. The beauty sometimes can make you forget that you’re there not just to enjoy the scenery, but also to struggle with Ayo.
The game is quiet for the most part, relying mostly on ambient sounds and Ayo’s grunts when applicable. The background music plays softly in the background, peacefully existing there until you decide to notice it. It’s there to help you settle into the stage and focus on the task at hand. More often than not, you’ll end up paying more attention to Ayo’s footsteps and other sound effects.
Acquired magical skills are also tastefully designed. They’re never flashy and they’re discreet enough to give you a hint of what you’re using. These skills are based on various animals, and the way Inkline handled their presentation from discovery to acquisition is simply superb.
A tale that must end.
After a boss “fight” that starts as sudden as it ends, it’s time for Ayo to finally go home. The sequence of Ayo going home to the heat of the desert while carrying a container full of water is an interesting one. It’s not that hard to make it through, and once you do you’ll see familiar faces celebrating for her return.
That celebration is all the more bitter when you realize that she has to do it all over again the next day. And that’s really Inkline’s goal – to inform us that all of these troubles are a daily occurrence for these people. While we as players have the option to declare an in-game challenge as “not worth it,” these girls don’t have a choice. They have to get water because their family depends on it.
However, it’s hard to ignore the technical difficulties of the game. Intentional or not, movement is stiff and can get downright frustrating at times. Some of the puzzles are tedious at best and cryptic at worst. If gameplay is the only way to teach us a lesson, Inkline falls short on that task. But when looking through the entire picture, it’s easy to ignore the game’s shortcomings and appreciate it for the goal it’s trying to accomplish. It’s a laudable and valiant effort, and Inkline should continue with these ventures.
Note: Inkline Games provided a copy for review purposes.