According to UNICEF, women and children in impoverished nations spend over 200 million hours every day collecting water. They undertake this journey so their families can have clean drinking water, on average lugging a 30-pound container back to their homes. The walk can take anywhere from twenty minutes to a whole hour for a round trip. Ayo: A Rain Tale is a puzzle platformer that focuses on such people. If only the end result was as noble as the intent.
Ayo stands out in odd ways that make it equal parts beautiful and boring in the same breath. The artwork itself is stunning, the gentle brushstrokes of the fire burning and the silhouettes of people in the background giving a sense of calm. Even the soundtrack is soothing, a gentle accompaniment to the harsh environments this brave little girl has to travel through.
You have to collect these floating blue droplets in each level that represent the “water” Ayo needs to bring back to her family. From walking through a harsh desert storm to falling into a dry well, her journey could be interpreted as heightened through the eyes of a child; her imagination running wild as she imagines these adventures taking place on her daily walk to fetch precious water.
Ayo did seem to go out of its way to break away from traditional platforming formula by increasing the difficulty and puzzles for each level. The hardest challenges I faced was attempting tricky jumps to avoid falling into thorny bushes every couple of feet. But even this never felt frustrating. If I failed to make a tricky jump I was placed back in nearly the same spot where I’d failed the first time.
It felt nice just to be thrown back in instead of having to restart an entire level, which is most likely to accommodate younger players. Throw in lizards with fire coming out of their backs and boiling lava, it’s hard not to have a good time.
Ayo isn’t bad, I liked it, but it did start to get repetitive after traveling through a bunch of levels. Completion only ever felt truly rewarding when reaching various statues granting new powers to make my way around. A statue of a mouse granted me the ability to tunnel through dirt while another shaped like a hog allowed me to move boulders. These helped to keep the gameplay dynamic, but over time could feel lackluster. I started to feel as if I wasn’t being challenged but instead being guided through a pretty painting.
I realize Ayo: A Rain Tale aims to bring awareness to the importance of making clean drinking water available to people and their families in Sub-Saharan Africa, but this noble intention felt slightly out of place. I could almost recommend it for the beautiful artwork and elegant storytelling alone, but repetitive gameplay isn’t an ideal match for either of them. While I praise the kind heartedness messaging and clear artistic talent, the actual game never felt like the best way to raise awareness about such an important issue.