Ayo: A Rain Tale is a short-yet-touching side-scrolling platformer developed by Inkline Games, a company devoted to raising awareness of humanitarian struggles through symbolic gameplay. Set in the sub-Saharan desert region of Africa, the game follows the journey of Ayo, a young girl about to embark on the perilous journey to collect water for her family and community. Equipped with nothing more than an empty water container, Ayo leaves her village with optimism and hope in the face of a daunting task ahead.
Ayo begins the game with very basic platforming abilities. The earlier levels will require patience for their simplicity, but they do complement the narrative of the increasingly difficult journey across the desert, which is more pertinent as a whole. Her task soon becomes more dangerous as she comes face to face with the harsh elements and creatures, both natural and surreal, and she overcomes challenges in the unwelcoming sands above and isolating caverns below.
Nicely breaking up the levels are the mischievous Asili Twins; two mythical spirits which appear to encourage Ayo and motivate her. Parting with words of wisdom as Ayo gains new abilities inspired by different animals, such as the classic double-jump gifted to her by the gazelle’s spirit, these charming characters add magic to Ayo’s quest when levels may become pesky to complete or a bit monotonous.
This brief exploration of sub-Saharan myth through the Asili Twins is an enchanting addition, but the structure of progressively gaining abilities ultimately means the game is at its most enjoyable toward the end, where level design is more innovative. One particularly interesting ability controls the presence of coloured platforms, requiring timing to switch between platforms mid-jump.. It brings an entertaining, quick-paced puzzle element to the gameplay which is unfortunately not utilised from the beginning.
Yet what the game lacks in exciting gameplay early on, it largely makes up for with a beautiful aesthetic. The game is based around one day-to-night cycle, reflecting the daily burden of water fetching for the women and children of sub-Saharan communities. Through this theme, Inkline have created a unique art style without overly complicated graphics. From the vibrant, hot yellows of the lava in the caves to the warm hues of a desert sunset and the cold, harsh colours of the stormy night; Ayo: A Rain Tale really is an artistic achievement and makes moving through levels more enjoyable where the gameplay doesn’t feel as satisfying.
The game ends with a stark reminder that Ayo’s task is very much a burdensome and dangerous reality for many deprived communities. A particularly pertinent final level suggests that the role of spirituality, hope and endurance in this game are deeper than expected. It’s fantastic to see developers using games to communicate humanitarian issues in this way. Hopefully future projects from Inkline Games will showcase the aesthetic strength seen in Ayo, and maintain the developer’s ability to deliver a hard hitting message with charm, tact and creativity.