Super Meat Boy, released in 2010, is a fiendishly difficult game. It is an obsessively challenging and frustrating game, which encourages you to try and try again to run the gauntlet of danger and daring, dodging spikes and spinning blades left, right, and centre. But ultimately, Super Meat Boy is a fair, difficult game. You can see most of the obstacles you need to avoid, and only rarely does the game pull a fast one on you and become downright unfair. The same is not the case with Rage in Peace, released recently on PC and Nintendo Switch. Rage in Peace is a brutally unfair game that often seems to delight in sadistically taunting you for your various gruesome and unfortunate demises. Rage in Peace has seemingly one goal, and that is to make you rage quit. To its credit, it is very successful in that endeavour.
Rage in Peace is a story-focused platformer, but should not be confused for being a constantly moving runner such as Bit.Trip Runner. You play as Timmy Malinu, a very boring actuary who has been marked for death. He is visited by the exceedingly charming Grim Reaper and told in no uncertain terms that his number is up, and he is going to die today, via decapitation. Timmy takes this news with remarkable calmness, and expresses that he has only one dream remaining in life; to return home and die peacefully in his bed (via decapitation, presumably). However, the universe is hell-bent on making sure that Timmy perishes as soon as possible, and therefore his journey home will be far from easy. Along every step of the way, obstacles of mortal peril are thrust into his path, and any of these will result in immediate death. It has many overtones of Final Destination, but the story is told in a fairly light-hearted manner, although some of the cutscenes could have done with being a bit shorter, as Timmy will regularly be meeting weird creatures and characters throughout his journey. The plot actually has a pretty strong emotional core, but given the gameplay sections you’ll need to get through to experience it, you may still find yourself routinely screaming (not in fear, but frustration).
Although Rage in Peace plays a fair bit differently to Super Meat Boy, the principles remain the same. There are five worlds to get through, and each world ends with a boss battle (again akin to Super Meat Boy and similar games). You run, mainly right across the screen, dodging the various traps and objects that come hurtling into Timmy’s path. At several points throughout a level you trigger checkpoints to save your progress. The obstacles Timmy faces are routinely weird or bizarre, such as a skateboarding Moai head, or giant spiked frogs. However, the vast majority of these obstacles come at you with zero warning at all. Light fixtures fall on you, barricades collapse on you, spikes shoot up from the ground and snakes drop from vines, all without any kind of prior signalling or telegraphing. This means that you will be dying over, and over, and over, trying to remember where obstacles were placed as they never change locations. Sometimes, a puddle of water will trigger random ice-shards to shoot from the ground and impale Timmy; other times, a puddle is just a puddle. The boss battles aren’t really battles, but instead are memory exercises, as their patterns and the locations of their attacks are identical every time you play. This is, at the end of the day, decidedly cheap. There is definitely a market for this style of game, but the meshing of a fairly interesting and philosophical story with such cheap, repetitive and frustrating gameplay straight up just doesn’t work.
Rage in Peace does look great, and moreover it sounds great. The indie music soundtrack is a great accompaniment and could definitely be listened to independently. The storybook, Castle Crashers-esque cute aesthetic blends nicely with the gruesome deaths inflicted on poor Timmy, and the cutscenes are also nicely animated. For the controls, it’s definitely recommended to play with a controller if on PC, as the precision timing required to pull off many of the jumps and dodges unfortunately cannot be achieved satisfactorily on a keyboard.
Playing Rage in Peace, I came to realize that my tolerance for this kind of trial and error, frustration-inducing gameplay has reached an all-time low. It often feels like this game actively trolls you, rubbing your face in the fact that it knows you’re going to try and jump in a certain way to avoid those spikes, so it places another obstacle where you’re jumping that you can’t see until it’s too late. People with tolerances that are a fair bit higher than mine are probably going to enjoy Rage in Peace quite a lot, and there is stuff to like here. But the message of Rage in Peace’s story, which ultimately focuses on introspection and finding inner peace, was sadly lost for me behind the heart-attack triggering gameplay. It was only relief I felt when I completed a level, and anxiety when I knew I had to start a new one. While it wants you to find greater meaning and a more Zen experience, I ultimately only found one way to do that; to turn the game off.