There are three qualities that will generally pique my interest in a video game. Bright, rich colours, a synth soundtrack, and an addictive gameplay loop with a sense of progression.
RAD, from Double Fine productions courtesy of Bandai Namco, hits all these beats, on top of being a challenging, hilarious game with some very creative character designs and powerups. Heavy on the pop culture references and set in a post-apocalyptic 80s wasteland, RAD is a fun and difficult Roguelite that fans of games like Dead Cells and The Binding of Isaac are sure to enjoy.
RAD takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic setting that finds humanity trying for a third time not to screw things up by uncovering the secrets of the Founders AKA First-Gen humans, and the Menders AKA Second-Gen humans—who tried to clean up the mess of their predecessors and somehow made things worse. Players take on the role of one of several unlockable heroes, each with a different retro-future outfit, reminiscent of the 2015 film Turbo Kid. They will then venture out from the safety of the hub world into the Fall AKA The Wasteland. The entire game has a “The distant future of….1994” kind of appeal to it. “Ancient” technology like floppy disks, energy drinks, and cassette tapes are littered around the Wasteland and function as keys, currency, health items etc.… If the world ended in the 1980s, the future might look something like RAD.
A good Roguelite needs a few things to be a solid experience. Tight, fluid combat and traversal mechanics, a sense of progression, and plenty of awesome powerups and items that all work together to create a fun and addictive gameplay loop. The very nature of games like this—repeated runs on procedurally generated levels—requires these mechanics to be sound or players won’t want to do “one last run”. Fortunately, RAD shines in these departments…especially when it comes to the powerups.
The basic character functions include running, jumping, and swinging a bat. Players have a small set of varied attacks: regular swing, a charge up roundhouse swing, a leap and attack, and a ground smash. While this may seem basic at first, when the mutations (RAD for powerups), quirks, and artifacts come into the play, the options are nearly limitless for combinations and playstyles. Players can have three active mutations and multiple passive mutations. The latter range from classic buffs like being able to walk through fire, poison, or electricity, to more offensive options like a stronger melee attack. The active mutations must be…activated to have an effect, and usually, have a cool-down of some sort. All the mutations can be upgraded as well, once again exponentially increasing the diversity of playstyle options.
The creativity and charm of these powerups must also be mentioned. It’s enough to give the player a ranged attack that throws fireballs, but we’ve been there and done that before. This is the mutated, radioactive future, so why not also offer a mutation that allows the player to lay eggs that hatch into spider-like creatures with clones of the player’s head on them? Other unique mutations include having your head morph into a Ghost Rider-esque flaming skull that can be launched like a cannonball at enemies or a tiny booger-shaped “homie” that lives on your shoulder and fires projectiles? At the time of writing this review, I have only unlocked less than half of the potential mutations, and a driving factor in the replayability department is to see what else is out there. Double Fine has done a fantastic job of not only offering a crazy amount of power combinations but making them original and often hilarious as well.
The enemy variety is also top-notch as far as creativity goes, and the developers have certainly pushed beyond the classic wasteland tropes of ghouls, zombies, and roving gangs of Mad Max style bandits. Enormous trilobites, tentacle multi-snouted land octopi that shoot fire, acid-spitting bats, aggressively poisonous mushroom people, toxic waste goblins…the list goes on. Enemies that are bosses at the end of one level will become commonplace later on. Once again, a solid sense of progression and increasing difficulty that makes for a good roguelite.
Visually speaking, RAD is an absolute treat for someone like myself who enjoys games that are bright and colourful. Blame the PS3 era if you will, but I’m very over the greys, browns, and blacks of days gone by. Each level is doused in every colour, and the vivid, neon colour scheme perfectly fits the aesthetic of the game and allows for some very gorgeous characters and effects. In a game where you’re spitting acid and throwing exploding heads at multiple enemies, it’s good to have distinct colours to help differentiate targets and projectiles. If you’re searching for high-texture, ultra-realistic graphics, look elsewhere. RAD is a goofy, cartoony game and the character designs and colours reflect that. However, the framerate often dropped quite considerably in crowded situations, but that is hopefully something that shouldn’t be super difficult to fix with a patch down the line.
What’s a retro-future game that heavily leans on 80’s nostalgia and culture without a bangin’ synth soundtrack? The music in RAD is fantastic, and not only does is perfectly encapsulate the era the game riffs on, but is actually super groovy and catchy. When you’re on the surface the notes are poppy and energetic, evoking that adventurous feeling of a Goonies or The Wizard. However, once you journey below the surface into various bunkers and caves you’ll be exploring, the chords get heavier and more intense, more in the vein of a Terminator than any breezy kid’s film. The instrumentals used are deliberate and incredibly fitting for the setting and would be very listenable on its own.
RAD is a fun but challenging Roguelite with some incredibly clever and inventive twists on the formula, while staying true to the base mechanics of the genre. Catchy tunes, gorgeous visuals, and an addictive gameplay loop make for an excellent entry into the stable of games like Dead Cells. It doesn’t break the mould but has plenty of innovative and unique qualities to allow it to stand on its own as a fantastic game. While there were some noticeable framerate issues that definitely need addressing, everything else is on point. RAD is simply a fun game that I continually want to go back to and see what’s next.