Review – RAD
Who doesn’t love the 80’s? It was a time for big haircuts, big productions, and big changes. RAD from Double Fine and Bandai Namco is a new roguelike with an excellent 80’s feel and the promise of a totally tubular time. But does it manage to be as funky fresh as it promises or is it, like, bogus? Let’s grab some Squeezeits, put on some Poison in our Walkmans, and find out.
RAD takes place in an alternate reality where we experienced an apocalypse in the 80’s as well as a second apocalypse shortly thereafter. It wasn’t necessarily an outcome of the Cold War, but we did somehow inevitably blow ourselves up with nukes. The survivors call themselves the “Menders” and have desperately tried to cling to existence by filtering the remaining water and farming what little resources were left in the wake of the destruction. With their food about to run out, they have to ask one of their own to venture out into the wasteland and search for new sources of food or a way to undo the damage done from the fallout.
Unfortunately, that’s about as deep as RAD gets. It sets itself up for a potentially awesome story and then does almost absolutely nothing with it. I suppose a game involving wildly dressed teenagers fighting neon monsters doesn’t need much in the way of a rich narrative (even though that’s basically the reason Stranger Things is so popular). However, I would have liked to have seen something more than just the basic premise of the game with nothing more beyond it. The whole thing felt as flat as Madonna’s buttocks.
The gameplay is your standard roguelike fare. You start a run and have to defeat all enemies and light every beacon needed to progress without dying. Throughout the playthroughs you collect cassette tapes as your main currency to purchase various items from vendors. You’re able to deposit these into your bank when you return to the main town hub to then use for your next runs. You will also collect floppy disc’s which are used as key’s to unlock chests and hidden rooms within each level. Chests often give you health items and secret rooms will provide relics for mutations or an abundance of currency items. If you die, you lose all of your mutations, floppy disc’s, and cassette tapes that you have on you, so deposit your cassette tapes every chance you get. The levels reconfigure themselves after every playthrough, so you’ll never find the same layout twice. As previously stated, it’s your standard roguelike.
However, RAD is a little different with how it approaches your moves and powers. At the start you’re imbued with the ability to absorb all the of radiation around you, instead of perishing from it. Once your radiation levels get high enough, you’ll mutate in any number of ways. You can get active abilities like spawning mutant babies, gaining an arm that throws fireballs, or growing a set of spikes that thrust out of your body. You can also receive passive effects like becoming immune to toxins or fire, or gaining health when you defeat an enemy. Every one of these mutations is completely randomly generated, so there’s no telling what you’re in store for and every run will feel unique.
Despite the ever changing layouts and randomized mutations, I have to admit the RAD is a bit of a slow burn. I was bored with it at first, since the enemies felt very similar and the the game only seemed to want to give me the same few mutations over and over. I really didn’t see the appeal to this game since it seemed so stale early on. Upon seeing the index, epically called “The Tome of the Ages”, I saw that there weren’t just the three to four mutations I had been encountering regularly, but in fact there were around fifty. I decided to press on and see what else I could uncover.
Before long I was able to unlock more mutations and items which started giving each run some much needed diversity. Then it became addicting to see what new abilities were awaiting me and what fun combinations I could come up with utilizing these various traits. At one point I had developed a head of a cobra and also had the ability to spawn little mutant mini-me’s, so they each generated with little snake heads as well. It was Indiana Jones’ worst nightmare.
As fun as the multitude of mutation combos can be, the level design leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, the levels change after every run, but in no real drastic way whatsoever. In fact, it’s pretty much the same exact thing, but some of the locations of the statues or NPCs will be in different spots. There’s no real topography changes or environmental differences. The boss battles are located within subterranean sections and every one of their chambers look the same, with the exception of some rocks being in different spots. This is too bad since the various animations for the mutations can be wildly entertaining. The level designs, in contrast, seem lazy.
The enemy designs don’t fare much better, since there are very few enemy categories. They’re just presented in different vivid colors to represent their attack types: neon green are poisonous, hot pink are fire-based, and so on. There’s not a huge variety to the common enemies and this can make stretches of the levels, especially the earlier ones, seem very tedious. The bosses are very unique and stand apart from the rest, thankfully. They each have their own strengths, weaknesses, and gimmicks. They’re not too terribly tough to figure out, but they’re a lot of fun to battle against.
What truly instills the feel of the 80’s in RAD is the soundtrack. The electric guitar solos and heavily synthesized tunes will instantly transport you to a time where shoulder pads, Soft Cell, Loverboy, and Huey Lewis & the News reigned supreme. The sound effects are serviceable enough, but largely forgettable. The true star of the show is the announcer. His over-the-top dramatic presentation of common 80’s slang key phrases like “simoleans” and “bankroll” will make you giggle. At least it did for me. I never thought hearing the pause menu being announced could be so entertaining.
This brings me to my single biggest gripe with RAD. For a Double Fine game, RAD is surprisingly devoid of humor and charm. The announcer is the only component that feels like something from a Double Fine title. I had such high hopes that this game would be chock full of 80’s references and quirky humor, but it hardly had any, save the announcer and the synth-heavy soundtrack. Fans of the genre will enjoy this game, but don’t expect to find anything new here.
The cel-shaded art style and neon pallette really nail the 80’s look. Lazy level designs detract from the experience.
The gameplay mechanics are really basic, but you’ll have lots of fun experimenting with various mutation combinations.
While the overall sound effects are nothing to write home about, the synthesized soundtrack and epic announcer are highlights in RAD.
RAD is a slow starter, but once you unlock a handful of mutations, the gameplay becomes really diverse and fun.
Final Verdict: 7.5
RAD is available now on Xbox One, PC, Switch, and PS4.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of RAD was provided by the publisher.