It’s a story as old as time: the maniacs blew it all up, and the few unfortunate survivors are forced to pick up the pieces and start over with civilization. However, Double Fine’s Rad goes a step further. Another apocalypse has occurred, and according to the ubiquitous narrator, the one-word response of the survivors is the correct and logical one: “Seriously?” However, a new hero emerges from the second stack of ashes. This is our Rad Review.
Rad Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: Double Fine
- Publisher: Namco Bandai Games America Inc., BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
- Genres: Roguelike
- Release Date: August 20, 2019
Rad Review: Gameplay
You, the Remade, end-of-time weapon-wielding child ordered by the Menders – the new architects of the time. To go out in the treacherous radioactive hell landscape armed with nothing more than a baseball bat and host of wicked yet dominant physical mutations to find a new source of power for humanity. That sounds serious on paper. In practice, but it is Double Fine, a developer who seems physically incapable of creating a game that is a damper.
The Menders empower the Remade with the help of a magical keytar, to cry out loud. Indeed, the most striking and fascinating thing about Rad is immediately the appearance of the apocalypse. The Earth is ruined, nuclear-blasted multiple times, but the point is overgrown with luminescent plants, snakes, delicate vines, and neon shocks of pink, green, and purple. These are less the dead worlds of Fallout of Rage and more of a bizarre Saturday morning cartoon from Alex Garland’s Annihilation.
However, Rad is an ambiguity of a title for the game that refers not only to the irradiated nuclear landscape but also to the overwhelming nostalgia of the 1980s. The thriving storyteller can be pulled from any number of classic action movies. The hub world where the last people make their home is an oddball from the early 1980s to the humorous, smart, friendly characters who all bear the names of famous characters from movies from the ’80s.
The soundtrack is full of catchy off-brand riffs on such memorable tracks as Van Halen’s Jump and Michael Jackson’s Beat It. You can push the ’80s vibe further with some of the CRT filters in options; however, it makes an already busy aesthetic look almost invisible. And in your opinion, you need all the benefits and exposure you can get. As fun and inviting as Rad appears on the surface, it soon becomes clear that Rad is especially aggravatingly hard.
It’s a roguelike, so the levels are all randomly arranged, but otherwise, it’s a deceptively simple old-fashioned action game from above. When you first make your way to the wasteland, you can jump, hit things with a bat, and dodge. There are some unique tricks you can use, such as a jump kick, an air raid, and a remote lunge, but the game doesn’t tell you anything about all of this at first. There is no real tutorial or in-game hint system. Instead, it occasionally drops new tips during its extensive loading screens. It took me hours to get the advice informing me about the attack, and it felt like hours had been wasted, not knowing it was there.
A mild learning curve would be beautiful if the wastelands weren’t as brutal. Still, despite a wide variety of enemies, with reasonably predictable attack patterns, you are far too vulnerable in this game for far too long. When things start, you get three hearts. Enemy hits generally remove half a heart, and once they are gone, start over. There are power-ups that you get after every boss who gives extra hearts and divides one of your hearts in three instead of half, but you will be surprised how little difference that makes.
If there is more than one enemy on the screen at any given time, cheap hits are a constant threat. No matter how well you do while running, walking into the wrong area, and entering the wrong group of enemies that all strike at the wrong time means it can be game over in seconds. In cases where it isn’t, health is such a frustratingly rare commodity that even if you’re extra careful from then on, you may have to go with just half a heart for a long time and bleed to death all over the cracked sidewalk.
What you do get is this: every enemy you kill generates a certain amount of radiation that you can absorb, necessarily as XP. Once you level up, your body gets a random new, freaky mutant power. This is Rad’s biggest hook. The skills themselves are incredibly imaginative and wonderfully animated. You could end up with something as simple as a set of bat wings, essentially giving you a double jump and glide, or throwing your arm like a boomerang.
Or you could end up with something just crazy like growing deformed twins out of your weapon arm to expand your range and attack power or the ability to give birth to two spider baby versions of you that will come into combat and attack enemies. When you go back to the hub world with them, the reactions of the NPCs are some of the hilarious dialogues in the game. As conceptually imaginative as these powers are, some are much more useful than others, and given how quickly death comes to you in this game, getting weak at the beginning means your entire run is doomed.
The good news is that the longer you play, the more likely you are to finally earn permanent upgrades that make the early stages a breeze. There is an entirely separate pool of stable XP that you receive after your death, which unlocks new characters, game variations, and upgrades. You earn the opportunity to buy items on credit after depositing enough tires in the bank, and the local retailer gets better and better the more you buy.
Rad Review: Conclusion
Certain things make this game worthwhile. The story has some decent twists and turns as the mostly teenage population of the hub world wonders the usefulness of all these legends. The boss fights are getting more and more daring in design as you progress. I still discover new mutations, even with the first upgrade after hours of playing. And regardless of an element of visual clutter, this is an immersively colorful world to hang out in for a while.
It’s just that Rad’s pleasures take more work than is necessary to obtain, and that work can feel thankless at times. Double Fine’s hyper-colored take on an ’80s synthpop apocalypse makes for pleasant nostalgia in the best of times, but there’s a reason we all switched to grunge in the end.
It’s a story as old as time: the maniacs blew it all up, and the few unfortunate survivors are forced to pick up the pieces and start over with civilization. However, Double Fine’s Rad goes a step further.