There aren’t enough games about irradiated children, if you ask me. Fortunately the new game from Tim Schafer’s Double Fine studio is helping us to fill that niche in cooperation with publisher Bandai Namco – This time with Lee Petty (creative mind behind the brilliantly clever Russian Doll inspired puzzler Stacking, and also the excellent Metroidvania Headlander) in the driving seat. Both Roguelites and 80’s themed games have undergone a resurgence of popularity in recent years, so you’d be forgiven for having concerns for originality in this symbiotic crossover of the two. However, for anyone that’s played Lee Petty’s games, you will know that originality is never something he’s lacking, and he’s not failed to deliver on that expectation yet again.
RAD, the equivocally titled action Roguelite from the successful Indie studio is a fabulously stylish, colourful, and quite bonkers 80’s inspired monster smasher set in a world that’s suffered not one, but TWO apocalypses in the late 20th century. It’s now up to one of 8 suitably cliche teenagers to save the World.
I originally played RAD at EGX Rezzed this year, and although I had a blast, there was no exposition or narrative available at the time. The closed beta I’ve just played offered a much more robust experience, giving me some backstory, and a better understanding of the narrative space in which the game is set. Living on the fringes of existence in a settlement that could only be described as a cross between Mad Max and Lord of the Flies, littered with children playing arcade machines and listening to boom boxes, the village Elder asks for a volunteer to venture into the radiated wilds (known as The Fallow) to help breathe life into the world again. Of course the radiation would kill you, so your considerate and somewhat sinister looking elder doses you up on crazy tech voodoo drugs or something, reconstructing your very existence, resulting in the absorbed radiation being turned into radical new powers as opposed to horrific burns and tumours. Thoughtful!
For my first run, I stuck with my original EGX character choice – Thrasher; a wicked green mohawk sporting teenager. Clearly a maverick with a penchant for danger! Once selected, I set out on my journey, equipped with a high tech trusty baseball bat and a lust for life!
What’s immediately apparent about RAD is its zealous and unapologetic dedication to being over the top. Everything from the procedurally generated cartoon-like level design, exotic colour palette, and synth pop/power ballad soundtrack all scream 80’s OTT attitude, and the game’s all the better for it.
Stepping into the stark, dusty landscape you’ll immediately notice a lush, colourful undergrowth of flora erupt beneath you as you walk. This is a beautiful and satisfying little aesthetic quickly illustrating just how you affect the world around you. You’ll soon learn that your actions have consistent impact on your surroundings, creating sudden bursts of life giving energy, spawning beautiful biomes amidst this lifeless world.
My first step into the RAD was a brief one back at EGX, as I got my butt kicked in about 30 seconds, but I knew what to expect this time. Enemies pop up out of the ground, disguised as plants, junk or rocks, and come at you in many shapes, sizes and forms. Initially you’ll only have your baseball bat to whack away at them with, utilising your dodge roll to avoid the onslaught of critters and projectiles, and combining some jump kicks, roll attacks and ground slams to dispatch your foes. The game’s difficulty feels very fair, but by no means easy, rewarding any careless play style with swift punishment.
However, you may feel the baseball bat on its own slightly underwhelming as your sole source of attack, and that’s because it’s designed to be. What you’ll notice at the top of your screen is a progress bar that fills up as you dispatch your enemies, and this is where the game sets itself apart from other Roguelites. As you reach each level of radiation, your teenage titan will mutate and develop some sickeningly cool power. Each power offers some sort of advantage. The first power I unlocked turned my head into a giant flaming skull that I could throw at enemies like a remotely detonated bomb. I liked this. I like this a lot.
Other highlights for me included an Alien Queen inspired tail that popped out crawly critter eggs in a fairly disgusting manner, that then hatched and attacked my enemies for me. I also got a weird looking little Humpty Dumpty creature on my back wearing a baseball cap that spat at the bad guys like some sort of gross turret, and eventually exploded. All of the mutations were great fun to use, and forced you to play the run in different ways. My flaming head mutation afforded me a very aggressive play style whereas my alien tail made me a very effective coward, leaving my endless supply of minions to do the dirty work. Curiosity got the better of me, so in the pause menu I found a lore book that stored the details of every mutation I’d come across. Upon playing the beta, I noted spaces for 57 Exo-Mutations (Physical manifestation) and 31 Endo-Mutations (Internal ability upgrades). That’s pretty damn impressive! I look forward to playing some more and seeing what other grizzly appendages I can grow…
As well as above ground, there’s an expansive world to be found underground in a series of subterranean metallic cave systems. These often include pockets of enemies, collectibles, instant mutation upgrades or in-game shops. Shops, incidentally are bought from using a currency system of cassette tapes that are dropped by enemies or found by destroying objects. Floppy disks can be found that can be used to unlock crates that offer you a variety of artifact that provide further boons. Only one artifact can be carried at a time, though. In one run I was forced to give up the use of my special double jump sneakers in favour of a Rubik’s Cube that showed me where all the hidden items were located on the mini-map, for example. It’s all about balancing what’s the priority for your play style, and it works well.
The caves seem of a much more futuristic origin than the rest of the World, and offer an intriguing element to the story in RAD… Why are they here? Who inhabited them? The whole game is brimming with mystery; with statues, totems, and other relics apparently linked to the neon, radioactive powers on which you flourish. There’s a clear juxtaposition of the old and the new with 20th century junk littered above a futuristic infrastructure, and it will be fascinating to uncover just what’s happened to create this catastrophic existence.
In terms of the game’s mechanics as a Roguelite, it does offer some features that allow your runs to stack on top of one another. At the end of each level, you’re able to return to your settlement before progressing to the next in order to store any amount of cassettes that you’ve collected in a banking system. If you then die, the cassettes remain stored there for your next run character to be able to withdraw, but if you fail to leave your cassettes in the bank, you’ll lose them for good.
Furthermore every run is rewarded with XP based on your success which fills up a progress bar that unlocks new characters and items to be available for future runs. Personally this is my favourite kind of Roguelite – one in which you make progress even when you fail.
I’ve already had a heck of a time playing the RAD Beta, and can’t wait to see how the game mutates between now and its full release on PC, Xbox, PS4 and Switch on 20th August. Already the game feels complete and finely tuned, and it’s definitely one to watch out for in what’s looking to be the most Radical Summer for years.
Interested in the full review? Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to be notified when our full review goes live! And be sure to check out the latest E3 trailer below!