Having not quite grown up in the eighties, as I was born in them and only really grew up in the nineties, I’ll never quite understand the fascination of the 80s. It had decent music, loads of neon, spawned Dungeon & Dragons, some crazy hairdos but right now between Ready Player One and Stranger Things, it’s almost back with a vengeance. Taking another sort of vengeance is Double Fine’s latest project, RAD, a roguelike that puts the 80s back in the spotlight even if it after the second apocalypse.
Because surviving one apocalypse was clearly not enough, humanity somehow survived a second one. Barely. Taking place after that second catastrophic event, this group of survivors are running low on power in order to keep things running. Needing to find a new source of power, one of several teenagers must undergo a transformation to be able to survive the outlands where they are to search for that source of power. Corrupted and poisonous, this transformation will allow you to survive and even thrive as to save what is left of humanity, they’re going to need to give it up their own even if that means growing a few tentacles or becoming a snake head.
In your standard mode, it really doesn’t matter who you choose as any character is really just a teen with a baseball bat. But this bat isn’t just any bat, it’s a magical one that will make its way back even if you don’t. Yeah I thought that was pretty reassuring too. So setting off towards a most certain death, you pick up your bat and head through a portal to crazy town.
Visually, RAD is well… rad. It’s flashy, it has vibrant neon colours, the lands whether on the surface with mutated vegetation or below in the steel tunnels built years back are pretty to look at. Actually the part that impressed me the most is how a good deal of enemies are blended into the environment until you come up on them. See an oil drum in the distance? It could be one or it could be the helmet of some mutated creatures just waiting for you to get closer. Others can be hiding in the vegetation or just flying out of sight. It’s neat as they don’t feel tacked on.
Moving around the environment is pretty easy, you run around, you jump, and you hit things. Even the controls are fairly simple though that is a bit of a deception. Run around. Check. Jump. Check. Hit things? How? You can swing normally, you can hold up for a charge, you can jump and then hit, you can jump smack for more damage and then turn it into a combo chain. One button with many different functions before moving into the twin stick controls for shooting at your enemies if you have the powers to do so. It’s easy to pick up which is nice but the depth is what makes it stand out and not get boring after the first few mobs.
So in a way, RAD is a bit of an RPG, but just kind of? You don’t have experience per say but everytime that you defeat an enemy you get essence that accumulates into new mutations. Fill up the bar? Start throwing fireballs. Fill up the bar again? Grow a tentacle to smack things, or get an extra pair of legs, or have your head turn into that of a cobra to bite enemies and poison them. You never really know what you’re going to get so as an added bonus to these, there are shrines of sorts that will bestow even more mutations to you for the cost of nothing. You should up, you take the mutation, you continue marching on your merry way. That’s why it’s an RPG, but just kind of, because you don’t even need to kill most enemies to complete a stage and get mutations. It helps, and you’ll want to, because bosses are big, bad, and “alphas”.
Bosses are big versions of the mobs that can be found while exploring each location to find the other types of shrines that unlock the actual boss room. Once you get into this room there’s no way out but forward. It’s you, the boss, and more often than not it’s super annoying minions that you’ll have to lay a beat down for. Once they’ve been taken out? It’s a bit of Legend of Zelda in here as you get an extra heart, or well your heart mutates for more health. If you’ve succeeded, you can move forward. If you’ve lost, well you’re basically dead and game over.
Winning the boss fight grants you two paths. The left will bring you back to town while the right will bring you over to the next stage if you will. Going back to town has a few bonuses such as being able to drop off any currency you have rattling in your pockets or buying some much needed items to help you survive. Sticking with the theme, your currency are cassette tapes that you can exchange for goods. Dropping these into a robot’s ATM service, and you can safely store them so that even if you die? They’ll still be around like the baseball bat. Once you’ve gone from being a basic teenager into a platinum member, you can do more with the ATM service in the wild than simply being told you aren’t good enough to use the service.
And that’s it really, you choose a character, you go out, and you see how far you can make it while also uncovering what actually happened through the scraps of information that find. The gameplay is pretty solid, the visual effects are nice even to the point of there being a CRT option to curve your screen’s edges into an old school television style. Adding in a challenge mode with a leaderboard letting you go about the adventure but with modifiers such as Glass Cannon in which you do double damage but also take it, and there’s more than enough to keep Roguelike lovers going for a while.
The only part that didn’t jive for me, and it was a bit part, was how the visuals could lag a bit and the view always seemed too zoomed in. It’s a bit hard to see what’s in front of you and when you are dealing with ledges that you can fall off of? That lag is enough at times to send you right over the ledge with how fast your characters can move. It may not sound like much but over time it can be quite annoying especially when you have to truly slow down to not die by running over a ledge while looking for health.