Rad (Double Fine Productions) features a challenging rogue-like adventure set to neon lights and dark humor. The basic premise is that the world is a mess and it is up to an endless army of virtually identical teenagers to fix it. You play as one such teenager in a bid to make significant improvements for the world at large. As is the way of such games you will fail, repeatedly, and take over where you left off with another teenager. The game’s aesthetic charm sets it apart from similar games, and its solid gameplay loop keeps it interesting. But it is far from a perfect game, and the role of the rogue-like die is felt pretty keenly here.
While playing Rad I was most often reminded of the classic 2011 game Bastion from Supergiant Games. In many ways, Rad is a more action-oriented, less story-focused take on that game. The camera angle and art styles are very similar, although Rad has a fondness for neon that the other game didn’t. The combat was also similar, but Rad had more of it and virtually no puzzle solving. Rad has a detached narrator reminiscent of Bastion‘s narrator, although it lacks the gruff charm of that game. The narrator in Rad was often more distracting than insightful, actually, and had a tendency to spout odd one-liners that didn’t always match up to the action. I don’t feel that the narrator contributed much, unfortunately.
Where Rad sets itself apart is its presentation. The aforementioned neon lighting is only a small part of this. As your character explores their world you’ll start earning mutations, which both visually change your character and give them powers. The list of mutations is quite extensive, and almost all of them are useful. Their level of helpfulness is highly variable, though, and depending on your playstyle it can be very easy to get mutations that don’t suit you. Fortunately, you get new mutations at a good rate, and even if you never do get lucky with a particular character a new one is just a death away. You will find in early runs that you see a lot of the same mutations over and over, but don’t be fooled. Even though this is a rogue-like game many of the mutations and items only slowly start to uncover over time.
The difficulty curve in Rad is about what you would expect from a rogue-like video game. It’s pretty difficult in the early stages, but with experience and new items, things will become manageable. This is where the randomness of the mutations also comes into play since the right combination can make things exceedingly easy and a bad combination can make even skilled players get stuck. For instance, a mutation I got a few times was a plant that sits on your back and shoots at enemies behind you, and can also be deployed as a turret to fire freely (you can then detonate the turret, just to make things even more absurd). I found quickly that with that plant on my back hitting enemies around without engaging directly became an exceedingly powerful strategy in many cases. There are plenty of other mutations that could similarly be abused if you have the right mindset for it.
Rad is not precisely a good looking game, but it covers the graphical limitations with style. The world you fight through is procedurally generated, but still retains a ton of character. That said, I noticed some repeating patterns after only a few runs so the tileset used to generate areas could have been bigger. The early part of the game runs smoothly enough, but as the game moves on I found framerate issues occasionally cropping up.
Rad Review (PlayStation 4) Final Thoughts:
At a suggested price of $19.99, Rad is a decent enough purchase if you like the genre. If you are a fan of games like Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon you’ll find plenty of the same hooks to draw you in. The neon-infused graphics help draw you in even while the awkward narrator drags you out. The solid combat and controls will give the game staying power, and the massive list of mutations to find will appeal to collectors. If you are not a fan of rogue-like games then stay away as this game adheres closely to the genre trappings. However, those of you looking for a new rogue-like game to scratch the itch should give Rad a look on the system of your choice. I think you’ll find more than enough value for your money and time.