Rad Rodgers Review
Blasted from the past
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can be a source of great motivation, inspiration and has a sneaky way of throwing rose-colored glasses onto a person’s face without them realizing it. It’s what makes franchise reboots and remakes so initially profitable in the entertainment world. Which may explain why so many of us older gamers were burned with the Duke Nukem remake.
So how about something new but familiar? 90s PC gamers will recognize names like Apogee, 3D Realms and Psygnosis for their deluge of DOS titles from back in the day. Mostly platformers, and most of those with a gun, players progressed through dozens of levels collecting largely arbitrary items before facing a final boss and moving on to World 2. Rinse and repeat. THQ, by way of Danish developers Interceptor, took to Kickstarter in December of 2016 to bring us Rad Rodgers, a run and gun platformer that takes foul-mouthed stabs at games of its ilk.
Lock and Load
Rad Rodgers is the story of Rad, a pre-teen gamer who gets sucked into the video game world by his console, Dusty, in order to free… uh… save the uh… actually, the goal is never all that clear. Dusty, voiced by Duke Nukem himself (though more gruff and grizzled) John St. John, is the dirty-old-man of game consoles, who straps himself to Rad’s back and uses long, mechanical arms to help his human partner get around, offering random, uncensored musings.
Gameplay is mostly straight forward. Run and jump to avoid obstacles, firing at enemies with a handful of weapons while collecting gems and pieces of a stone key to unlock the next level. Occasionally glitched areas will appear where only Dusty can venture, to repair the ‘code’: punching otherwise missing platforms and solving conduit-connecting puzzles. Hidden items like hats and lion gems add further challenge to completionist players.
Additionally, a few Pogo levels that play like Doodle Jump are scattered along the way; vertical high jumping excursions that get you to collect additional gems without running into obstacles or drowning in the water that rises as you progress.
The Unreal Engine shines as the backbone to Rad Rodgers’ colorfully rich level aesthetics. Beautifully rendered backgrounds, sprites and environmental effects fill the screen, reminiscent of titles like Ori and the Blind Forest or Dust: An Elysian Tail. Likewise, weapon fire and explosions light things up and throw a bit of humor on the fire by flashing descriptive words on large explosions in the way that the 1960’s Batman series did to punches and kicks, though with considerably more blood.
And That’s About It
As much as I wanted to relive they bygone era of my high school years, Rad Rodgers fails to impress on a number of points that ultimately made me want to switch over and play an actual game from the 90s.
Enemies do little more than run back and forth waiting to be shot at. Even the bigger boss types lack much of an AI to provide any sort of challenge. Any difficulty in dispensing whatever justice they deserved (which was totally unclear from a story perspective) fell more to frustration in aiming and jump control than it did to enemy smarts.
Rad Rodgers seemed to go out of its way to poke fun at games of the past and their creators (Dusty actually calls out “lazy developers”), but failed to correct their own mistakes in the process. Though there are places where glitchy graphics and sound are purposeful, there are plenty of actual bugs to distract from play. Black boxes that don’t match any sort of otherwise established style pop up from time to time. There’s a countdown that starts off each Pogo level with a disembodied voice saying “3” before Rad appears on screen with no further countdown.
The writing was particularly off-putting. I’m not easily offended by foul language or dark humor, but the one-liners used by Dusty and NPCs in the game aren’t only random, they’re not funny. NPCs you interact with all give you either health, gems or weapon upgrades in addition to some smarmy line. One in particular (actually, it’s repeated) talks about the gem he gives you as a particularly foul smelling butt-plug that needs to be washed. Another says “Hail Satan”. One of Dusty’s frequent exclamations after taking damage is simply “Shit the bed!”. None of these lines have the savvy or irony that similar lines from something like Rick and Morty or Conker’s Bad Fur Day, are able to pull off. Instead, it’s as if the writers sat down a dozen teenagers and took notes on random insults that made them laugh: “Heheheh, anal lube is funny”.
I should mention that Rad Rodgers: World One is a precursor to this title. Released late 2016, it has some pretty positive reviews despite being very short. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like time and Kickstarter funding was enough to push this more fleshed out version into the upper echelons of current-day platformers. Even for the sub-20$ price, I can’t recommend Rad Rodgers to help capture that old-school gaming vibe. Nor can I suggest this for younger players (with its content filter), due in large part to the frustrating glitches and sketchy physics. For around the same price with a much more satisfying experience, I recommend Ori and the Blind Forest or Shadow Complex Remastered.