Like many small-studio projects before it, Radio the Universe (opens in new tab) is one of those strikingly gorgeous, long-in-development independent games you catch tantalizing glimpses of on Twitter or Reddit and just need to know more about. The top-down, almost Hyper Light Drifter-adjacent adventure was at one point slated for a 2020 release while, as reported by Destructoid (opens in new tab) and, uh, us (opens in new tab), the game has been in the works in some form since at least 2012. But after this long wait it's finally playable by the general public for the first time thanks to a Steam Next Fest demo.
And it rules! Radio the Universe nails the fundamentals of this sort of top-down, 2D Soulslike—your sword swings have this weighty feel and satisfying arc with a meaty crunch on hitting enemies, and the combat is tough but fair. Every enemy has an almost glacial wind-up with a holographic projection of where their strike will land, but they have wide, far-reaching hitboxes while you have a limited HP pool. Add in multiple enemies and their staggered, overlapping attack patterns, and Radio the Universe is left with a chaotic, engrossing rhythm to its combat.
One further wrinkle is that the game only rewards experience if you deplete an enemy's HP precisely to zero—enemy health is rendered by a big number floating over their heads, while your attacks deal damage in multiples of two or three. You'll want to tag a six-hp enemy with the right combination of attack types to avoid "overkilling" them, and thus voiding your experience reward. I found this encouraged me to really mix it up with my attack types, doing mental math on the fly to figure out the most efficient path to a perfect kill. That's right kids, Radio the Universe makes math fun!
Radio the Universe's atmosphere is as superb as I was hoping, with this haunted, desolate city combining cyberpunk vistas and weirdly gothic elements in a way that reminds me of the NieR games. Radio the Universe also does a great job of balancing its combat against quiet time and environmental exploration, and overall I just really enjoyed my time in this cursed place.
I did have one technical hurdle with Radio the Universe: the game seems to hard lock certain PC configurations when launching in fullscreen mode, requiring a manual reset. As outlined by Steam user Ghostly in this thread (opens in new tab), one solution is to go to the Options.ini file in the game's Steam install directory and set the "AlternateSyncMethod=" setting to "0." This fix did work for me, but ironically didn't wind up being necessary—Radio the Universe runs perfectly on Steam Deck right out of the box, and that's how I enjoyed the demo.
Radio the Universe is definitely an indie game to watch out for in the coming year, with this demo hopefully indicating that we're approaching its full release. Whenever it comes, I'll be ready, and you can check out the demo yourself and wishlist the game on Steam (opens in new tab), as well as pre-order it on itch.io (opens in new tab).