Need to know
What is it? Bash mutants until you become a mutant
Expect to pay: $20/£16
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewed on: AMD FX-4130, GTX 1060 6GB, 8GB RAM
Link: Official site
Are you sick of the '80s yet? We’re in a peak cultural flashback. Bad clothes are back, baby, and everyone’s trying to be the kid with the wildest leather jacket. Rad, Double Fine’s post-apocalyptic mutant-basher, is no poser. This kid’s deeply in love with the decade of loud hair and louder guitars. They’ve done their homework, that’s for sure. Thing is, I’m kinda sick of the '80s, and beneath the period coating Rad could be a much better game.
At least these are some damn good '80s. Double Fine has poured lavish detail into every synthesised riff. Every sunset in the background is a neon CRT wonder, every bark of the narrator a gruff, biting commentary. Vendors will lavish you in free gear for landing a sick 720. It’s the Goonies meets Bill & Ted in an end-of-the-world adventure. Even for a sourpuss like me, it’s properly lovely to look at.
It’s the far future. We’ve wrapped up one apocalypse, but another hit us with a cheap shot. With the adults nowhere to be seen and mutants breaking down the walls, it’s up to the off-brand Stranger Things kids to pick up their baseball bats and bash out a better tomorrow. Or die trying, over and over again.
Rad’s taken some notes from Nuclear Throne, my favourite one-of-these. Rather than picking up new tricks and tools from vendors or drops, you’re mutating a new power every time you collect enough rads (levelling up, really).
But unlike Vlambeer’s run ‘n gun, you’re getting properly messed up by these mutations. Each comes with a horrifying animation of your kid writhing in pain, as some fresh hell grows out of your helpless form.
A few levels down, my arm’s on fire. I’ve grown a cancerous pustule on my back, and I’m plopping it on the ground to shoot who-knows-what at wild ‘muties’. There’s something particularly unsettling about giving totally-not-Eleven a monstrous bug tail that births spider minions. It’s gross, in that slime-and-farts kinda way ten-year-olds are well into.
Unfortunately, I've yet to see Rad really go wild with what these mutations do. Sure it’s awesome when my head bursts into a flaming skull or twists into a snake. But it’s a bit naff when the game's really just deciding which flavour of projectile attack to give me. Flying’s always nice, mind.
You’re more frequently finding or purchasing Endo-mutations that give you elemental immunity or better shop prices. Exo-mutations (the ones with the wacky visuals) only burst free on level-up, and you’re limited to four per run. The passives are a little bland, but they’re often ultimately more useful and aren't as limited.
The thing is, you really need those mutations to be good. Roguelikes often suffer from feeling a little anaemic in the early-game, but Rad takes the cake. You’re slow, you swagger. You need to get up close and personal, but your swings are too slow for effective hit-and-run attacks.
I’ve been dealt a killing blow from foes that drop fire upon death, because I couldn’t drag my poor kid out in time. Frankly, hitting things feels rubbish in Rad.
It’s a killer flaw, even as the game tries to shine. Encounter design is pitch perfect. Muties are varied and weird, each demanding a different approach. I’ve got to keep out of direct line of attack from these spike-faced rushing lads, while dodging fireballs and keeping away from those stomping big shell defenders. It’s Doom, in the very best way.
And then Rad goes and slaps a whopping great health bar on them all. Later levels become brutally unfair. Each mutie is ten times tougher and punches twice as hard. If you’ve not lucked into a projectile or area denial mutation, tough luck.
You’re always facing three of these Alpha Muties by the ten-minute mark, long before you have any inkling of a build. That’s a run-killer, more often than not. I like to think I’m pretty alright at these things, but even I was struggling to see beyond the second stage.
It’s easy to see where Double Fine could crunch the numbers to make the early-game grind more effortless, but that would still leave a serviceable-at-best roguelike. Rad is painfully style-over-substance, in love with its own look to a fault.
It’s not just cashing in on a fad—there’s a genuine love for everything '80s that seeps into every fuzz-filtered sound and every crunchy pixel. But there are so many games like this around right now. They’re doing fantastic things with the genre, to boot. Unless you’re screaming for a synth-tracked adventure, it’s hard to recommend Rad over its more contemporary counterparts.