Modern platformers: “Rad Rodgers” (PC)

Slipgate StudiosRad Rodgers delivers hardcore platforming and shooting with self-referential humor, but does it all gel well together?

Rad Rodgers (PC)
(Denmark 2017/2018, developer: Interceptor Entertainment (now Slipgate Studios), publisher: THQ Nordic, platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Young boy Rad is sucked into his favorite videogame console and has to fight his way through the first world with his foul-mouthed console pal Dusty.

Like being in a videogame
The idea of putting people from the real world into videogames isn’t particularly new, as it has already been done in movies like TRON or games like Nox. However, having a console as a side-kick is quite neat, as he constantly makes fun of videogame tropes and Rad as a hero and some downright twisted natives with potty mouths as well. It opens up all kinds of fun opportunities which unfortunately never come to fruition. Except for a great intro and ending, there aren’t any cut-scenes in between levels. The one-liners of the unlikely heroes become repetitive very early on, and it doesn’t help that the writing isn’t particularly witty, as it mostly relies on swearing. Establishing a relationship with the audience is impossible, as there isn’t any character or plot development, which is a shame, because there’s definitely potential in both. It’s even more aggravating that the open ending harks back to the episodic structure of the old shareware models, only that since its initial release no World Two has followed.

Like dying a lot
Rad Radgers is an old-school platformer in its truest form most of the time, with non-stop blasting action during which enemies explode in fountains of blood. It’s not as over-the-top as in Alien Shooter or Alien Shooter 2: Reloaded, but it’s certainly not a presentation suitable for kids, although one can turn off both the coarse language and red liquid. Still, the gameplay is anything but casual gamer-friendly (even with three difficulties) and often borders on the unfair due to rather slow jump mechanics and unseen threats in the form of spikes below or enemies shooting off-screen. With only one weapon to be carried at a time, the carnage one could bring down on enemies is as limited as the number of shots one can fire. Taking into account that there are powerful weapons, it would have made sense to give the player the option to switch between them without leaving him with his standard weapon that can make two especially tricky mid-level bosses very difficult to defeat. Having to evade their one-hit-kill boomerang and simultaneously trying to shoot a specific number of bullets at them in one go is another unfair example of the level design.

Puzzling confusion in a shooter
If one expects varied levels and big bosses to fight, one will be disappointed. Of course the environments change and are quite beautiful to look at, but the run-jump-and-gun gameplay remains the same, with the only objective being to find 4 parts of a keystone to unlock the exit. It’s as standard as old-school games come, with the only exception being the puzzles, but these have their own little problems, too. The main idea of fixing something in the videogame world by using Dusty in the Pixelverse is great. So if a platform is missing in one world, Dusty has to kick it back in place in the other. Unfortunately the way this is done is anything but fun.

Maybe for the first time it’s a nice distraction from the constant shooting, but navigating the swearing console through labyrinths, avoiding hazards that drain its energy or attacking enemies to fill up the energy meter can become very tedious and downright unfair later on. If it wasn’t difficult enough to play a connect-power-sources mini-game, there’s also a time limit with ever-increasing complexity of the task at hand. As these sections become more frequent the more one progresses, they become more frustrating and annoying, especially since the game makes the player start the whole level again if he runs out of time and punishes Rad with losing his life energy each time. There are checkpoints in each level, but these aren’t always conveniently placed.

Many secrets and ways to die again
Despite its short playtime of 5-7 hours, the game doesn’t offer much originality in level design. Maybe one shouldn’t be too hard on a title that tries to evoke the classic platforming feeling of yesteryear, but by comparing it to classic platformers, it becomes clear that the levels are bland and uninspired. Except for a very cool boss fight at the end, there isn’t anything memorable about the individual sections. Even the bonus stages in which one jumps on a pogo stick from platform to platform while water rises underneath isn’t much fun. But one still perseveres, because it offers more gems and extra lives to collect. The former works as in other platformers, so that having 100 (more or less, depending on the difficulty) grants an extra life. This is actually where the classic feeling rears its nostalgic head, because there are so many secrets to find in levels that one will jump in joy when entering a hidden hut where the weird natives give up some of their goods, but not without an often rude remark. There are even different hats one can look for, which are only of a cosmetic nature, but look funny on Rad’s head and makes people smile who know their pop culture, as they sometimes refer to well-known movie/videogame icons of the 80ies or 90ies.

The level layout can be confusing at times without a map and an indicator where the essential keystone parts are, which becomes especially annoying when one has to backtrack if one missed them the first time. This often means losing energy or lives in the process, something that could have been avoided if the levels had a better structure. Of course it’s fun to explore the levels, and a few puzzles make for a nice distraction, but as the graphics can sometimes hide specific switches or even the keystone parts, it would have been better to give the player some clues of where to go. There’s also an unfair inconsistency of when or how one loses energy. In some segments, being caught in a laser beam either results in a few energy hearts lost or instant death. Taking into account how unresponsive the controls often are, frustration becomes the order of the day.

Awesome looks and sounds
The presentation of the game is pretty good, with great background visuals and well-done cut-scenes of which there could have been more. The Unreal Engine 4 shows its power with nice lighting, explosions or water reflection effects. However, the character models and enemy design isn’t as detailed as one would like. While the animations are okay, it’s nothing to get excited about. Compared to hand-drawn platformers like Rayman (even the first one), this isn’t as pretty as it could be. The music is awesome, with catchy guitar riffs and synth sounds, while the sound effects and background noises are good as well, even if they’re not exceptional. Voice acting is of a high standard, and it’s worth noting that Dusty is voiced by Jon St. John who already did his unique interpretation of the titular hero in the Duke Nukem games.

Ready, World One or Rad Rodgers?
There are two versions of the game. Having been released as Rad Rodgers: World One, the newest one is now simply titled Rad Rodgers, the one I reviewed here, with the original still being available as a bonus. Despite having higher system requirements, this is the version to play, as it includes the pogo stick levels to gain more lives, leaderboards for score attacks online, and the aforementioned collectible hats. The new weapon Excalibat from the FPS gorefest Rise of the Triad is also a welcome addition, as it grants Rad invincibility while smacking his enemies into oblivion. The two mid-bosses are questionable, though, as they’re rather tough and not very fun, and having the Spiky Jellyfish and Powerful Laserheads as enemies doesn’t make the game any more enjoyable. The Pixelverse have been redesigned with new puzzles, but these are again not much fun to play, either. Additionally, two new levels (The Rainforest Rampage and Raging Ruins) extend the playtime, and being able to unlock behind-the-scenes artwork is also a nice touch.

Almost a classic or good game
Rad Rodgers is a difficult game to love/hate and play. Its roots are clearly in the past of action-platformers, so newcomers to the genre will be left out due to a very steep learning curve of constant dying. This wouldn’t be too bad if the level design would feel more inspired and the puzzles less annoying. But like the story and characters, this isn’t anything one will remember for years to come, which is a shame, because the self-referential humor could have opened up so many interesting ideas of gameplay and the blasting action is a clear indication that the age-old formula of games like Commander Keen, the 2D Duke Nukem games and others is still a lot of fun if one perseveres. Maybe World Two will materialize sometime in the future, because the visuals and sound design together with tighter controls and better puzzles would make this a must-buy for hardcore fans of the genre.

Score: 7/10

Buy the digital version for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the digital version for PS4 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital version for Xbox One on
the Xbox store

Buy the retail version for PS4 on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Buy the retail version for Xbox One on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Official Website

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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