There are countless games that are built around the idea of the apocalypse, and whatever shape and form that may come in. But how many games are made around a double apocalypse? That’s right, after the apocalypse’s apocalypse, humanity is a right mess and you’ve got to save the world! Or at the very least turn the lights back on in your little hobbled city in Double Fine’s latest game for the Nintendo Switch entitled RAD. Is playing in this post-post-apocalyptic world as bleak as it sounds, or will your radiation-mutated-self enjoy the heck out of this game?
RAD comes to us in the form of a vibrant ‘80s synth punk game with a rogue-like core mechanic coupled with hack and slash gameplay, topped with some unique semi-dynamic abilities to shake things up, for better or worse. What’s left of the world is in tatters after Armageddon reared its head twice. The community city you live in is struggling something fierce and restoring the power lines are of the utmost importance. Who better to recruit for this task than taking volunteers from a group of teenagers! Able and willing, you’re now the latest runner to enter the ‘Fallow’, which are the irradiated wastelands outside your city’s walls where all hell can and will break loose. Armed with a trusty bat, you head on out through a portal-like gate and plunk down into the first staged level of the game.
Diving into gameplay here is rather familiar to anyone who’s played some rogue-like genre games in the past few years. You’ll land in a semi-randomized level layout, be expected to complete an objective while collecting loot before moving onto the next stage. Kick some boss butts now and again and throw in the play-die-repeat gameplay that rogue-likes invoke and you have RAD in a nutshell. So how are these elements brought forth here? Well, as you warp into your first level and start exploring the map, you’ll encounter toxic irradiated creatures that must be dealt with via your bat connecting to their faces, or appendages…or whatever mutated mess of a thing they actually are. Tread carefully however, because early in the game (and more often than not I found), you’re one super squishy teenager and that means it won’t take but a few hits to knock you out of a run.
As you continue exploring a level, you’ll inevitably stumble upon large pillars that when holding down a button will activate them and toss out a beam of light pointing towards a monolith structure that also acts as your gate out of the level and into the next. This becomes your prime objective to progressing through the game – find as many towers as required to unlock the structures doors so that you can enter it. This, however, should not be a bum rush objective, because within each of these structures lies a Boss fight. And as I quickly learned, these bosses are no joke and you need to be as well prepared as possible, which unfortunately relies on quite a bit of that good old Random Number Generator (RNG) luck in terms of what access to items or mutations (we’ll talk about that in a second) are in a level for you to utilize.
So, this brings us to mutations, which is a unique aspect to RAD and what makes the game’s rogue-like mechanics stand out a bit, albeit at the whims of luck. As you explore the wastelands, radiation builds up in you, and when enough of it soaks into the sweet meter at the top of your screen, your body with writher and contort causing you to mutate. These transformations range from passive abilities like being able to run a bit faster or take less damage of a particular type, to the far more enjoyable and usable active abilities like the Home Slice, which is a mutated little creature who’s attached to your back that’s able to fire off a projectile weapon at enemies while you run around. It gets better though! You can toss your little mutated friend out onto the ground, which turns him into a more stationary turret, and triggering him once more will cause him to explode before re-growing onto your back again mere seconds later. I loved having the Home Slice, particularly in Boss Battles, to draw aggro away from myself. There are also other more actively controlled ranged weapons such as the Armarang in which one of your arms mutates and can be thrown out at enemies back and forth. This was another favorite of mine as it allowed me to keep distance a bit better from the heavier mini-bosses around a level as well.
Building on the mutation system is the ability to combine these. You see, as you earn more mutations in a run, they just tend to stack on each other and can often expose some interesting combinations for combat. Beyond mutations you’ll also be able to purchase or find items that can offer similar passive or semi-active abilities as well.
Where RAD struggles a bit is again back to that RNG aspect. Depending on your run, your early levels may only produce some passive abilities or a combination of mutations that effectively leaves you as squishy as you started. When you enter that first boss battle, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be as screwed as I was. If I had scoured that first level and didn’t come away with a decent active mutation, I knew before even entering that initial monolith structure that I was destined for death because your starting health is just too little to hold your own solo.
Thankfully as rogue-likes go, death is just a simple restart. You’ll be right back at the character selection screen, which allows you to choose the visually awesome hero you’ll take on the Fallow next with. While stylishly different, early on in the game there won’t be any modifiers to the characters default abilities or anything so just pick whoever you think looks the most radical to you!
RAD does follow suit in this genre, where with each death you’re given a calculated XP reward and levelling up unlocks some new things for you. That may be just in the form of a new killer looking cosmetic bat, but it also may be new items in the shop, which admittedly gets a bit confusing as to how to access these early on in the game, but once you can buy and use them, they can help favor your runs a bit more.
Pouncing around in levels, you’ll collect two ‘currencies’ as you kill the creatures of the wasteland or uncover hidden stashes. The first and most used currency can be saved should you survive a boss at the end of a level, which will allow you to transport back to your faithful city and deposit your coins into a safety bank or spend them ahead of your next run. Later down the road, you can even become a premium bank member, allowing you to withdraw some currency at certain points in a level for quick on-the-fly purchases from wasteland dealers. The other currency is rarer and in the form of cassette tapes, but these allow you to unlock chests with often times much needed items such as health bottles or other one-time use items.
RAD delivers all of the genre standards for a rogue-like and if anything plays it a bit safe. However, for me, that’s totally OK and made getting into the game all that much easier for onboarding. The huge benefit here is that you’re getting Double Fine’s amazing and unique style both aesthetically and in humor. Anyone who is familiar with Psychonauts, or Costume Quest will feel at home with how RAD is presented. There’s a lot of nuances that are paid tribute from gaming in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, along with many other culture tropes scattered about. It can be admittedly annoying to hear the VO for every Pause Menu action you do or otherwise, but that’s always a slider away from being disabled if you so choose. Either way, it’s not hard to point out and say that RAD is definitely up to the standards of Double Fine.
While the game’s style and presentation are absolutely spot on, what I found wasn’t as perfected was its performance on the platform. I first started playing in Handheld mode as that’s my preferred route of gaming with the Switch, however with the lowered performance in this mode, the game’s vibrant colors went into that fuzzy, lower resolution and many times things became so muddy that it was nearly impossible to discern what something was on screen. When the game is docked you won’t have this problem, but even still I found semi frequently the game suffered from frame drops and my guess is that it just isn’t in parallel with other platforms in terms of performance right now. While annoying, I didn’t feel as though it was detrimental enough to turn me away from the game on this system. Like many rogue-likes I’ve played on the Switch, I find it’s a great go-to console for this genre of game given the pick up and play “one more run” nature.
I dig RAD. The theme and presentation feel like a nicely refined Double Fine game I would expect with the right infusion of character and love from their studio. If rogue-likes aren’t your thing, I’d still say it’s a worthy title to give a shot with, even with some balancing annoyances. If the genre is your thing, you’ll find a welcoming familiarity and a great set piece to enjoy spending time in. I mean what’s better than an evening growing blobby appendages out of yourself in a neo ‘80s irradiated wasteland rocking a mohawk and punk jeans jacket?
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 7.5/107.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7.5/107.5/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
RAD is a pretty typical rogue-like that’s bound to be familiar for fans of the genre. It splices up things by mutating your character as you progress and explore the ‘80s neo post-post-apocalyptic wastelands giving you a dynamic experience that both can feel great but also land on the unbalanced side frequently. Double Fine has brought their style and quality here from everything in the visual identity of the game, to the humor and just overall class. There’re some nagging performance problems on the Switch you’ll have to contend with, but thankfully it didn’t cripple the game in any way.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.