Review by Priscilla M.
We’ve all discussed it – what video game world we would choose to live in if it were possible. Rad Rodgers takes that well-loved idea one step further and inserts the player into a fourth-wall breaking, self-aware video game experience. The original release escaped my attention but I couldn’t say no to this updated release upon hearing that the game was a kind of “spiritual successor” to games such as Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit. As a child I was constantly excited to visit my Grandma who had both games on her computer. Jazz Jackrabbit will always hold a special place in my heart. So, I was ready to experience something great with Rad Rodgers.
The game is set in the wonderful decade that is the 1990’s. The protagonist Rad is a stereotypical child. He loves videogames, dislikes school and is constantly frustrated by rules enforced by his mother such as having to brush his teeth before bed. A day that starts like any other ends up with Rad getting sucked into the colourful world of Rad Rodgers. He is led through this experience by his newly sentient console, named Dusty. As far as plot is concerned the beginning of the game is where any semblance of plot ends. Although it does seem rather barebones; it does suit the style of games of old, which were often more focused on gameplay rather than immersive stories.
Rad Rodgers consists of eight main levels with two mid-bosses and a final boss level. The levels themselves are stereotypical platforming fare. The game has you avoiding obstacles such as TNT, laser beams and spikes. The levels themselves are straightforward. To complete a level, you need to find four exit chunks which are scattered around the level. There was only a singular occasion where I made it to the end of the level with three exit chunks as opposed to four and had to back track.
On top of the eight main levels, there are also three Pogo Stick bonus levels. These levels have Rad needing to escape a constantly rising water level by climbing platforms vertically on a pogo stick. They’re fun and a bit of a break from the main game but at the same time seem like an odd inclusion to needlessly pad the game out when they have no impact on the game at all or are ever referenced throughout. You could instantly fail the stage and move onto the next level and there would be no punishment for doing so.
The levels also consist of segments known as ‘Pixelverse’. There, Dusty must enter into the code of the game to fix aspects such as missing platforms or destroying obstacles in your path. All the while lamenting how lazy the developers were for the shoddy code. These sections are rather frustrating and break any sort of immersion that the game might have held. It feels as if Pixelverse was just introduced to again pad the game out and make it longer. Which seems unnecessary as the levels take anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes to complete depending on whether you are going for the collectables. The levels can adequately hold themselves on their own and Pixelverse just felt like a chore. During these segments, Dusty must make his way to the missing obstacle he is fixing or to a puzzle to complete and to do this he has to go through a maze where touching the sides of the area rapidly depletes your health whilst also avoiding respawning enemies and painful obstacles in later stages.
Graphically Rad Rodgers looks quite lovely. The environments are highly detailed with bright colours that almost pop out of the screen. The character models are nicely done and the few cutscenes look fantastic. You could almost forgive the fact that each level looks rather similar to the last because the level of detail is done well. The soundtrack, meanwhile, consists of fun, retro music that you could believe came straight out of a game from the decade it’s inspired by. Synthetic soundscapes are abundant throughout the game and it’s a real joy to listen to. The title screen track alone was enough to get me amped up to play the game and it’s a memorable piece of music.
Sadly, I have no idea what was going on with the A.I throughout the whole game. The most basic enemies tend to just run left or right in circles. The stronger ones will sometimes run and attack you. When they’re successful, this often results in death. However, in my experience they just stood there dumbfounded and did nothing. If you came across an enemy that was still on the other side of the screen; there’s a good chance you could shoot them without them retaliating until they died. I can only recount two occasions where an enemy came after me. On top of this even the most basic enemy feels like a tank. They take so many bullets before they die – splattering blood everywhere. Which of course would make the game more challenging if the A.I wasn’t seemingly broken.
The game gives you the option between choosing a child friendly version and an adult version. The main difference being the lack of colourful language and blood splatters in the child friendly version. I must give props to the developer for this addition as inclusion in video games is always welcome. Whether it just be a game that caters to both child and adult sensibilities. I chose the adult version and I was left unimpressed with the type of humour throughout the game. There’s always a small part of me that hopes that adult humour will consist of smart, intelligent jokes as opposed to cheap toilet humour. Rad Rodgers consists of the latter. The personality of Dusty came as no surprise due to his voice actor being Jon St. John. I didn’t however expect the humour to just be downright gross and unfunny. Characters you meet through the game reference things such as masturbating, butt-plugs and selling children for sex. Which I honestly don’t think I would have found funny in my teenage years, let alone as an adult. One of the stranger choices regarding Rad Rodgers is that the final boss was censored when the game had no problem throwing out some pretty low brow lines previously.
One of the more frustrating elements about Rad Rodgers is the lack of polish. The game was fairly glitchy regarding rope swinging and jumping. On numerous occasions when I would swing right on a rope, I would just fall off. The game allows you to perform a second jump after a fall and I’m still not sure if this was an intended mechanic or not because it’s so hit and miss. Sometimes I could jump at the end and avoid my death but other times I would fall into the spike pit. The unreliability of this was frustrating and so was something I often tried to avoid doing. Rad Rodgers crashed on me once upon entering a Pixelverse level which led me to have to restart the last level again. It crashed once more upon defeating the final boss.
Rad Rodgers is still a reasonably fun experience with decent platforming, highly detailed environments and a funky soundtrack. The game despite the obvious padding is a great length for both casual gameplay and for someone who wants to finish it in one sitting. The misfiring humour and weak standard of the environments however make for a poor narrative, and generally, an experience that isn’t particularly memorable.
– Priscilla M.