Rad Raygun does a lot of things very well over a very short amount of time. Clocking in at under a single hour, it manages to squeeze in solid combat, amusing enemy sprites, funny dialogue, hidden upgrades, and lots of neat little powers. You could say that it’s not very challenging if you spend any amount of time collecting the upgrades, but ask yourself just how challenging it is to play with a puppy. Sure, it’s not very difficult to play with a puppy, but it’s a lot of fun and will put a smile on your face. If you have a dollar and a little time to kill, this game will show you a good time.
It has nothing to do with puppies, though, in case I got you all excited. Rad Raygun is about a robot living in the year 198X, one who soon finds his president under attack from robot Russians. It’s a goofy story, one that draws from eighties culture and slang and mingles it with Mega Man style enemies. You’re armed with a similar arm canon to use on them as well, making this game feel like one of the Blue Bomber’s forgotten Game Boy adventures.
Yes, Game Boy. Expect your big screen television to be filled with varying shades of pea green as you fight your way across the landscapes of the United States and Europe. Now, the Game Boy was capable of more impressive graphics than some people give it credit for, and this graphical system was pushed to the limit for Rad Raygun. The levels are large and detailed, creating five sharp locations for the player to explore. Fighting an eighties teenager in front of the shadow outlines of the US Congress was an awesome set piece, and just one of the amazing things they stuck in the game. Another great point was when you wander through a rave, passing in front of and behind dozens of dancing sprites. This game was constantly surprising me with details like that.
I didn’t come to look at Game Boy graphics in 2013, though. I want to shoot some robots. It’s a good time, too. Despite drawing its enemies and combat from Mega Man to some degree, there aren’t all that many weapons. You start off with a basic canon; one where you can have several shots on-screen before the gun won’t fire any more. It can be a problem if you want to keep your walking plane covered in a constant stream of canon fire, but if you just shoot when an enemy is in your way you’ll never notice it. You can also fire this canon through walls, but the game balances that out by letting the enemies do the same. Many of the enemies can be a little slow on the draw, though, so I found it pretty easy to get the drop on them.
‘Pretty easy’ sums up the rest of the game quite well, unfortunately. You can purposely make the game a little harder on yourself by leaving out many of the game’s power-up collectibles, but even then the game just isn’t that hard. I could beat the game without a single power-up with almost no trouble, and I became an unstoppable juggernaut when I actively sought them out. The enemies in the game just aren’t placed with a lot of intelligence or strategy; with most of them appearing on screen directly in your line of fire. I walked through entire areas without seeing any of my enemies, instead hearing an explosion sound before anything could appear.
Most of the others are stunned by your canon fire, so once you hit the enemy it’s typically all over for them. The bosses aren’t much better as you can just pound them with shots as fast as you can and typically win. The bosses lack any sort of invincibility time after taking a hit, so it just comes down to how fast you can hit the attack button. Many of the bosses have points where they’re immune to damage, but the openings when you can hit them last long enough that you can tear through most of their health over one or two of these periods.
You’re also far more mobile than any of the enemies in the game. You have a basic slide function that will move you along faster than any enemy could hope to. You’re also given a back dash; one that covers a lot of distance and can be done in mid-air. The only clincher about that move is you dash backwards, but with even a small amount of planning you can set yourself up to weave around whatever you’re fighting. You also acquire a backpack in later levels; one that will let you fly for a few seconds until its charge runs out. All of these methods make traversing the game a breeze and keeping motion interesting, but they render the poor enemies in the game pretty much obsolete. This game is absolutely hopeless in terms of challenge.
Like I said at the beginning, playing with a puppy isn’t exactly difficult either, but it can still be fun. Rad Raygun evokes a feeling of being a child playing a fun video game. It’s the kind of entertainment you might get from playing one of the Lego games where the experience is pleasant even if there is no challenge at all. It’s a different kind of entertainment than some players might be looking for in their average game, being closer to something that’s just fun to traverse and goof off with. The game has been purposely designed to be a stress-free experience, one where you just experience the game rather than conquer it. I don’t replay Kirby’s Dreamland every few years because it challenges me, but rather because it’s a fun, relaxing game that I’d just love to go through all over again.
The combat may be easy, but with all of these different options at the player’s disposal it’s still got a lot of appeal. The enemies themselves are designed to look laughable, with most of them being joke characters or just throwbacks to the kinds of creatures you’d see in Game Boy action games. The player’s movement is designed to allow for a little exploration in the game as well, with the jet pack opening up lots of different shortcuts in many stages. Also, every single cliff doesn’t mean a chance for instant death, but rather a different route through the stage. I only figured that out on my third run through the game, and it added a little something to subsequent playthroughs. These paths don’t make huge differences in how you arrive at the end of the stage, but they do add a little bit of replay value.
While the game is designed around being relaxing, there are some glitches that might get on the player’s nerves. The most glaring problem I’ve noticed was that sometimes your canon just doesn’t work right, refusing to fire for a few moments. The worst that ever happened was when I couldn’t fire a shot until I’d loaded another area of the level, although to be honest it actually made that spot a little challenging for a change. I’ve also shifted spots a little bit when I dropped from one screen to the next, making me take a few cheap hits over the course of the game. There were even a few places where I moved through the walls into later parts of the stage, but I considered them more as pleasant surprises than anything.
Rad Raygun is another game that’s tied together by its music. FantomenK were in charge of the songs that were put into the game, and all of them make this adventure feel so much more badass than it deserves to be. There’s a driving, pounding chiptune soundtrack that pulses through the game; giving it a presence that the simplistic, silly graphics couldn’t convey on their own. The music just lends the game’s events this gravity that they really shouldn’t have, giving the entire work a powerful presence. It’s all really strong stuff, making me want to play through the game if only to hear the rest of the level music.
The music is what made the game stand out. Game Boy games looked primitive even by NES standards, but they were still trying to convey experiences about fighting alien warlords or hunting vampires in haunted castles. These games looked silly because it was impossible for many of them to look otherwise, as the most frightening or exciting games of this era just didn’t have the graphical chops. Music is often what was used to fill in the gaps, giving our favorite game experiences a power they couldn’t have from the graphics alone. It’s why all of my favorite early gaming memories are inextricably tied to the music that played along with them. The people at TRU FUN Entertainment knew this and got the FantomenK to create a soundtrack that empowered their game to be amazing in a way that only early games could manage. The music just helps make everything seem greater and more memorable, and it tied the game together perfectly.
Yes, it is easy and short, but Rad Raygun was created with so much love and attention to detail that I always have a good time playing it. It’s the sort of game I’d play to wind down, something I love to sit down with just to experience all over again. With its short play time I could easily finish it while I waited for something to download or for my girlfriend to get home from work. It’s something you can just pick up on a whim and play without making any real commitment and still have fun. For the dollar it cost me, I got a fantastic soundtrack and a goofy game with a great sense of humor. It may not be hard, but it sure is rewarding to play.
Rad Raygun is available for download from the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace.