Rad Rodgers Provides Tubular Platforming Thrills

Rad Rodgers came to life thanks to Kickstarter and aimed to bring back the mid-90s-era PC platformer. Inspired by the likes of the fast-paced Jazz Jackrabbit, the folks at Interceptor wanted to make something that evoked the ’90s but did its own thing as well. Set for release in multiple episodes — akin to a Telltale Games title — the first world is coming up for release and shows a great amount of promise. After being sucked into the world of a video game, the youngster Rad and his foul-mouthed console companion Dusty have to jump and shoot their way to victory. While that moniker may connote Mega Man, Rad Rodgers mixes in a bit of that style with twin-stick gameplay as well.

Rad blends shooting with Metal Slug-style upgrades and a surprisingly high amount of gameplay variety. Beyond running, jumping, and shooting you also have small areas where you control Dusty and find objects in a pixel-filled mass. These areas focus on fisticuffs and short-range combat, and are quite different from the usual game. If you prefer up-close combat, you can just hit B and knock foes out with Dusty’s giant mitts – but you run a greater risk of taking damage doing that. Blasting away is easy and can be done either with X or using RT alongside the right stick. The former method is preferable if you want to play this like a Mega Man or Metroid-stye shooter. The latter is far better for those who love ARES and enjoy a blend of Mega Man-style pacing with the freedom with a second stick for aiming provides.

From what’s been shown off so far, the controls work fairly well for the dangers you encounter in the game. The core game however, is not quite as forgiving. Checkpoints in the early build are few and far between – and with levels taking around 20 minutes to complete, this can lead to quite a bit of backtracking. Fortunately, doing this will also lead to you finding new areas to explore. There are quite a few hidden areas in each stage and you will usually be rewarded with at least one health pickup and sometimes, a weapon power-up. Each weapon upgrade genuinely makes you feel more powerful – especially things like the fireball thrower weapon that dish out tons of damage quickly.

Even with the help, this is definitely an “NES Hard” game that doesn’t really hold your hand at all. You’re given a bit of an idea of what to do, and some arrows guide you in your overall direction – but that’s it. Every major mechanic with Dusty’s stages is left for you to figure out. Fortunately, they’re usually simple affairs consisting of punching enemies, sending pixel world objects into the in-game world and then moving forward. They’re about as close as the game comes to having any puzzle-solving elements, and find a way to both test your reflexes and use a bit of brain power at the same time.

The game’s sense of humor is surprisingly dark and vulgar for a game that evokes the early ’90s – but that fits in nicely with the developers wanting to make a game with a young protagonist, but then be able to do things you couldn’t really do with him by having Dusty be so foul-mouthed. Dusty doesn’t break any new ground as a character, but he does evoke the crass early ’90s days of Nickelodeon cartoons very well and comes off as a modern-day version of something you might see out of Ren and Stimpy without censorship. Rad’s dialogue is a bit more crass than you would expect for a younger character, but works quite well. He isn’t vulgar and just swears at about the level one would expect from a young kid who has seen a few PG-13 movies and learned some new words.

Thus far, Rad Rodgers shows a world of potential – but its graphics hold it back. While they are absolutely stunning and evoke Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams with their designs, they are simply too detailed for their own good. Hazards and regular parts of the environment are indistinguishable at times and that leads to far too much damage and too many deaths. On the plus side of the ledger, the animations are perfectly-exaggerated for a game evoking cartoons. Everyone’s movements are smooth, but a bit silly and it all works fairly well. Environments are fairly diverse too and it’s hard to imagine them getting much better-looking between now and the time of the game’s release. Helpful things like a shimmering light alongside hazards would be nice though – and hopefully some anti-frustration measures are patched in down the line.

Even with only World One being playable, it’s clear that a lot of care was put into Rad Rodgers. There’s a high level of polish to the gameplay and while there are still some rough edges to work out, it is a lot of fun to play when you’ve got some time to spend with it. The long levels require a good half hour or so to be spent with the game per session and that doesn’t make it ideal for a grab and go game. The full World One experience launches in December on Steam and GOG and looks like a solid buy for anyone who loves fast-paced action platformers.