Rad Rodgers might take its inspirations from the Apogee masterworks of the 90’s but it needed more modern day thinking to avoid mediocrity. The FingerGuns Review;
I’ll admit, I smiled the first time an NPC said “Only pussies need items. You look like a pussy. Here. Have an item” while playing Rad Rodgers. After the 10th time of hearing it, the smile was long gone and it was replaced with a grimace. The result of a successful Kickstarter Rad Rodgers is a 2.5D run ‘n’ gun platformer that harks back to classics from the 90’s such as Jazz Jackrabbit and Ruff ’n’ Tumble. In fact, Rad Rogers’ is the spiritual successor to the latter that starred Ruff Rodgers, who looks damn near identical to his modern day cousin and uses the exact same weapon. Unfortunately, this game feels like an immature relic from that era rather than an homage to it.
Each level of Rad Rodgers involves finding 4 pieces of a disk which can be used to open the exit door. To do that, Rad, alongside his sentient games console Dusty, must run, climb, jump, bounce, shoot and swing around a host of levels while fighting off an army of irritating squirrels. The platforming and combat here are nothing new and while Rad Rodgers is designed to be a love letter to the action platformer games of the 90’s, it’s less an homage and more of a spit shine on 20 year old mechanics and level design. If you’re a fan of the Apogee classics, there’s a number of fun moments but they’re few and far between because of a myriad of issues.
Firstly, the difficulty levels are all over the place. It starts out well enough with an easy first level which gets the player used to the general feel to the play and a rise in difficulty for the subsequent two – but then everything goes mental. You’ll play a level that’s a walk in the park followed by another that’s filled with cheap enemy placement or feels like it was designed to be intentionally frustrating. There’s balancing issues from level to level and even within the levels themselves. This isn’t helped by the old school progression system that is employed in Rad Rodgers; you start with 3 lives (which can be increased via pickups) and once those lives are gone, you have to start the level from scratch. When the game is determined to throw you through cheap, dangerous platforming and overwhelming enemy numbers, this type of progress curbing can be incredibly frustrating.
Secondly, the level design leaves a lot to be desired. There are some traditional left to right linear levels which are simple enough to navigate but have some occasionally frustrating platform sections which don’t need to be as hard or as punishing as they are. These are a breeze compared to the open, nonlinear levels however. Some of the levels in Rad Rodgers allow you to explore freely but lack appropriate visual clues or intuitive design in order to guide the player to where they need to be. There’s an occasional arrow which points in the right direction but they’re not used nearly enough in some of the more unrestricted levels. You can find yourself spending time crossing deadly pitfalls only to arrive at a location you’ve already been too.
Then there’s the enemy AI. There’s not a great deal of variety in the enemies in Rad Rodgers but you could be mistaken for thinking that there’s hundreds of different foes given how unpredictable and glitchy they are. Take the big bad squirrels (unofficial name) for example. Sometimes they’ll just stand there and let you shoot them for the 15 seconds it takes to kill them. On other occasions, they’ll run in your direction before stopping and jumping up and down, soaking up the bullets for the 15 seconds it takes to kill them. It’s so rare that this enemy type actually attacks Rad that it feels like a surprise when they do. There are similar quirks with all of the enemy AI in Rad Rodgers which makes it frustrating.
Rad Rodgers also has a plethora of little polish and QA issues which mount up over a full play through. Certain doors that are supposed to open when you get to a part of a level are sometimes delayed which adds to the convoluted level design issues. The rope swinging mechanics are atrocious and fall outside of the physics used in the rest of the game – or any game, to be honest. During moments when Dusty detaches from Rad to travel through cyberspace to fix an issue, Dusty feels unresponsive, almost like he’s running on ice, which wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the bullet-hell-esque obstacles put in your way in the latter levels.
The biggest positive about Rad Rodgers is how self aware it is. The game starts with a 4th wall breaking conversation between Rad and Dusty that sets the thermatic tone for the rest of the game. Rad Rodgers lets the player know that this is a game that knows it’s a game and leans into that. There are moments when the “game” is glitched and the sentient game console Dusty must travel behind the scenes of the game to fix it while facing other dangers. It’s a lighthearted way to keep this game grounded and it works well.
Developers Slipgate Studios obviously know that there’s not going to be anyone under the age of 18 reminiscing about the Apogee games of the past so they’ve included an option for “mature” gamers too. This includes blood splatter from enemies as well as… shall we say “colourful” language included in the dialogue. Choose this option and you’ll be treated to vocal snippets like “Oi! What the hell do you think you’re doing? This is my house! I could have been masterbating. Jeez, privacy kid” when entering the house of an NPC.
Some of these are vulgar but most of them poke fun at the absurdity of how entering someone’s house uninvited is seen as an acceptable practice in other games. There’s just not enough of these sound bytes to keep them interesting and if you invade every NPC’s home, you’ll have heard them all multiple times long after they’ve lost their cleverness.
The other positive to Rad Rodgers is the visual quality. It’s quite a lovely looking game and while there’s a lot of recycling with the visual assets, there’s enough variation to give each level a distinctive theme. What’s more, if you’re a fan of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, playing Rad Rogers is a pleasing, unofficial expansion of the Fantasy Forest and the Underground Mine levels too.
Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives in Rad Rodgers making it a frustrating package with pockets of fun rather than vice versa. It’s a game with the aim of reinvigorating the 2D action platformers of the past but it desperately needed some of the quality of life improvements that come with modern day platformers. Its greatest achievement is to breach the 4th wall on a Deadpool-esque scale but the myriad of issues mean it stumbles through it rather than blasting through in a retro inspired blaze of glory.
Rad Rodgers is available now on Xbox One, PS4 (review version) and PC.
Developer: Slipgate Studios
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we recieved a review copy of the game from the publishers. For more information on our review policy, please head here.