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Radium (PC) artwork

Radium (PC) review

"As of this writing, Radium is the only game in which I have acquired every single achievement. I earned every one."

Having picked this up during a groupees bundle, I thought it looked charming; the minimalistic art style and unique control scheme really seemed promising, but nothing to write home about, so I downloaded it and decided to play it until the trading cards dropped. Sixteen feverish, cathartic hours later, and I can tell you that I am so glad I gave this hidden gem a chance, because it may be one of the most elegant, polished indie gems Steam has neglected to shine a light on.

The mechanics are simple; there is a green ball that you can manipulate with two nodules on the sides of the screen. When pressing down on the arrow keys or moving the joystick, the nodules active, where a thin green line draws the ball towards the one activated. Activate both, and the two nodes will cancel each other’s inertia. Sometimes the nodes can be in different spots on the screen to affect inertia, but they are always parallel to maximize ball control. Each map introduces a play field in which you must manipulate the ball through winding corridors to get to a goal. The simplicity is definitely Radium's greatest asset, because with any structure, a game of this nature can make or break on its level design.

Whoever this unknown indie is, they have an amazing sense for variety in small spaces, and a mastery on what I would describe as a perfect difficulty/learning curve union. The opening levels are simple and sublime, generally based on how fast you can navigate the simple curves. On top of the base mechanics, there are boost pads that does exactly what it sounds like, white bricks that you have to occasionally touch to unlock the goal, spikes and saws to die on, and vortexes that cause a polarity shift in the nodules and the ball. The polarity shift in particular is one of the more fascinating implementations. Instead of pulling the ball, you push it with the nodes, and on top of that, gravity is reversed. Simple enough, but the tricky aspect appears when multiple vortexes appear side by side overtop obstacles or narrow, spike filled courses, demanding that the player learn moderation and understanding of the mechanics.

Radium (PC) image

Rare is it that a physics based puzzle platformer genuinely drags out an "Aha!" moment from me, but this one did it often, and with such ingenuity, I came away with genuine amazement. Looking at the credits, it really is just one guy who made this, when I was expecting at least four or five. Another thing that really emphasizes the masterful design is the intelligent implementation of the three star system. Each section of the game has to be unlocked through acquiring faster times and filling out the radiation icons of each level. All of it is speed based, but rarely do you feel rushed; you just have to have a good hand on the mechanics, and rarely will you feel cheated. This is usually where I would say that the physics break the experience, but they are so fine-tuned I never encountered a situation where I was screwed over, except in the cases where it was clearly my fault. For an indie game of this nature, that's almost never heard of.

Oftentimes I found that the farther I went in, the easier earlier levels became, which would generally be a natural thing to assume, but once again, the mechanics don't change, it's that damned perfect learning structure in this game. It's a weird and very abstract thing to praise, but I wouldn't be praising it if I didn't actively notice that the game was naturally teaching me. You'll notice when you play it, and maybe it will make sense then.

All this is amplified by the perfect implementation of the minimalist art style. Green, yellow and shades of black are the only colors you will see, and aesthetically it's very calming, but mechanically, it's genuinely perfect for a game like this. The color change between green and yellow indicate the transition of polarities, which naturally develops an instinctual response to the mechanic change, while the varying blacks and greys indicate the path and the obstacles. It's extremely simple and nothing new, but it's implemented very well.

Radium (PC) image

Going to back to level design, I just want to throw out there that a lot of levels are homages to classic games. Some are straightforward in which you click a number switches into the shape of a mushroom, but others can be better hidden. One level that took me a while to finish only recently dawned on me that it was a recreation of the first Pac-Man board, but had enough alterations for the actual gameplay that I didn't even pick up on it until I took the entire board into account. Did I mention that perspective is also a small mechanic? Because it is, and it's done really well in a non-obtrusive way. I'll stop raving now to get to the negatives, promise.

Of all the qualms I had for the game, it came down to two points; Music, and checkpoints. Specifically, neither are found anywhere in the game. While there are sounds, like popping and scrolling over levels and such, there is no music. None. The game does fit well over podcasts and iTunes and such, but while that adds good background noise, the game really should have some, even if it was simply a low key, minimalistic looping track or something. I get that this was made by one guy, and silence does help focus, I guess.

Checkpoints are another thing that I wish some of the later levels had. None of the levels are impossible, don't get me wrong, but some are long and very precise, to the point where a single mistake takes you all the way back to the beginning of a very long, very demanding gauntlet. The game was never a walk in the park just in principle of the three star system, but there are many of the later levels (I'm talking in the 100s range, and even some of the ones before) that demand a level of precision that even with impeccable controls is hard to replicate on multiple tries. Having a halfway checkpoint during some of these stages would've been oh so nice, and since most stages wouldn't need it, I don't see why light implementation would've taken away the challenge, as some enter VVVVV levels of difficulty, and even that had checkpoints. Still, until the very, very end, the rough levels don't really rear their head, and even then they're still doable. It doesn't break the quality, at least for me.

Radium (PC) image

This is a great greenlight game lost in the sea of awful greenlight games Steam has been flooded with recently. You can buy it for cheap, and its sublime difficulty and mechanics make it a unique and charming experience. This game has gone into the holy and exclusive pantheon of my Favorites section and is the only game I've 100%ed, and while you may not adore it as much, I have no doubt you'll have a good time. Buy it, and if you like it, say something nice, because this game needs far more love than it has gotten.


Razorbitz's avatar
Community review by Razorbitz (May 26, 2016)

Lover of Vinesauce, purveyor of Sterling, and worshipper of the Pipo. Plays games a lot, and writes stupid and excessively long user reviews to give myself the illusion of influence and importance.

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