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Super Rad Raygun (PC) artwork

Super Rad Raygun (PC) review

"Colour me impressed. Kind of."

This game is black and white. It could have been done in colour, but it was done in black and white. On purpose.

If you've read this far and you're not nauseated, there's a good chance you'll like Super Rad Raygun. Because, well, if you find yourself attracted to the game in part due to its lack of colour, once you give it a chance, you'll discover that there are many, better reasons to like it. It's a retro, side-scrolling platform affair, that feels a lot like NES Mega Man: our hero can run, jump, slide and shoot. The soundtrack boasts raucous, bass heavy, nimble selections; the world map boasts a ton of levels to explore.

And the story..! It's notable, and that's notable. When has an old school action title had a story worth mentioning? (Not since Ninja Gaiden 2 is more or less the correct answer.) We're treated to a decidedly tongue in cheek look at good old Murican jingoism played out in the cold war theatre: our hero must take out the evil communists one by one, with his blaster! The way the game satirizes the West's role in actual 1980s global politics by letting us watch it unfold through the eyes of the uber patriotic and naive robot Rad (he's a Game Boy with limbs, how cute), is at turns silly, funny and endearing.

From Rad's home base at Cape Canaveral, he can use collected currency to unlock higher levels of function for his blaster, his armour, his auxiliary weapon, and so on. But just earning those notches won't be enough -- Rad will have to find batteries hidden throughout the game world to power those levels, to make them work. The game does a great job of effecting balance by making battery allocation temporary; you can unplug a battery from the fourth tier of the "agility tree" and insert it into the second tier of your "flashlight tree" when a pitch black area is looming, and you can do it on the fly. Knowing where to plug in your batteries for any given situation is one of the keys to success for what is a pretty challenging mission.

Surprisingly, despite the fairly high level of overall difficulty, some levels feel nearly vapid, and will bore you with their sheer lack of opposition and challenge. And yet, other levels, out of nowhere, will seem overwhelmingly difficult, usually because of a boss with highly damaging attacks for which you'll need to be on point and prepared to evade. Now, you might be prepared, but you mightn't be on point because the game's controls aren't quite precise. The jumps, though floaty, work well (the final boss makes serious demands of Rad landing jumps on tiny platforms and it's no issue). But when you have to do some combination of crouching and turning, it's not as smooth as it should be. One boss required that I duck, then slide, then jump and turn to shoot. That sequence shouldn't feel difficult to pull off, and yet it did. And the boss gleefully capitalized. (He wasn't really gleeful, but it felt that way to me in the moment.)

And while the bosses are interesting, well animated and full of personality, most of the regular enemies are crudely rendered designs on basic shapes, and are unimaginative and unappealing. Backdrops in even the best Game Boy games, like my favourite, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, were always sketched; suggestions of a treeline here, a mountainside there. The developers knew how important it was to leave adequate white space so the screen didn't appear too busy, dark, and muddy. Super Rad Raygun's developers seem not to have heeded that lesson, and my guess is that the game was designed in colour and then rendered in shades of gray after the fact. If Rad is walking in front of a fence, we don't get gestures of the pickets, we get a dark gray fence in its entirety and that can be distracting, and often, downright unsightly. At the end of Rad's mission, there's a part where the screen switches to colour, and I remember thinking, whoa, now I can see what's what -- why didn't they make the whole thing like this?

Of course there are reasons. The developers wanted their game to stand out. They wanted to pay homage to the Game Boy classics of yore. (I'm just guessing.) And I get that, but it doesn't mean that it's better this way.

I liked Super Rad Raygun well enough, but it might have been something greater. It needed a better... paintjob, better enemies, a smoother difficulty curve, and tighter controls. When I put it that way, it sounds bad. Like it fell sadly short of 'new black and white classic for the ages' and arrived tragically at 'try-hard tribute to the Game Boy-cum-mostly forgettable dalliance.' And while its failure to come across the way its developers obviously hoped it would isn't quite as bad as all that, despite the fun story and solid run-and-gun action, one can't help but be disappointed.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (July 29, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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