Rad Raygun

RR1Rad Raygun is nostalgia. It’s not merely nostalgic; it’s constructed top to bottom entirely from dewy-eyed longing for the sepia-drenched days of yore – ‘yore’ in this case being the 1980s. I know, that might not be yore enough for some of you, but considering there are documented cases of five year olds playing Call of Duty online, there’s a significant chunk of the game-playing audience for whom the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Roman Empire happened around the same time.

If you never played on Nintendo’s original green-screened Game Boy, the endearing charm of Rad Raygun’s visual style will probably be lost on you. I enjoyed it, but I harbour no illusions that it was down to anything other than the warm ‘aww, this is how I remember platformers’ sensation. For one cosy hour, I relived the days I spent playing Asterix in the back of my dad’s car. If you don’t have these fond memories, then Rad Raygun is already losing ground. Memories of your own, that is. I’m fairly confident that you weren’t in my dad’s car, unless…Dad?

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Master Chief was having a bad day.

RR isn’t the first Xbox Live Indie Game to try its hand at Game Boy visuals. Punishment platformer Slick tried it too, as did teeth-gnashingly obtuse puzzle-platformer Treasure Treasure: FFEE. Recreating the style of yesteryear is one of the things XBLIG developers like to attempt, whether it’s bleaching out the colour to simulate a Game Boy, drawing the art in primary coloured blocks to mimic an Atari 2600, or making everything as monstrously hideous and cumbersome as possible to ape an Intellivision. The difference here is that Rad Raygun actually pulls it off. It reproduces not only the visual and audio style but also the feel of the gameplay, with a little bit of modern polish subtly applied in a few places so that it doesn’t play like a complete wreck. Make no mistake, most 1980s portable games haven’t aged well.

Some of these determined concessions to faithful ‘80s-ness stray beyond stylistic affectations to impact the gameplay. When Rad leaves a room, the action will freeze as the camera shifts over to the next area. While this sort of break in the flow wouldn’t be acceptable in a non-retro game anymore, it’s perfectly valid here and doesn’t cause any inconvenience.

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“It’ll probably fit in if I give it a good shove.”

The same can’t always be said of the other conscious Game Boy-isms. The jumping in particular is a bane; rather than leaping with any kind of practical arc or sense of weight, Rad sharply twitches a mile upward at the slightest nudge of the jump button, and whatever you do you will never succeed in making the horizontal distance equal the vertical. The result is a jumping sensation that feels awkward and clumsy, not to mention frequently impractical as you find yourself brazenly stuffing your head right into overhead enemies’ lines of fire.

The other influence here aside from the Game Boy is Mega Man. Mercifully RR doesn’t even begin to approach classic Mega Man difficulty, but it’s full of nods to that series – the gun arm, the robotic main character (he’s actually a distorted Game Boy, but close enough), the slide ability, even the types of enemies. I loathe and despise Mega Man games for their cheap shots, but Rad Raygun mostly doesn’t stoop to that. In fact, it’s distinctly easy for the most part. All in all the game will probably run to about an hour of play time, maybe an hour and half, so it’s not a particularly enduring experience. Fortunately, this is one of those cases where brevity is a good thing.

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Call the Daily Mail! Handheld video game console destroys White House!

Rad Raygun doesn’t just imitate the games of years past, it’s also crammed to bursting with humorous contemporary references, whether it’s jingoistic fear of Communism, Rad’s mission to bring down the Berlin Wall or Ronald Reagan’s gurning face giving briefings. 80s names and events spill out from Rad Raygun like Ready Brek from a Thundercats bowl. Dependent as it is on nostalgia and referential gags, it would be easy for the game to outstay its welcome, but the relatively easy level of challenge and the short overall playtime ensure that it all wraps up just before the gags start to grate.

That’s the key to enjoying Rad Raygun, really. The bold and ridiculous 80s-ness of it all kept me smiling most of the time, and I was able to forgive its couple of awkward gameplay affectations because I’m desensitised to them from the real 80s. If you don’t remember the 80s or have enough awareness of pop culture and world events from that decade, then the largest part of the entertainment value is gone. You’re left with just the gameplay, which is a decent enough but easy and unremarkable platformer with a jumping motion that might you grind your teeth down to stumps. Rad Raygun is less an 80s-themed game than a lighthearted nostalgia slideshow with some simple gameplay inserted to keep you occupied. That’s not to say the gameplay isn’t fun, but aside from the odd detour into impromptu Tetris it’s too short and too generic to be worth recommending to anyone who lacks glasses of a suitably rosy hue.

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I’m sorry but building my name in the sky goes beyond fanboy into goddamn creepy.

If you do remember the 80s, though, Rad Raygun is an entertaining use of an hour. It avoided boring me by providing enough reference gags to prevent the gamplay getting tedious, and vice versa. I can’t complain at getting 60-90 minutes of “Ha! I get it!” moments stitched neatly onto a “Aww, I remember games being like this” backdrop for 80 Microsoft points.

If you’re Rad Raygun’s target audience you’ll like it, and if you’re not you won’t. You probably already know which category you fall into. If you want out, just follow the smell of broadband and dubstep to the exit. Otherwise, pull up a pogo ball and try to avoid making eye contact with Erasure.

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MegaCity

There have been a few interesting Sim City­-inflected hybrid games, combining city-building elements with parts of other games. In recent months, Lexiv spliced Sim City and Scrabble to surprisingly enjoyable effect. Prior to that, City Rain and Megalopolis offered puzzler gameplay with some city/landscape management flourishes. Now we have MegaCity.

Like the other games I’ve mentioned, MegaCity is more a puzzle game than a sim. You are presented with a grid of empty grass squares in which to place buildings. You can’t choose your buildings; they’re queued up in a randomly assigned order to the left of the screen. Each game starts with five houses at the top of the queue, but after that it’s anyone’s guess.

The idea is to gain a certain number of points along the leftmost edge of the grid. In the first few minutes the target will be four points, but this increases as you progress. When you reach the target number of points, that column will slide off the screen and a new one will appear to the right. This is how you gain more space to build and avoid filling up the grid – which would be game over.

It definitely has a 'SimCity on the Super Nintendo' look to it

The key buildings are the residential ones – houses and apartments – as only these can generate the points you need. They can’t do it alone, though. Other types of buildings have effects on the spaces around themselves, causing any residential tiles to either generate or lose points. Some buildings, like landfills, only have negative effects and have to be kept out of the way. Some, like hospitals, have only good effects. Others have bits of both. Each building has its own pattern for the effect it has around it.

This probably sounds very confusing, but once you sit and play it, it’s quite simple. Like many puzzle games, simple doesn’t mean easy. The queue of randomly selected buildings reminds me of Tetris and, like Tetris, the luck of the draw can ruin your game. Many times I’ve had a pretty good run, then found myself drawing nothing but landfills and factories from the queue when all I want is a single house. And that’s that: game over.

Blue = good effects, red = bad effects. Colour coded for kiddies of all ages, or something.

Aside from this main mode, where the main aim seems to be to get a high score, there are also challenge modes. I haven’t managed to pass even the easiest one, but they at least mix up the gameplay. The challenge modes place certain buildings on the grid before you start, and always give you the same tiles in the same order. It’s not entirely clear what the aim is though, and the game itself doesn’t tell you. These modes certainly add variety, but it’s hard to enjoy them when you don’t know what you’re meant to be aiming for.

I recommend MegaCity, but not without reservation. It’s very much a puzzle game rather than a city management game, though it does have some SimCity touches in the way buildings affect each other. It’s easy to learn and addictive, but the main mode gets repetitive after a while, particularly when you have to keep restarting because you happened to draw some bad buildings. The challenge modes could alleviate that, but instead they’re just confusing.

Not a game that will keep you playing for weeks, but a lot of fun for a little while, and there’s nothing else quite like it. Well worth 80 Microsoft points – just don’t expect perfection.