RAD review: The ever-mutating hero

Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco /

Double Fine Productions’ take on the roguelike genre with RAD makes an overall solid landing.

Title: RAD
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment America
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (version reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: August 20, 2019

Grab the best elements of a top-down roguelike game; now combine that with a double post-apocalyptic narrative and sprinkle in some retro 80s and synthwave. You now have RAD; a game that’s supposed to have that kickass or ‘rad’ vibe, but also exposes you to copious amounts of radiation (or rads).

This double entendre of a game pits you as one of eight playable characters⁠ (five of which are unlocked via progression) — all with their own endings. From what I’ve played, the character you choose doesn’t affect which abilities you get. They all fall into some kind of stereotype of a teenager in the 80s, so that’s pretty neat.

Pick your character, and you’ll be introduced to a one-time cutscene that sets a precedent for the story of RAD. As stated earlier, the world has gone through Armageddon twice. You live in a small town where people work together to survive. However, the power source that nourishes the crops is failing.

In order to restore and maintain the power, one brave teenager has to journey out into the Fallows to do so. The Fallows are the wastelands in layman terms. It’s where you will spend most of the game unless you decide to go back to town to save and quit.

Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions
Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions /

Your chosen character will rise up to the cause and be ‘remade’ by the Elder⁠— the ‘spiritual leader’ of the town. To fit the whole 80s vibe, he does so by playing a solo on his keytar. Being remade basically allows a normal human to absorb the rads of the Fallows and use them to their advantage.

To combat any monsters and hostile creatures out there, he also gives you a bat which transports itself back to the town should the current wielder succumb to the obstacles and hazards in the Fallows.

The beginning of RAD may be a bit slow for those not too familiar with the roguelike genre…

Now you walk into the transporter, and all you have is your trusty bat to help you on this journey ⁠— and any companions you make along the way. The beginning of RAD may be a bit slow for those not too familiar with the roguelike genre but worry not. The game’s controls aren’t too complex, so it’s easy to get into.

The combat isn’t too hard to grasp either. You have a button to swing your bat and another to perform a ground pound while airborne. Dodge enemy attacks with the left shoulder button and use the two triggers and right shoulder button when you gain mutations.

What I can appreciate is that Double Fine used typical roguelike game lingo and mechanics to fit with the narrative of the story. For example, the rads that you get from killing enemies, acquiring certain consumables, and restoring trees, are basically the experience points you get. When you fill up a whole bar of rads on the top of your screen, your character gains a mutation (or levels up). Each sequence of mutations is different per run, too.

Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions
Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions /

Sometimes you’ll grow acid feet that leave a trail of slime that hurts enemies who get into the trail. Sometimes your head morphs into a regenerative launchable projectile that explodes on enemy contact. Sometimes you’ll grow wings and can traverse higher and hard to reach places. The randomness is something to which you need to adapt to, or it’ll be the end of your current run.

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From what I’ve played so far in RAD, most of the mutations are well worth seeking out, especially when enemies get beefier and smarter in countering certain moves. There are passive mutations you can earn from chests and bosses. Most of these have to do with expediting currency gains, growing immune to certain floor hazards, increasing health capacity, or even boosting mobility.

A little note about the currency: I thought it was actual dollar bills you pick up. They’re actually cassette tapes. The keys you acquire to open chests are floppy disks. That’s a smart, attentive detail for a game that gives off retro vibes.

Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions
Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions /

Speaking of ‘per run,’ you will definitely be playing RAD multiple times from the start. It is a roguelike game at its core, so once you die, the aforementioned bat comes back to the town and you must start anew. However, your death is not all for naught. Depending on your performance in the last run, you gain points which unlock new characters, vendor items, game modifiers, and bats. Progress further in each run and get more points.

For the very frugal, after each successful level clear, you can store all your funds into a safe. Should you die as you stored all your tapes back home, you will only lose what you have on hand. There is also a passive item that upon death, you only lose half of your current earnings. Be wary of those because it can make your following runs easier.

You can make your subsequent runs a tad bit easier with these vendors having better items and the bats having different properties. So far, I’m rocking the second unlockable bat which grants more rads per kill. It makes the beginning of all my runs faster since I get mutations quicker.

I appreciate the fact that this post-apocalyptic wasteland of RAD isn’t all bland, barren, and forgettable. Because of the game’s musical and aesthetic approach, it feels like there is a purpose to this land of neon and cool tone colors. It also helps that wherever your character walks, they leave behind a trail of grass, adding more color to the barren wasteland.

Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions
Bandai Namco Entertainment/ Double Fine Productions /

It’s also a very practical idea that this grass mechanic exists. Every level is procedurally generated, so the layouts are always different. It helps me know where I have already been, so I’m not completely lost on where to go. What’s also nice is that upon beating an alpha mutant or a boss after raising all the towers in a level gives you a chance to go back to town and save or continue on with your run.

There isn’t anything, in particular, holding this game down.

Maybe you’re a hardcore roguelike player and want more of a challenge. RAD has certain modifiers that can make your runs harder and more barebones. Perhaps the game enticed you from how it looks, and you’re a casual player. The game has handicaps you can apply to give extra starting base health, increased damage, and other benefits. Perhaps you want to speed run. There are daily challenges you can do to fulfill just that.

The game even has a lore and info section called Tome of the Ancients. As you acquire new items, find interactable monoliths, or progress further in the story, you fill out more. They’re bite-sized interesting snippets to read. So, for those who are completionists or like this kind of stuff, have at it.

There isn’t anything, in particular, holding this game down. You can have a run that lasts for a few minutes or a few hours. My only gripes right now are that there are some performance hitches when there are many enemies on the screen. There’s also a bit of a lag spike upon death. These are just little things that can be patched out rather quickly.

RAD. 8. If you are a fan of top-down roguelike dungeon crawlers, keep <em>RAD</em> on your radar. Bonus points if you like this kind of 80s neon aesthetic and the world-building it provides. It’s a good choice for those who just want a quick gaming session—or a long one if you really want it.. Double Fine Productions.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.