Remember hauling around that grey brick of Nintendo’s, squinting at the same few shades of green while playing the dime-a-dozen platformers (most of them average) the system was known for? Not a warm fuzzy vibe, is it? Why anyone would be nostalgic for that is beyond me, though if Rad Raygun (80 MSP) had its way, it would return you to those puke green memories of when the Game Boy was the pinnacle of mobile entertainment, indefinitely.
The gist of Rad Raygun is you’re a robotic superhero, at the height of Cold War tensions between Russia and the U.S., facing off against a rival, naturally communist, robotic powerhouse that’s threatening to derail world peace. You’ll jump and fire, and… jump and fire some more, over five different stages and boss fights that take you on a worldwide tour full of 80s references. Sounds totally tubular, and it is, in the way that ‘tubular’ is 80s slang for ‘cool’, not that the game is a series of tubes. It is not.
Of course, realize that by doing so reverts the gameplay back to old school, 80s design, as well; an occasionally uneven difficulty, sliding game screens leading to invisible hazards, and an unbridled enthusiasm for cheap hits / deaths (hey, you had to extend the game time somehow). Normally I’d call a title out for this, but here it’s intentional. The joke (and humor plays a large role in Rad Raygun and its cutscenes) of being unable to hit enemies just a few pixels above or below you is carried for only a stage however, as a powerup soon after will grant you the (albeit ‘limited’) ability to fire diagonally at foes.
Other powerups, including a backwards roll and jetpack, follow after, along with a handful of boosts to your maximum health (you start with roughly three hits to a life) and damage output, hidden away in nooks or behind a few enemies. These stat boosts in particular turn out to be vital countermeasures against the occasional leap-of-faith jumps and enemy placement (baddies respawn whenever you leave a room or move off-screen; there’s even a joke for it).
Something about this seems very familiar.
There’s no save file for progress, though all the stages are accessible in the menu. Consider yourself forewarned; trying to skip ahead without collecting powerups and health / damage upgrades is pointless. You need them. And with no ‘New Game+’ or additional modes awarded upon completion, the game is best appreciated in one sitting anyway. You’ll rescue the President, tear down the Berlin Wall, play a (sloppy) game of Tetris for prizes, and pay a visit to a radiated Chernobyl on your way into Moscow, everything set to a thumping chiptune soundtrack. Very few games can promise that and deliver in a way that doesn’t feel tacky.
Rad Raygun runs a little shorter than you might expect (about an hour), though the game moves at a quick pace with no filler or artificial extensions, mixing its backgrounds and cityscapes and navigational tricks liberally, so that you shouldn’t (well, conceivably) encounter a dull moment. Worth it for a look into gaming’s past, fun while you’re there, though be grateful we live in its present.