Super Rad Raygun comes as a re-imagining on the indie game Rad Raygun that made rounds on the Xbox Live Indie games section of the marketplace. While Rad Raygun was a cool experiment, it lacked depth, and honestly the Xbox Indies weren’t as prominent in their placement as indie games are now. Thus, a revamp of that idea was in order for the folks at Tru Fun Entertainment, produced by both Screw Attack Games and Rooster Teeth Games. Being that this game is a tribute to 80s gaming culture and politics, it makes sense that Rooster Teeth and Screw Attack picked them up. Before diving into the game itself, let’s explore the game’s development.
Seeing as they grew up in the 80s, Chris Bryant and Chris Hernandez teamed up to create two games for Xbox Live Indies, Bop N’ Pop and Rad Raygun. After Rad Raygun received some coverage across several reputable gaming outlets, the two decided to team up once more to expand their original idea. On the face value, Super Rad Raygun is an action platformer with a nostalgic art style, bit-crushed tunes, and mechanics that compliment the style. However, there is a deeper story behind one of the game’s central mechanic. Bryant lives with Multiple Sclerosis, leaving him breathless after moving around for ten to fifteen minutes, forcing him to take breaks often. The game’s protagonist, Rad Raygun also has to manage his energy and occasionally take breaks to recharge his batteries, just like Bryant does daily. Knowing the story behind this mechanic makes the design choices all the more interesting.
From the get go, Super Rad Raygun looks as if someone took the look of the original green and black screen of the Gameboy and created a game beyond the little console’s capabilities. Players will be taking on stages, with a few branching paths to fight evil communist robots that each have strange powers. In fact, Rad Raygun is a Gameboy robot of sorts, having to collect batteries to unlock abilities like the backlight, more health, stronger shots, and more. Collecting these batteries and abilities can be a chore, as some batteries are in plain sight, while others have cryptic ways of getting them. Fans of the NES era of Megaman games will feel right at home, while also getting some cool new features like double jumping and being able to cancel a jump in mid air.
Artistically, Super Rad Raygun is a visual and auditory treat. The game’s design hearkens back to a lot of the Megaman tropes, while also creating interesting synergies with the 80s politics and comical narrative. Writing in each scene is witty, often bringing out fits of laughter before each stage. The green and black aesthetic can be an assault on the eyes after a few hours of play however, but it is still amazing just how much depth is achieved with this extremely limited palette. Musically there is a lot to love in the pumping tracks, adding a lot of fun to each level. One thing that Super Rad Raygun does that more games should consider is the amount of response everything has on screen in subtle but powerful ways. For example, in the volcano level the screen shakes periodically, while in the opening level there are bullet holes that cut into the game’s background. An incredibly popular game design lesson, Juice It or Lose It, captures what I’m getting at perfectly. Super Rad Raygun is a juicy game in a lot of ways.
Not only does Super Rad Raygun have a unique style, but the game takes tropes from Megaman and adds a few interesting mechanics to improve upon that style. The game’s ability system is probably is greatest strength aside from its art style. Basically, the player can reorganize Raygun’s powers at any time. Collecting batteries allows the player to pick more abilities to activate at once, however, having many abilities equipped at once will deplete Raygun’s battery quicker. Running out of battery life shuts down all powers dependent on that energy, while also blurring the screen. Unlike the Gameboy, Raygun can recharge after taking a break, gradually refilling his powers. Managing this energy is essential both in combat and in platforming, especially in tougher segments.
By defeating enemies and finding secrets, Raygun collects bits that he can use to buy more slots for his abilities. More slots available gives the player more options to tackle problems. Case in point, one of the first truly challenging levels is the volcano core that comes after visiting Mt. Helena. This level is dark, but Raygun does find the backlight immediately to give him a little light bubble to see around him. Having three points in the backlight increases the radius as well as gives the player hints on which rooms have extra batteries. Managing the points available to get different results makes this relatively simple platformer more of a puzzle, as the difficulty ramps up after the first couple levels.
This is where a few problems arise. Super Rad Raygun has some genuine challenges that are awesome and hit all the right nostalgia notes, while also being a new ensemble of ideas. However, there are times when the game’s design choices go against the level’s design. The aforementioned volcano core level has a segment with crumbling platforms that are spread out, making the player climb upwards by leaping from block to block. However, in this level, the screen is periodically shaking and going from area to area can also ruin the flow. Some jumps are leaps of faith without upgrading the backlight and even with that extra boost of light, these jumps can be infuriating as the player can easily fall all the way to the bottom into lava for almost assured death. Luckily each level has checkpoint flags, similar to how Shovel Knight‘s checkpoint system is laid out. Unfortunately, without extra lives, the player only has three tries, which leads to a lot of continues in these cheap sections. If anything, making it to the end of the level for the first time on these harder levels, only to be crushed by the boss, definitely brings back memories of games that were NES hard.
Speaking of bosses, boss design is pretty interesting. Animations for these enemies are wild, like one early boss that summons a lion, while another later on bounces sound waves off of the walls. Tactics for each of these enemies will vary depending on how many batteries are available as well as what sort of playstyle the player adopts. Some strategies work better than others, but the life system does kind of act against that, making me wish there either more lives or unlimited lives like in Super Meat Boy. However, this level of intensity can lead to some high energy moments and forces the players to learn the game’s mechanics and utilize them well. There were moments that it felt like the character’s hitbox was off, resulting in drops that were rather frustrating, so a few things could be tightened in that area.
Come to think of it, this game puts me in mind, both in execution and style, of Astro Boy: Omega Factor on the Gameboy Advance. Both of these games even have the bullet hell inspired sections, as well as capture that 80s culture.
There are also a ton of cool palette swaps for Super Rad Raygun, just in case the player gets sick of that green. This is achieved by beating levels and finding secrets in the stages. Some of these secrets are definitely clever, sometimes requiring the player to use the screen transitions to their advantage or leaping off screen by faith. Later levels do become fairly difficult and I found myself losing more lives from simply hitting the water in a later level with no way to prevent a death. Once the player is at low health, touching water no matter how high their protective case is, will kill them.
Super Rad Raygun is for the retro gamer seeking challenge, as its filled with nostalgic designs, sounds, and references. The writing is hilarious, commenting on the social fear of communism that was prevalent during this time while also being lighthearted. It’s an interesting mix that I hadn’t experienced before and I’ll be keeping Super Rad Raygun around on my PC to complete later on. Sure, it doesn’t have the genius of Shovel Knight, or the tight controls of Super Meat Boy, but its a neat game that will take a bit to master it.
Super Rad Raygun is available on Steam.