Going into RAD, things look a little familiar. To start with, the game takes after Rogue and its ilk, complete with randomized level layouts, permadeath, and the other usual suspects. Then there’s the post-apocalyptic setting.
This isn’t new for developer Double Fine. The studio is known more for its style, wit, and charm than it is its game mechanics. So does RAD have enough charm to keep you interested? That depends on how much patience you have.
There’s been a resurgence lately in what people refer to as the 1980s aesthetic. The truth is that even the ’80s weren’t so thoroughly draped in bright pink lighting and synthesizers. RAD doesn’t care, proudly ratcheting up its colors to near-parody levels of garishness.
The lore takes a similar approach. RAD isn’t just set after one apocalypse; it’s set after two. This doesn’t affect the overall look much, but it does inform the story. There isn’t much of a story here, but what there is deftly balances over-the-top melodrama with enough humor to remind you that this is supposed to be fun.
Double Fine’s trademark humor is part of what initially had me interested in this game, so it’s nice to see it remains in good form. Unearthing an ancient relic while an eerie synth looms in the background seems unsettling until the narrator mentions the cultists behind it who always wore their sunglasses at night.
The voiceover work, especially the narrator, is worth mentioning. Even something as simple as pausing the gameplay gets a throaty “Pause!” line from the narrator, adding at once to both the gravity and the humor.
When it comes to the gameplay, you’re always entrusted with one weapon, your bat. You’ll get upgraded bats eventually, but this weapon never changes. The variety comes from the radiation-fed powers called mutations you gain throughout the game.
These can range from a set of wings that lets you fly to the ability to throw your own head at enemies as a projectile. You also earn passive perks called endo mutations that grant minor benefits. The powers are randomized as you earn them on each playthrough, but I rarely felt like I was stuck with a bad build.
You also have a decent amount of core gameplay ideas such that even before you’re powered up, you don’t feel weak.
Considering the gameplay options available to you, it’s a shame that you can miss them so easily. You could play through the entire game without knowing certain button combinations if you don’t read the tips on the loading screens. Some you may find by simply mashing buttons, but others are less intuitive.
Some problems you’ll encounter in RAD are the same you’ll find in nearly any other procedurally generated game. There are some runs where the level layout, enemy placements, and health drops simply feel unfair. The opposite happens too, but I didn’t seem to notice these instances as much.
Other problems endemic to roguelikes and roguelites are present. Enemies don’t vary much, and by the second world, I was seeing enemies that were more or less palette swaps of those in the first world. The thrill of discovery is present for your first few runs, but not everyone will enjoy running through the same settings over and over before you get your shot at the final boss.
Finally, there is one issue that may be platform-specific. I played RAD on the Nintendo Switch, but it is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I can’t speak for those platforms, but I encountered a few crashes during my time with the game on the Switch. I didn’t lose much progress, but it was still annoying.
I’ve enjoyed my time with RAD, but I am also a fan of plenty of Double Fine’s previous work. If you’ve already worked your way through countless roguelites, this game doesn’t offer much you haven’t seen before. The mechanics are solid enough, but the atmosphere and writing are why you’re here.
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