Another week, another Kickstarter game makes the leap from PC to PlayStation 4. This time around it’s Rad Rodgers, a “spiritual successor” to those side scrolling platformers that graced the PC back in the nineties, such as Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit.
Nostalgia is definitely the main aim here, and for good or bad it brings with it all the baggage you’d expect given its clear sources of inspiration. Sure, it uses 3D models in a side on perspective to give some depth and a more modern aesthetic to proceedings, but in many other ways Rad Rodgers would be at home in a very different era.
One of the parts that feels distinctly dated is the story, which sees twelve-year-old Rad being sucked into his TV via a vortex so he can take part in his own video game adventure. On this quest he’s accompanied by Dusty – his foul mouthed games console voiced by Jon St. John of Duke Nukem fame – who just so happens to have gained sentience in order to help Rad survive a corrupted jungle full of deadly enemies and obstacles.
The story is superfluous at best, mainly cropping up as part of cut scenes that bookend Rad’s adventure, but it’s the humour that runs throughout that has much more of a presence. Touted as being full of explicit language, and adult themes, it’s probably best not to get your hopes up too much as many of the jokes – some of which riff on videogame tropes – consistently miss the mark, and when you hear one of the friendlier jungle inhabitants tell Rad to “eat a buffet of dic*” you’ll have correctly pegged just how clever things are going to get.
While the humour ends up suffering because of its old-school, low brow approach, the platforming benefits from being a bit stuck in the past. With only the ability to jump, shoot, and melee, there’s a pleasing simplicity to the gameplay as you make your way through the eight stages blasting enemies, all the while accompanied by music and sound effects that feel like they’re lifted directly from some of your favourite platformers. Jumping also feels nicely responsive, and while each area can feel a cluttered at times due to the depth effect of the 3D visuals mentioned previously, the earlier levels don’t really require you to be pixel perfect with your jumps in order to make you it through.
In fact, the first two thirds of Rad Rodgers ends up being a little too straightforward, and should you actually end up losing a life, the evenly spaced out checkpoints ensure you won’t get set back too far. Things aren’t a breeze the whole way, though, as towards the end the difficulty spikes significantly. Whereas before you’d only lose the occasional life in a stage, you’ll suddenly find yourself burning through all three in short order, which in turn will put you right back at the start of a stage to do it all again.
This wouldn’t be bad if these last levels didn’t each take 20-30 minutes to run through cleanly, and finding yourself put back at square one due to a sudden abundance of obstacles and enemies that’ll wipe your health in a blink of an eye is very frustrating. It also means that when you do eventually make it to the end of one of these later stages, you’ll be more than likely relieved that you never have to play it again, rather than satisfied at overcoming the challenge.
Should you want to spend time rerunning each level then there are also score leaderboards for each area, and an abundance of collectibles and secrets to uncover. While most of these are just items you need to find in order to complete the 100% checklist for each level, some of the secret areas actually contain extra lives, and additional weapon power-ups, which makes working out where they’re hidden really worthwhile – especially during the more challenging later areas.
Rad Rodgers struggles to find its difficulty sweet spot. Spending far too much time being either too easy or frustratingly hard, the inconsistent pacing means that neither those looking for a fun romp nor a hard as nails platformer will leave satisfied. While the gameplay at its core is decent and the design of each stage provides an enjoyable variety of challenges, the crass outdated humour and the radically varying difficulty mean that Rad Rodgers falls way short of being an excellent adventure.