Humor in video games - especially the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking kind of humor - is a dangerous firecracker to play with, as it can be either fun and surprising, or blow up in your face. Making my way through Rad Rodgers, a homage to 90's video games and culture wrapped up in a well-made puzzle platformer, I kept admiring the art and action but rolling my eyes at the tonally inconsistent, hit-or-miss humor.
Rad Rodgers' premise is simplicity itself; the story of a 90's video game-loving kid who wakes up in a game world with a foul-mouth console sidekick to guide him. Like most puzzle platformers, Rad's environments are filled with destructable elements, secret passages, hidden areas to discover and many hazards to avoid. They range from the traditional spiky foliage to the acidic pools that are always a missed jump away - not to mention the constant stream of enemies hell-bent on young Rad's demise.
One element that makes Rad Rodgers gameplay stand out are the "Pixelverse" minigames in which sidekick Dusty must drop into a two-dimensional world to manipulate environment-modifying objects. Fast moving and with pixel art style of early generation games, the Pixelverse levels are sometimes frustrating to navigate collections of hazards, traps and enemy blobs. It's a cool gimmick but can be punishing and I have to say that I never looked forward to those sections of the game.
Generally, Rad Rodgers gameplay will seem familiar to anyone well-versed in the action platformer genre, but there are a number of control options (controller or mouse/keyboard) and aiming-assist tweaks that players can use to find the sweet spot for success. Rad Rodgers is a difficult game even at the normal difficulty setting, and failure can come quickly. With only a handful of weapons and limited special ammo, the game demands a fair amount of precision, timing, thought, and planning on the fly. Happily, the platforming is relatively forgiving, with the focus more on solving puzzles than pixel-perfect jumps.
Rad Rodgers looks beautiful, with a lush, cartoon-come-to-life aesthetics that cram detail into every inch of the frame. The game is colorful and vibrant almost to the point of distraction, but given the plethora of pixel-style retro titles that have flooded the indie market, I appreciated Rads art all the more. There's a decent amount of variety in level design, and quite a few moving bits and pieces that give the world a dynamic feel. The driving electronic score captures the bit-tune vibe of early games while being much more socially satisfying.
Although voiced by the venerable John St Jon, much of Rad Rodgers' humor fell flat for me. There's a lot of repetition and gratuitous profanity that didn't offend me but seemed out of place for the genre. Ironic, self-referential humor in games has always struck me as low hanging fruit and rarely works as well as one hopes. It's far better to hide the meta-commentary in the visual design, enemies or gameplay.
Rad Rodgers is a tautly constructed, well-paced game that doesn't outstay its welcome. Although I grew tired of the Pixelverse gimmick and wasn't always on board with the game's humor, I enjoyed its vibrant art, action and level design. Whether you're a platforming wizard or just a casual fan on the genre, Rad Rodgers will keep you entertained.