In a world long before the arrival of Metroidvanias and Open-World games, there used to be a little thing we called “stages”. They were novel concepts that asked the player to select a “level” and forced them to play through until they reached something called “the end”. These were great ways to put al the focus on a single set of challenges and feel complete after exiting this single environment, instead of having to rely on memory in order to remember where that one locked gate was halfway across the map. You were given everything needed for that one “level” and all you needed to do was find secrets and make it through each set trap and enemy. A Metroidvania-like-lite, if you will.
While there’s a huge influx of that style of openish-world games out there, level-based franchises still exist, even if they are few and far between. As it happens, only recently I’d been thinking to myself how much I missed these level-based games of yore when something like Rad Rodgers: Radical Edition arrived fresh on my Switch, updated from its original release (hence the Radical Edition) to give me just what I was waiting for. Well, something I thought I was waiting for, anyway.
Rad Rodgers is all about the old-school feel, right down to the storyline about a boy addicted to video games – conveniently named Rad – getting sucked into…a video game! It’s a world full of enemies and bad guys, all wanting him dead. Armed only with his gun and new friend Dusty, a potty-mouthed talking gaming console companion with arms and special abilities, he makes his way through the digital world, level by level, hoping to find a way out.
Rad Rodgers leans heavily – very heavily – into the familiar game-within-a-game concept, which can feel grating when the self-referential metajokes start to feel like crutches. Tonally, the game is all over the place, with crude jokes never quite landing and often feeling misguided attempts at humor. Those who remember Rare’s Conkers games will know what I’m talking about, those the misplaced jokes about body parts and their functions are less successful here.
Despite the game’s childish look and feel, this is a very M-rated affair, though there’s an option to a more child-friendly version if crude gaming humor isn’t as welcome in your family-friendly homes.
The game’s biggest gimmick, of course, is to pull several famous (and some less so) faces from the 3D Realms universe into the mix. The most notable here are the titular Duke Nukem and Lo Wang from the Shadow Warrior games, as well as the cybernetic Bombshell from the upcoming Ion Maiden. It’s not quite Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but sometimes you have to leverage what you can. There’s a few other characters as well, though none as noteworthy as the marquee ones.
Both Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior should have been keys this wasn’t going to be the most kid-friendly experience, as their brand of humor has never been that subtle. But whatever spark they have is mostly muted in this menagerie of Rad Rodgers, which scrapes at the very bottom of a barrel that’s been pretty scraped out. The only true win here is that Duke is voiced by the man himself, Jon St. John, and that alone is a wonderful thing. Come get some!
Each level revolves mainly around finding four pieces of a medallion in order to open the final door at the end of the stage. Within the stages you’ll find branching paths that lead to a different piece. Each path is usually met with some kind of secret area that often takes a little patience to reach. The shooting is pretty barebones and simplistic, with AI that offers little challenge. Interestingly, it took some time into the campaign for me to realize there was a helpful lock-on button which makes the game even easier, possibly too easy. The gunplay mixed with the platforming can feel sloppy at times and there’s some tough jumps.
Plenty of ledge-grabbing inconsistencies surface too which makes it apparent that the developers didn’t want you up there at that point. Now, this is a big thing for a ton of games but it’s never more apparent than in Rad Rodgers. Your game console buddy has arms that stick out and help grab ledges that you barely miss. Which is helpful…except when it isn’t. A handful of platforms look tantalizingly obtainable, but after taking – and missing – a leap of faith for the dozenth time you’ll quickly realize you’ll need to do exactly what was set out by the developers.
Peppered throughout the levels are ‘glitches’ in the game world, big blobs of antimatter that, when touched, cause you to fall right into different game genres. In these mini-stages the perspective shifts from side-scrolling platformer to a top-down shooter. You fly around looking for pieces that you’ll need to punch in order to make platforms in the “real world” that allow you to reach higher spots. There’s enough of these challenges throughout each level and they do a good job in breaking up the formula, but they often feel more like a chore than a change of pace.
Rad Rodgers wants to add variety to the experience but, again, little is particularly enjoyable or well-crafted. Between each of the main levels are little minigames, such as a large pinball table, a pogo stick challenge, and a few others. I’m certain these were intended to break up the monotony, but instead they felt like half-baked mobile games.
Despite my gripes about the platforming being slippery and the combat being mostly easy, much of the game remains surprisingly difficult. You’re given a few lives with only a few hearts. Since each level is rather large, getting a third of the pieces only to die and restart at the beginning can be a huge blow as you’ll have to begin all the way from the start. There are tons of collectables scattered throughout, which makes repeat plays necessary if you like to collect everything 100 percent. There’s Gems, kills, secrets, hats, and plenty more. If this sounds like fun just be wary that some things, like the glitches, can’t be accessed more than once in a single attempt, so any missed opportunities will require a replay of the level to grab them all.
This wouldn’t be so bad had the levels themselves been more entertaining, but just knowing that you’ll to replay them again and again just to collect everything will be groan-inducing to all but the most diehard fans.
After spending some quality time with Rad Rodgers: Radical Edition I did warm up to the game a little bit, though not enough to wholeheartedly recommend to anyone but the most old-school of old-school fans. It’s a deeply flawed experience marred by attempts at crude humor that never quite works the way the developers seem to think it does, especially as these unsavory bits aren’t as endearing as the games Rad Rodgers is shamelessly aping from. Which is a shame, as there’s nothing wrong with the concept, and having Duke Nukem available is always a plus. Maybe one day he’ll be in a great video game again, but we’ll have to keep waiting.