It's been a few years since Rad Raygun hit XBLIG, but developer TRU FUN Entertainment hasn't just let the game sit all that time. They've been hard at work turning the short five level affair into something much larger and more complex, maintaining the essence of what made the silly shooter fun while expanding on every aspect of the game. Those who enjoyed Rad Raygun have a lot to look forward to in Super Rad Raygun, and those that never got to play it can look forward to some relaxing, pea-green robot-blasting fun.

The original Rad Raygun had players taking on the role of suspiciously Game Boy-shaped robot of the same name as the title. The Soviets were invading, it was powerfully the 80's, and everything was cast in the backlit beauty of Game Boy green. Traveling across the globe, you'd fight deceivicons, square off against Mad Donna, duel punk rock knife throwers on top of Chernobyl, and end off with a fight against a teddy bear loaded with cassettes. It crammed in as many references as it could across five stages, but Super Rad Raygun aspires to even more. So much more that there is now a map screen that will take players all over the world, fighting those same villains while adding in other references and puns to its cast of bad guys.


One thing I enjoyed, even if it felt at odds with the tone of fighting really cartoonish robots (I'm talking tanks with googly eyes, here), was the larger examination of Cold War events and political strife of the era. The original used the events of the time with a sense of humor, but Super Rad Raygun takes players through some genuinely grim events in the Middle East, South America, and Asia, remarking on the US' involvement (or lack of) in some troubling events in those places. Listening to the president make excuses about their actions of the period, and Rad's reaction to what he's being put to work doing, was soberingly serious at times. I came to this game thinking of the laughs I got from the earlier version, but came away with a surprisingly bleak view of the time period. Contrasting the terrible events with the game's light tone made the bad things seem that much worse, and I actually came away from the game with some interesting questions for myself. Completely unexpected, and an interesting, complex look at events for the time period.

If you just want to shoot robots and ignore all that, there's still plenty of new things to do. The combat is largely unchanged, given that you have a basic blaster that will shoot as fast as you can hit the button. What's new is that you can improve that blaster and a bunch of other aspects of Rad. This is done through upgrades you can grab from a shop that uses bits you collect from enemies. Doing this will allow you to improve weapons, armor, agility, your backlight (you ARE a sentient Game Boy, after all), and casing. All of them help, in their own ways, and make combat a bit more flexible depending on how you want to play.


Still, lots of games do upgrades. Big deal. Super Rad Raygun's upgrades only work when you have a battery to attach to them, and batteries are hidden in each level. So, to actually use that upgrade you bought, you'll need to pick up hidden items. Most of the ones in the preview build were pretty easy to find, so it wasn't difficult to get myself going. When you start off, you often have more upgrades than batteries to power them, so I had to choose which things were more important. More interestingly, those batteries can be equipped and removed on the fly, so if you're in a tough situation and want more defense, you can start pulling batteries off of other things and sticking them into armor. If the lights go out and you need your backlight, then you may have to pull from your blaster's power. You often have to sacrifice one thing to improve another, and it adds a little strategy to how you play.

Another important part of the batteries is that they all draw from a single battery meter under your health bar. The more powerful the ability you try to use, the more power it draws from that bar. You can shoot your little piddly shots all day long, but a maxed-out blaster will drain the entire meter in two shots. Given that things like your jet pack and double jump draw from that meter as well, you may shoot yourself dry against a boss and be unable to dodge it with any of your agility-based moves until it recharges. You can slot batteries into the Battery itself to improve its recharge rate, but you still have to be careful not to take too many shots at once. Given how easily you could cut everything down with rapid fire in the previous version, it was nice to see this aspect added to give combat some better pacing.


That being said, the game is still pretty easy. The strategic elements of the battery system get lost when the enemies are big targets that don't put up much of a fight. Also, there were a lot of batteries just lying around the game world, so by the end of the game that balance that made things challenging before just wasn't there. I had more batteries than I knew what to do with by the preview's end, and there just wasn't much left to challenge me. I didn't mind the fact that it wasn't that hard, but it seemed like a bit of a shame to put so much work into the battery system only to have the game put up very little resistance. I hope the final version has some more difficult modes, or that batteries are harder to come by, just to make that system shine more for someone with my skill level. As is, this game will be fairly comfortable for folks just looking to relax with a game or people who are newer to games.

I don't know how much harder you could make it with the goofy, oversized enemies, though. Many of them are vehicles and creatures with eyes put onto them, pitting players against living tanks, helicopters, and other weird machines. It's all very reminiscent of early video game enemies, and is good for a laugh while you're shooting your way through the levels. Most of them only put up a little resistance, although later game enemies have more powerful weaponry and actually require you use your head. The bosses, inspired by various 80's figures and celebrities, were much more fun to fight. None of them had particularly difficult patterns to learn, each working more to a strange theme, but they all looked good and had fun mechanics. Prince Valdez was a personal favorite, mixing an oil baron with a pop singer while adding just a pinch of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. With big, animated sprites and smooth animations, they were fun to look at as well as fight.


The soundtrack that sold me on the original is still here, although it seems spread a bit thin. Many of the songs from the original FantomenK soundtrack are used in multiple stages, but they lose a bit of their power in multiple plays. There are a lot more new stages, and TRU FUN have added their own tracks so that the same handful of songs aren't played to death. Even so, there still doesn't seem to be that many new tracks, and while they are good songs, they don't sound quite the same as the work from FantomenK. It makes the soundtrack feel at odds with itself, and the changes in artists can be jarring. I like the works of both composers, but they don't gel together in the game.

The stages those songs play in have a lot of variety to offer, both in new mechanics and visuals. Some levels involve flight or swimming, both changing things up from the regular shooter gameplay in fun ways. A few stages are also pitch black, requiring the use of your backlight to get through. These areas are a bit harder as you have to run them while nearly blind, but the game eschews the bottomless pits that are common of action platformers, they're not so bad. Each area looks pretty nice, with many large details to match the big enemy and character sprites. As these stages take place in real-world locations, there are real-world landmarks in each level. The detail in these landmarks is impressive given the Game Boy's color palette, and I often stopped to have a look at the landmark when I passed it. It felt like digital tourism, in a way, except with more shooting the locals' vehicles.


The soundtrack and difficulty might not be quite right yet, but the amount and quality of most of the new content makes it hard to deny that TRU FUN Entertainment are putting a lot of heart into Super Rad Raygun. This version adds so much new content, and broadens the game in a bunch of interesting ways, so I think, with a little tweaking, that the developers could have something really special here. Even in its current state, it's a relaxing game with some funny (and also very serious) ideas that will make for a good break from super hard retro-inspired games. These guys have done a lot of work with the limited colors of the Game Boy, creating a fun, visually appealing experience that many skill levels could enjoy.

For more information on Super Rad Raygun and TRU FUN Entertainment, you can head to the game's site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.