Genre: Platformer Developer: Beam Software Publisher: Activision Players: 1-2 Released: 1994
Once Radical Rex boots up and the title screen appears, we are promptly greeted by a little rap song, courtesy of the CD technology:
“In a burst of fire which is on the scene, packin’ one mean flame and an awesome scream.
Flying ‘cross the world on his mean skateboard, he’s the coolest dino-dude who ever scored [...] He’s so rad, he’s so rad, he’s my real cool Radical Rex.”
Oh boy… we’re not off to a good start, are we?
This platformer here is a typical child of the Nineties! Let’s see, use of outdated catchphrases? There’s “Radical” right here in the title, also voice samples like “rad” or “awesome,” check! Typical nineties fad? Our hero is a skateboarding dinosaur… double check! Nonsensical bad rap intro? Check, and mate! So, as we see right on first sight, this is one case of developers trying to cash in on popular trends. But that’s okay as long as the gameplay’s alright, no? So let’s have a look.
Our hero is Rex, a cutesy little dinosaur with big eyes and a rather cute roar. One day, the evil weasel-wizard Sethron (who speaks only in rhymes for some reason) puts a hex on all the dinosaurs, making them fight one another, so that mammals shall rule the world. Only Rex, who was asleep when the spell was cast (that’s truly radical!), doesn’t fall under the sorcerer’s power. So he sets out to put a stop to Sethron’s schemes, and tries to save his girlfriend, Rexanne, along the way as well. Since Rex looks a bit like a smaller, stouter version of Barney the Dinosaur, it should come to no surprise that the game is aimed at kids, about in the six to ten year-old range.
Before I come to the game itself, let me tell you about the differences between this version and the Genesis cartridge. There aren’t any! Aside from the aforementioned rap intro (which lasts about a minute and a half and, thankfully, only plays once when you start he game up) and a new redbook audio soundtrack, there aren’t any! There are no additional levels, no new graphics, no different cut scenes, zilch, nada. So sadly, the use of the CD-ROM medium is largely wasted.
Anyway, on to the game. The goal is to reach the end of each of the ten stages (starting with level five, there are also bosses to fight; more on them later). Since the other dinosaurs are now out to hurt you, Rex can defend himself in three ways. For one, he can breath fire, intensity and range of which can be enhanced by picking up power ups. A certain power up enables the character to spit a small fireball, an ability that unfortunately is lost upon a single enemy contact (and therefore proves to be largely useless). Once an enemy is stunned and scorched by the flame (indicated by the sprite turning brown), Rex can then employ a kick to dispatch his foe. Lastly, pressing the up button + A simultaneously makes our heroic dinosaur emit a roar that hurts all enemies on screen, as long as the roar meter is filled. If you collect eighty eggs per stage, a bonus stage reminiscent of the game Pengu follows where the player can gain one additional continue.
The levels themselves are pretty straightforward, and the enemies aren’t much of an obstacle. You can take quite a lot of damage before losing a life, and health power ups are available aplenty (at least on easy and medium difficulty). When dangling from a rope, Rex can’t even be hurt at all. So breezing through the levels seems to be child’s play at first. This changes once you hit upon the bosses, however. Your flame (the only way you can hurt them) hardly detracts anything from their life bar, even on “easy” difficulty. Most bosses have several phases in their attack patterns that are randomly changing, and most of the times they can only be safely hit at one specific moment during one of these phases. This drags the boss battles out forever and makes them frustratingly hard (frustration of controller throwing variety), way too hard especially for a kid’s game.
At some points Rex can mount a skateboard. Other than shooting through the levels at high (hardly controllable) speeds, this feature is pretty useless though. Moreover, some mushrooms work like trampolines, catapulting Rex into the air. This leads to a pretty uncontrollably, floaty bounce at times, however. Things are further complicated by the fact that it is often hard to determine which mushrooms Rex can jump on and which are only part of the level layout.
The graphics have a certain cutesy look, but they are way too dark, and there isn’t much variety in layout and design. Most of the stages look way too similar, and with the exception of the “Inner Works” and the graveyard levels, there is hardly any graphical diversity at all. The other five themes are jungle, swamp and forest – very original! In certain places the graphics get in the way and disturb the gameplay as well, such as when you can’t see whether a log is passable or an obstacle, and then there’s the aforementioned mushroom problem. In each level there are also spikes that kill you instantly with a single touch. For some reason, the artists decided to make these look different in every level theme, so expect to lose a few lives upon touching a lethal object because you didn’t know it would kill you.
The audio department is the only field where the CD version differs from the Genesis edition of the game. The redbook audio soundtrack is crystal clear and has a nice, soothing quality to it. Like the level layout and the graphics, though, it is very repetitive. You’d expect more of a rocking or otherwise action-laden soundtrack from a game called RADICAL Rex. What you get though sounds like muzak, more fitting for a shopping mall elevator than for a console game.
Radical Rex can be summed up in three words: Lack of originality. It thematically lives off of fads long outdated, the levels are repetitive (gameplay and graphics-wise), and the CD soundtrack is just boring. Drop in a few cheap obstacles and ridiculously overpowered bosses, and you get a game that is apparently targeted at kids but at times gets frustratingly hard even for seasoned gamers! Children might draw a bit more entertainment out of Radical Rex, at least for the first five levels (until the first boss shows up). Otherwise this game’s not recommendable.