Genre: Platformer Developer: Beam Software Publisher: Activision Players: 1 Released: 1994
Many of the classic games in the Mega Drive/Genesis library still earn high praise today despite the benefit of hindsight in a rapidly changing industry. When going back to these games, I always wonder how much my own nostalgia is affecting my judgment. And when playing games from the same era that I never played at the time, I am wondering if I am being unfairly critical. I’m sure many writers and readers here have the same problem I do. Should I review a game as the excited kid or as the more experienced adult? Should I review a game as it stands today or as it did then? Looking back at the retro-reviews I’ve done both here and elsewhere, I can see that I have been very forgiving where sound and visuals are concerned but perhaps much less so with gameplay. I don’t think this is unfair as it is something that can be done right with even the most basic sprites and perhaps no sound at all.
Now we come to the subject of this review, Radical Rex. If you remember seeing this review before, it is because the Mega CD version has already been reviewed, and I find myself wondering how this one can give any more insight into the game when the only major difference is the lack of CD quality tracks. There are also two other problems. One is that this game was made by my fellow countrymen. Australia has produced some great games but not a whole lot, so I wonder if I should be harsh on one of the only Australian games I know of on the Mega Drive? The other problem is that despite never having played it, I always wanted this game as a child, and shortly into the second level I could tell that my younger self would have been far more patient and forgiving than I am likely to be. And had he played it, I suspect I would have fond memories of this game and not have needed this extended introduction to review it.
Did I mention that I love dinosaurs?I wrote the above out before I had played very far into the third level, and I did this as a way to get my biases out there. With the game beat and my initial thoughts out there, I can get into specifics. Radical Rex is a fairly standard platform game. It has 10 levels, boss fights and a quirky animal character that you can’t help comparing to Sonic. There were so many games like this by 1994 that it is hard not to dismiss the game-based on the cover art alone. It was released on both the Mega Drive/CD and on the SNES. The only difference being the soundtrack and the loading screens. Though I haven’t played it, the SNES version appears only to have few aesthetic changes including a re-skinned antagonist but is in most regards the same game.
The Mega CD review covered a lot of the basics, so here is what I agreed with in short. The environments are too dark and lack variety. It is often confusing what is dangerous and what can be interacted with in the levels. The difficulty spikes significantly during boss fights and most bosses can take an incredible amount of damage, even on easy. The ’90s fad stuff is unoriginal and irritating. Rex has the ability to jump, breath fire and melee attack. The latter two often have to be used in combination for the larger enemies. In addition to this he can collect power-ups like invincibility and a fire ball upgrade as well as a “roar” power which can be used to damage all enemies on the screen. There are also some skateboarding sections which act very much like the half-pipe and loop sections of the Sonic games.While there is little variety in the environments, the level design is actually quite good. There are often multiple paths and exploration is encouraged by the collectible eggs, 80 of which will give you access to a bonus stage.
There are plenty of little secrets hidden around each stage and while they feel large, there is rarely any doubt about which direction you need to go. The dinosaur graveyard stages were particularly good with the object being to climb up dinosaur skeletons to the top of the stage. The only real complaints are a few bottleneck areas where a particularly nasty dinosaur is placed in such a way that makes avoiding damage or death very difficult. Apart from a few instant-death spikes, pits and traps the levels themselves are generally quite easy. The developers have also included many other creatures that are either harmless or help Rex. This can sometimes be confusing but it usually only results in an innocent creature being roasted by Rex’s flame attack. Checkpoints take the form of a torch which, I should emphasize, must be lighted by your flame attack. The first few times I died, I found myself all the way at the beginning of the stage. I only worked this out in the fifth stage, which happens to be the stage that will likely decide your opinion on the game.
Up until the fifth stage, the game is very straightforward, but the fifth contains a boss fight with the games antagonist, Sethron and it is the hardest boss fight in the game. Every level following the fifth has a boss fight, but not even the still-difficult final boss is this hard. The main reason this boss is hard is perhaps due to how unexpected it is. Rex can take a lot of damage and up until this point, you haven’t encountered any bosses. The boss attacks with random lightning attacks making them tough to avoid and Rex does only limited damage with each attack. The fight is one of attrition and it is similar for all the following boss fights. My main advice is to hold on to Rex’s roar power because it gives you a greatly needed advantage in all but one battle. Perhaps I am just not as good or at least patient as I used to be, but even if that is the case, the boss fights represent a jarring spike in difficulty. It is likely that you will die a lot before getting a pattern down. The bonus stages earned by collecting 80 eggs in a level give you the chance to earn a continue and play a bit like Bomberman crossed with Pac-Man (I’ve never played Pengu). These stages are difficult too, though and you only get one chance in each one. My childhood self would frown, but I would suggest looking up and using the stage select code. There is no save or password system.
While the Mega CD version is much better, the music is still great. Each environment has its own and they suit very well. The sound effects however are quite the opposite. The (thankfully) sparsely used digital voice sounds crackly as do the flame attacks and dinosaur roars. The harsh sound of the flame attack actually makes the boss fights even worse. Outside of the boss fights there is luckily not a whole lot of this during each stage so you can still enjoy the music, but if the CD is an option then it is definitely recommended on this point alone.
People often say that easy games are for kids. I’ve often found that odd as I beat some very difficult games as a child, many of which I only later found out were considered difficult. Radical Rex is a game that I would have liked much more as a child than I do now. If I was reviewing it with childhood memories, I have no doubt I would be much kinder. The problem with Radical Rex isn’t that it is difficult in parts but that it isn’t difficult at all until halfway through the game and then only during the boss fights. This inconsistency really hurts the overall experience in what is a decent if unexceptional platformer. A few tweaks with hit-points and just making the easy and normal modes fit their respective definitions wouldn’t have made Radical Rex a great game but it would have been much better.
SCORE: 5 out of 10