2019 has been a good year for roguelikes. It kicked off with Rogue Empire: Dungeon Crawler RPG on PCs. Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon came back to multiple platforms. Cadence of Hyrule changed how we might think of The Legend of Zelda. Omega Labyrinth Life showed up worldwide. Now, Double Fine has stepped into the randomly-generated arena with RAD, a roguelike where the mechanic is constant evolution through body-altering radiation. Your avatar has been given the ability to absorb radiation and mutate, in the hopes of surviving outside the secure space where humans live.
RAD takes place after the end. The world has been destroyed, and different groups of people are doing their best to get by and survive in the wasteland. The power that supports the machines keeping one settlement clean and safe is failing, and one person had to volunteer to be given a special power by the Menders and head into the contaminated area to fix things. After a keytar solo, the player’s body can take in the Fallow’s toxic RADS and use them to mutate and evolve into a hopefully better version of themselves. They then can go on multiple runs into the randomly-generated space to face off against the enemies there, activate the switches to different doors and defeat the bosses necessary to keep going.
RAD doesn’t play like Cadence of Hyrule, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon, or Omega Labyrinth Life. There are no grids here or enemies that respectfully wait for you to move before moving. (Instead, they will gang up on you and have attack effects that could set the floor on fire and cause extra damage.) Rather long loading screens appear between major areas. You only have three hearts of life, with each hit taking away half of a heart. It can take a lot of runs to add enough characters and items to town to put people in a good place to survive the first area. When your character dies, a new character replaces them and all mutations are lost.
It is those mutations that can make RAD stand out and feel worth playing. Instead of experience, you are gathering radiation that adds up to three Exo Mutations. There updates can change your strategies and give you a possible edge against the enemies and environment. Say you get Batty. This gives you wings, which you can use to fly and glide by pressing a shoulder button. (It can pair well with the ground pound attack.) Cobruh gives you a snake head and lets you poison and stun enemies with your biting attack. If you are lucky enough to get Death Roe, then you grow a tail that lays up to two spider-human-hybrids who follow you around and attack enemies. Home Slice lets you press a shoulder button to let the buddy on your back act as a turret. (Though, he can prove more helpful as a ranged ally who just hangs out on your back.) With Toxic Dump, you could lay a toxic slime trail that could damage opponents that wander in your wake. Warhead turns your head into a flaming skull that can be used as a ranged attack.
The Endo Mutations are less limiting, but could also have a positive or negative effect on your playthrough. These could be acquired from buying them or picking some up as you go about your dungeon-crawling. All but one of the mutations I picked up were universally helpful. Fire Shield Heart is a mutation that will prevent fire attack damage. While it can be worn down by consecutive attacks, it will eventually regenerate and protect you again. Hot Foot, which negates damage from fires you might walk over, is a godsend. Increased Range, which increases your throwing distance, is never going to backfire. Insulator offered electricity invulnerability. But, you have to take care, as you might come across something like the Herbivore endo mutation that will keep you from picking up the meat deceased enemies might drop to heal yourself.
RAD’s mutations are what set it apart. The difficulty, its dungeons and its loading times might give people more accustomed to the other roguelikes released in 2019. Getting to pick up new abilities and change your moveset is a big perk. Since it’s random, you’re still forced to adapt to get by and never know how each run will go. But, it also can feel more unusual than just picking up equipment each run.
RAD is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.