A “Rad” adventure that may or may not pull you in.
To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat the game with all health upgrades and items
What I Did: Beat the game
Played: 10/17/16 – 11/1/16
My Difficulty: 8/10
One of my favorite game styles is the open world platformer, more commonly known as a Metroidvania. The Adventures of Rad Gravity does not feel like a Metroid game but it is sort of a similar experience, which took me by surprise when I started to get into the game. While the Metroid series is one of my favorite game series, this particular game is not nearly on the same level though it does have some moments that are really quite interesting. Let’s take a deeper dive so you can better understand what I mean.
The Adventures of Rad Gravity was developed by Interplay and published by Activision. It was released in December 1990 on the NES in the US and it later made its way to Europe and Australia in 1991. The Australian version was distributed by Mattel. The game is an NES exclusive since it was not released in Japan and had no ports to any other system.
The story of Rad Gravity starts with a colonization effort long ago between nine planets. During this effort Compuminds were developed that could communicate instantly between all the colonized worlds. At some point, a wizard named Agathos was transformed by some kind of weird space magic into a huge brain. Because of this, Agathos came into power and decided that he wanted to take over the colony and shut down all the Compuminds, leaving the worlds to fade away and decay. Some time later, one of the Compuminds named Kakos was discovered and turned on. He came up with a plan to restore the rest of the Compuminds and bring back the former colony to glory. Kakos cannot physically explore the planets and must employ Rad Gravity as the best space cadet suited to travel to each world and restore both the Compuminds and the colony.
The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a side-scrolling platformer game where you play the role of Rad. You team up with Kakos to explore each of the nine worlds. The game begins in your spaceship where you can select an available planet from your monitor and Kakos will beam you down to the surface. Here you control Rad directly from a side-scrolling view. At the start of the game you only know the location of one planet, but as you explore you will come across the coordinates for other worlds. You will also accumulate different kinds of equipment to help you explore later levels. You can travel to almost any unlocked world at any time. Thus the item and level progression is how the game resembles Metroid.
The controls are simple. When controlling Rad use the D-Pad to move around, press A to jump, and press B to use a weapon or item. The Start button pauses the game and brings up the item selection bar at the top of the screen. Press either Left or Right to select the item you want to equip and then press Start to unpause the game with the item you selected. You can press Up on the D-Pad to enter doors or interact with computer terminals, and you press Down to duck. You can also jump down through certain floors by holding Down while jumping with A.
When inside your spaceship looking at the map, there are colored circles that indicate places you can reach by teleporting. Use the D-Pad to choose a teleport location and press A to go there. If you choose one of the planets you will zoom in on it to see either one or more possible landing spots. There are also stargates on the map that will warp you to a different part of the colony where you can see different planets. I found that the map can be pretty confusing to navigate when the stargates are used, so sometimes I had to bounce around for awhile just to figure out what areas were available to me, but it’s something I eventually got used to.
There is a menu bar at the top of the screen displayed during the platforming sections. You can see which item is equipped as well as Rad’s health bar. There is also a score counter that is completely frivolous because you only earn points when collecting items. There are no points awarded for defeating enemies which seems pretty unusual for an action game.
Rad collects many items along the way to help in his quest. You begin the game with three very useful items. The Communicator item is your method to travel from a planet back to your spaceship. You can use it at any item to leave a level whether you are done looking around or if you get into a bad spot. When you teleport back to your ship your health is completely restored. That sounds really nice but there really isn’t much of a penalty if you die. Actually you can teleport out during the death animation and you still get full health back, making death a personal choice! The second item is the Translator which allows you to read messages found on computer terminals. The third item is a Laser Sword for close range combat.
The rest of the items are found along the way. The most common upgrade is the health upgrade. The item itself looks similar to a chunk of your health meter. Collect it to add another bar of health to your maximum. There are 15 of them in the game and some of them are well hidden. The teleport beacon is a neat item with some really clever uses for the resourceful player. It comes in two parts. Press B when equipped to throw one on the ground, and press B again to teleport to the exact spot you dropped it. The beacon location is lost whenever you go back to your ship, but you can use to teleport back no matter how far away you go or how many screens away you are. Another item is the Energy Disk that acts like a hoverboard. Deploy it with B and hop onto it and you can float on it while moving left or right. You can move downward with it but you cannot go up. If you jump off then it vanishes. This item does force you to spend a bar of your health to use it so you will only use it in a few cases. There are also three different levels of armor upgrades that lower the health loss when taking damage.
The rest of the items are weapons. There is a sword upgrade called the Super Sword that gives slightly longer range and more attack power than the base sword. You get a Power Pistol that fires bullets horizontally across the screen. You can upgrade it to the Vertigun that lets you also fire vertically, and you can later find the Maxigun that gives it a power boost. Saurian Crystals act as bombs that you toss in an arc ahead of you, and you can find the Crystal Bombs to power them up even further.
There are ten levels in The Adventures of Rad Gravity. Cyberia looks like a cityscape with a few buildings to explore. Effluvia is the garbage dump of the colony. Sauria is a jungle styled level with some vicious baby dinosaurs. Turvia is flipped completely upside down for a unique experience. Vernia is another city high up in the clouds. The Asteroid Belt contains an abandoned spaceship. Utopia is a planet with two sides and an underground factory. Odar contains an underground maze. Volcania is a burning planet with active volcanoes as you might expect from the name. Telos is the final planet shrouded in mystery!
There are quite a few enemies and traps that stand in Rad’s way. Most of them are your run of the mill enemy types that can be killed with a few attacks. However there are quite a few obstacles that have some kind of unique behavior attached to them. Some enemies you can kill and they explode after a short pause sending shrapnel across the screen. Other enemies cannot be killed but they can be manipulated by how you shoot them. Some enemies can be pushed around if they are blocking a critical path. Sometimes an enemy can push Rad through small spaces that he cannot walk through by himself. There are some enemies that Rad can safely ride on top of. These enemies tend to be put in places where you have to think more about what to do to get past them rather than just engaging in pure combat.
By the same token, there are certain kinds of mechanics that only appear in a single area in the game. In one level, you have to place a peg inside a hole on top of a gate that opens it. One levels has keys to find. There are blocks you can push that you need to use as stepping stones to clear certain jumps. In the Asteroid Belt you need to navigate between obstacles by firing your gun in the opposite direction to push Rad around as he floats in space. The game does have a variety of things to do in all kinds of environments that make the game interesting.
The Adventures of Rad Gravity does feature a few boss battles mostly in the second half of the game. Similar to the enemies, the bosses tend to have some kind of unique gimmick associated with them where you have to figure out what to do to effectively fight them. These solutions are not always obvious and there was more than one moment where I was left scratching my head.
While not overly long, this is not a game you can finish in a single sitting unless you have already played through it a few times. Fortunately the game has a password system! The only way to trigger the password screen is to actually die in a level without teleporting out of it, which is a little annoying to do. The passwords themselves are 20 characters long and they track all of the items collected and planets unlocked.
This was my first time playing The Adventures of Rad Gravity. I did not really know about this game until I started my big push for collecting NES. The only way it really stood out at all early on is because of the bright orange label. I ended up buying this cart individually on eBay in 2014 for a little over $7 shipped. While not a terribly expensive game, that cart had the best price I have seen on it so I snagged it right away. The game now sells typically in the $15-$20 range and that price is not too much higher than it was when I bought the game.
I started playing Rad Gravity when my wife was out of town for a couple of days. I was able to put in about 4-5 hours of play time and that got me about halfway through the game. The latter half of the game took longer and I spent two weeks grinding through it. Some of the difficulty stemmed from not knowing which area was the correct one for my current item loadout and some of it came from figuring out how to best clear the areas themselves. I struggled some on the bosses too. I am happy to report that I managed to beat the entire game without looking up anything in a walkthrough. Some of the solutions are obtuse enough that it was no small feat to clear the game on my own. Now this was not a 100% complete run because I missed some health upgrades as well as one of the powered up weapons if I recall correctly. I watched a longplay of the game with all items and some of the ones I missed I probably would not have found on my own. There is only one ending regardless of item completion so reaching the credits is enough to consider the game beaten.
Here’s a tip that helped me get through the game. I found the manual to be particularly helpful for a specific reason. Toward the back of the manual is a section called Top Secret Clues. These hints in and of themselves were only occasionally helpful. The clues are grouped by planet and the order of the planets listed in this section is the same order you can play through the levels. It turns out you do not have to follow this exact order but this way definitely works if you want to take the guess work out of where to go next.
I have mixed emotions about the game. There are some really neat elements to the game that I have already mentioned, but the whole package doesn’t add up quite right. If I had to describe my experience in a single word, I would choose clumsy. The jumping physics feel really heavy most of the time, meaning you can jump pretty high and then fall down hard. In contrast, the level design is often claustrophobic with long tight horizontal corridors. The jumping combined with the level design can lead to missed jumps and a lot of unnecessary frustration. The sword is not really a great weapon and you are stuck with dealing with close combat and hardly any health at the beginning of the game. The backgrounds can be very unclear on which blocks are solid and which ones are just decoration. The way to make progress is not always obvious making it easy to get fed up with the game, at which point you might drop it altogether or dip into a walkthrough at the slightest hint of getting lost. But I have to say, there were some moments where I figured out something that was so cleverly done that it will stick with me for a long time. It is really hard for me to pick a side here!
The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a really tough game for me to give a strong recommendation. It’s not a great game, it’s not a hidden gem, and it’s not really even an average game. Instead it is a combination of varying highs and lows. I think this is a game that you have to play to know if it’s something you will like. Watching videos or looking at screenshots do not convey well what this game is all about. And frankly reviews don’t do it much justice either. It seems to me that most reviews give up on the game before some of the neat stuff starts. My hope is that this post will highlight the game just enough for you to decide if you want to seek it out on your own and form your own opinion.