Totally awesome? Totally Tubular? No! It's Totally Rad! (Man) Are you craving a mad mix of platforming and 90's attitude with the wild and crazy colors of the late 80s? Well look no further than this 1991 release from Jaleco! Why did the box art have this bright color scheme? Why was there a purple-eyed punk rock alligator replete with pink mohawk crawling out of the cover? Who cares?! It was the time of Ninja Turtles, skateboards, and punk hair-dos. Why not have a game that actually embraced a phrase that would not only ensure it stuck out at the time, but would stick out over 25 years later? (Only this time as a sign of being a product of the time.) Cover art and radical title aside, was it worth it to have rented at the time? Would it be worth picking up now. Time to take a look at Totally Rad by Jaleco and see whether the game is a totally bodacious time warp or a totally bogus flop, man.
In Totally Rad you play as Jake, gnarly apprentice to a creepy-faced magician known as Zeb. One day while training, Jake's bodacious girlfriend Allison is kidnapped by an evil king. Now Jake must set forth into a subterranean world in order to rescue his girl and defeat the evil king all while sporting surfer dude 'tude. Yep, it's a "rescue the princess" affair, only this time with a magical surfer dude with lots of 'tude. You have an array of spells immediately at your command ranging from health restoration to transformation of the main character into a weapon slinging creature.
You can get extra lives by defeating a certain number of enemies, however, for each extra life you earn, each subsequent life must be obtained by beating more enemies. Meaning you get your first life after getting 50 points, but the next one doesn't come until you reach over 100 and so on and so forth. While there are spots in the game where life-farming is possible, and there is no time limit, like most farming situations, it can get dull after a while. The action in the game is decently paced and enemy encounters and boss battles feel fair. If you lose a life or take a hit, it's your fault and you know it. While the mechanic of having access to a variety of weapons right off evokes a little bit of Mega Man, I was disappointed that despite the different things I could select from in the magic screen, I oddly felt as if there was a lack of variety and more just novelty to the spells that I was casting. Obviously health restoration was great to have on hand for boss battles, but aside from that I just was never over-wowed by the various powers. It felt great to wield cut blades and quick boomerangs, magically being able to flap wings was okay, but it was no saw blade.
Graphics and Style:
With cut scenes in the style of Ninja Gaiden and 90's 'tude banter abounding; Totally Rad firmly establishes itself as the best of the magician's apprentice surfer dude genre. Colors are bright but never garish, character sprites are well designed and well animated, and level designs are unique and mapped out fairly. (I hate it when games have what purposely feels like cheap deaths or trial-and-error map design simply out of laziness or attempts to extend gameplay.) Totally Rad was a later release in the Nintendo Entertainment System's life cycle, so by this time games had a more polished look to them and usually competent choices in design.
Music and Sound Design:
From the weapon charge to the enemy hits; the sound effects in the game are probably some of the best of the genre for the time. When you have a platformer like this which tries to mimic some of the better aspects of the Mega Man series, you want to feel a modicum of satisfaction when you fire your weapon, and Totally Rad delivers.
The music for Totally Rad stands up both on its own and the test of time. Too often with platformers for the NES you get an annoying song loop that either feels like it isn't trying or loops too soon. Take a listen to the beats from Act 1 Part 1:
Act 1 Part 1
It's high energy, has a decent bass line that keeps with the surfer/rocker tone of the game and conveys that sense of excitement you'd want from a platformer about a surfer dude with magical powers. Now take a listen to the music from Act 2:
It's got a funky beat, uses the base line well, and goes at a pace that while not energetic, still has a higher quality to it. It's obvious that the composer put some real effort into making the tracks not merely functional, but in tone with the spirit of the game and a pleasure to listen to. Most of the tracks, if not all, are good enough to act as music you'd listen to separate from the Totally Rad itself.
Memories and New Thoughts:
So what kind of game was Totally Rad when I rented it back in the day? Was it everything that this ad promised it to be? Was it indeed a game that finally spoke my language, dude?
*Hat tip to www.gamesdatabase.org for this "Totally Rad"
Well, when I rented this game as a kid, I remember it as one of the harder, but satisfying games to play. I don't recall if I beat it at the time, but I do remember it had a certain, "Just one more level, then I'm quitting" appeal to it. Each level felt difficult at the time, and it felt like a real accomplishment when I did beat a level. Totally Rad gave me the same feeling that a Mega Man game or Ninja Gaiden game would when I finally beat a level. Coming back to it decades later, does it still have that appeal to me? Does it hold up after all this time?
Yes and no...and I'm not sure how much of that has to do with the way the game has aged in comparison to Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man. Whereas those games have had numerous entries into their franchise, Totally Rad never turned into a franchised game with multiple sequels. Though the adventures were gnarly and awesome at the time, the whole world that the game exists in doesn't so much feel dated as it does locked away in another reality. ...And yet I still really like this game.
Perhaps I'm a bit too wistful when I look back on Totally Rad. Egad! I just love this era of gaming, don't you? I mean really, how often do we get a game this off the wall in concept and storyline? A magical surfer fighting subterranean monsters is right up there with taking a super battle tank underground to rescue your pet frog. I do really miss the time and place the game comes from. A time when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were popular and there was nothing better than skateboarding or surfing the afternoon away. A time when saying, "That's radical dude" or "That's totally rad, man" were perfect ways to say how excited your were and how awesome something truly was.