RADical ROACH is an horizontal shoot 'em up game that stands neither on the bullet-hell side, nor on the more traditional Gradius-like type of shooter.
You're a mute cockroach in a post apocalyptic world, apparently dominated by fleas (and other insects and creatures), all trying to put a stop to your renegade run.
It's your job to keep going forward, through 4 different areas, each with a certain theme and enemies.
First off: the developers warned the players that the game is hard. Well... it certainly is, but not for the right reasons at all. It's not a good challenge. It challenges your persistence and patience rather than your skill and reflexes. I'll talk more about level design and difficulty later on.
Alright, let's begin with its presentation
, as usual.
As you can probably see from the screenshots, the game looks pretty good!
It has a bold, hand drawn, cartoony style, and to be honest, it fits the silliness of the game's story.
Everything has a personal look to it, and the bosses are also interesting, in their visual design. It feels like it was made in Flash, and that's fine. The problem is that it plays like it was made by an illustrator with very limited knowledge of how to design the game (other than its visual style).
The animations can be dodgy, at times, without solid transitions between each other. Specially for the bigger enemies, they just vanish into a far smaller explosion sprite when they die, which looks a bit awkward.
All in all, every animation seems to have fewer frames than it should, not really feeling fluid enough. But hey, it's not too bad, it just could have been more polished.
This is a side scrolling shooter, so expect a heavy amount of parallaxing with quite a few layers, that actually looks pretty cool. Despite being a fairly simplistic way of doing it, I actually liked the way the backgrounds passed through, well done on that!
A problem with it, was that you could see the repetition on it, if you look close enough. Slightly larger backgrounds wouldn't have been bad, but it's just a minor concern.
How about sound effects and music
Well, both felt off, to be honest. They didn't really fit the theme..
The music itself wasn't bad, but again, it just felt generic, and didn't complement the game's visual style in any way.
One big problem I've had with sound design, was that the music just restarted whenever you died. Instead of just continually play, keeping the flow of the game up, it stopped, and started from the beginning. Maybe this isn't very obvious for most people, but it actually makes a huge difference when playing a game, specially one that requires multiple tries and restarts.
Just another criticism, that isn't quite directed at the game, but I'll just leave as a future suggestion.
There were times when enemies threw projectiles at a rhythm, which helped me get more "immersed" into those sequences and felt great. The problem is that it wasn't sync'ed with the music, and ended up ruining the moment. I realize it was most likely not the intention, but I think the game would have benefitted from more rhythm oriented sections.
Another very annoying thing, was the lack of options. It didn't even have music/sound effects toggles. It was just piss poor.
Sometimes, I like to just put on my own music, and that wasn't an option at all. Even for lowering sound, I had to use the Windows' Sound Mixer. Big no on this. Come on, how hard is it to put a couple of separate sliders into the game?
It had "Fullscreen" and "HD Mode"(Whatever that was) and another 2 other options that I didn't really need.
Oh... and it doesn't have a Pause Button. If you press escape, you're taken to the level select screen, which will, of course, start you from the beginning of the level. And, if that level happens to have a cutscene, you'll have to see it again, since they're all unskippable.
The menus were just awful from a navigation standpoint, without consistency at all, sometimes using Esc, other time having to click it, ... It was awful. And it makes a more negative impact on the game that could have easily been avoided.
Let's get on with gameplay.
This... is going to be hard. It's mostly awful... with a few glimpes at good ideas, and a couple of good levels.
Your objective is to survive for X amount of time in each level, essentially. There will be different phases in each level. While the phases are fixed, enemy movement within those is a bit random.
Radical Roach implements what's known as "quantity over quality". In almost every single level, there is a huge amount of enemies, cornering you into a place where you'll definitely take damage. The most effective way of playing it is actually just shooting straight and not movement, for the most part.
Another huge problem, is the hitboxes. Specially the player's. It really big. It's not like a bullethell, where they let you dodge bullets efficiently. No, no, no, no, no! Not here. Here, you'll just have to find the sweet spot, and stand there for as long as possible. And pray that the game doesn't spawn enemies in places that will be impossible to dodge.
The game is pretty straightforward, and there isn't much innovation here. There are a couple of cool enemy designs, with patterns that you must learn (and I really like that sort of design!), but then, they're just mixed with the awful amount of other enemies spawning randomly, and leaves the player really frustrated.
Another impediment, is the way the parallaxing has foreground layers, with obstruct the vision, and some of the enemy projectiles get easily mixed with the background colors, rendering the screen a freaking mess.
The difficulty in this game comes from bad level design, exclusively. Big hit boxes, some awkward collision detection at times, too much flash, bad choice of colors, etc. etc.
And almost every level is like that, unfortunately.
In the first world, the screen was fairly big, giving the player space to maneuvre (except for the amount of enemies on there...). But in the second world, you're on a cave, that highly limits where you can go...!
Most of it makes no sense. It's just a bunch of ideas thrown together, without the concept of pacing.
There is no difficulty curve at all. The game starts and ends at roughly the same difficulty. (Well, the last levels were actually easier).
You also have a shield and a special projectile (first it's a laser beam, then a triple shot, a black hole, etc., changing with each world). The problem is that the game strips you off of it at will. In some levels they're available, in other levels it's not...
Then, the shield is badly implemented. It pops whenever you touch a spike (which occurs awfully frequently, as your hitbox gets bigger with the shield), and it also has like a second of delay... So, if you're in a pinch, you're dead. It's not like you can use the shield at the right moment...
BUT, there was hope! The Bosses were actually quite fun, at times (despite creating a few almost impossible dodges at times), and there were a few levels that were far more structured, and thus, less frustating. The penultimate level was a good example of that. It was tricky, certainly. But you could plan ahead, and then avoid everything with skill and reflexes, rather than luck.
Unfortunately, those good moments were few and far between.
It had potential. But it's the perfect example of artificial difficulty.
It's not that people don't like hard games, it's that hard games nowadays do it wrong. They're about randomness and trial and error!
I forced myself to complete every level, just to see if it went somewhere.
By the end, it's slightly more interesting than it the beginning, but it's not enough.
It constantly tested my patience, with barely any reward. Finishing a level felt more like relief than pride... And when that happens, you're doing something bad.