symphony's Totally Rad (Nintendo Entertainment System) review

A totally meh kinda game!

Games that cash in on fads are a strange breed. Looking back on them, one can't help but wonder if people were ever really crazy enough to follow those fads. If nothing else, they make an interesting trip into history and great fodder for jokes.

Be excellent, Jake!
Totally Rad tried to cash in on the whole "skater dude" sort of fad made famous by movies like "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure", where the characters overuse words like "totally" and "excellent". Personally, I found that fad grating just as much back then as I do now. It felt entirely fabricated by advertising agencies trying to tap into the 13-25 demographic and guessing wildly about what they like. Thankfully, it never really caught on and is now just a blurb in the annals of history.

In any case, Totally Rad stars our hero, Jake -- a very stereotypical "skater dude" who's every second word is "totally". He's learning magic from some mysterious magician named Zebediah when suddenly his girlfriend, Allison is kidnapped. Fighting his way through strange creatures, he saves her and finds out her father has also been kidnapped! Learning that the professor was taken by underground people, he continues his epic search into the bowels of earth and then into... outer space?

The plot's really just there to get out as many catch-phrases and tag-lines they could think of. Playing it almost 20 years after it was released, I enjoyed a few laughs at how bad the dialogue was -- it's so bad it's funny. Had I played it when this fad was trying to take hold, I would have gagged.

Crazy over-sized bosses!
The game plays like a Mega Man clone with a twist. Instead of getting different power-ups off bosses, you begin with all of your power-ups, or rather, spells. These range from healing spells,  damage spells like fireballs or lightning, and transformation spells that turn you into a hawkman, fishman, or lionman. You have a health bar and a magic bar, but unlike Mega Man, monsters don't drop items that replenish these. Once you're out of magic power, you're out until the end of the level, and health can only be regained by casting healing spells.

The graphics and sound do the job and feel like most games released late in the NES's life-cycle. The backgrounds are well detailed, though the enemies look relatively generic -- heck, one looks incredibly similar to Mega Man's Mets (those little construction helmet wearing guys that waddle around). The bosses have significantly more detail and don't look half bad.

While Totally Rad lacks in the number of regular monsters it has, it has a TON of mini-bosses that you fight at different points of each level. These mini-bosses often come back as regular mobs in later levels which is rather annoying as they are still a pain to kill at that point and you're better off just flying over them and moving on. Speaking of them being annoying, some of the mini-bosses are more annoying than the actual bosses, with more hit-points, less predictable attacks, and smaller hit-boxes. The one at the end of the last level before the final boss is especially frustrating , being more difficult and a longer fight than the actual final boss. It doesn't help that you don't get to replenish your health or magic after fighting this mid-boss, but are rather thrown right into the fight against the final boss.

Besides the mid-bosses, the game isn't terribly difficult. You won't find yourself cursing cheep deaths as much as you would in a game like Mega Man 3 or Ninja Gaiden. One reason for this is there aren't any bottomless pits to get knocked into, which is nice. The controls are responsive and feel right, which also makes the experience easier. You'll also have plenty of spells at your disposal to take care of weak mobs, but I found that I only really used the healing spells and the one that turned me into a hawkman so I could fly over monsters or water areas.

I want to have gnarly potential!
Overall, the game was okay. The plot was attrocious but at least it made me laugh in a "Wow, this is so bad..." sort of way. The worst part is having to restart from the beginning of areas if you die fighting a boss, unlike games like Mega Man where you start just outside the boss. It adds a huge amount of tedium (especially when three deaths means you hafta start at the beginning of the entire level, not just the sub-areas). I can only recommend playing this to people who remember the whole "Woah, totally gnarly, dude!" fad of the early 90s and want to look back on it with a laugh.


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