Radiant borrows heavily from the the 80s classic Space Invaders, pitting the player against hoards of pixelated alien sprites. Like the original, the player controls a space-ship which they move back and forth along the bottom of the screen, shooting all manner of futuristic weapons at the ‘creeps’ above. Hexage have done a great job marrying the fun, addictive game-play of the original with inventive touches that make Radiant a real work of art. The enemies swoop, pirouette and swirl on the screen, prompting the protagonist to deconstructively ask if the alien pilots attended ballet or flight school.
Talking of dialogue, the protagonist, Max Blaster – who the creators describe as being like a space-faring Jack Bauer – constantly exchanges a stream of witty, self-referential comments with SuperCreep, the leader of the alien forces. The game knows that it’s a reinvention of an 80s classic, and the dialogue certainly reflects that, with self-aware quips which serve as a valuable counterpoint to the Starship-Troopers-esque mindless alien slaughter.
That said, the plot – while no supreme work of literature – does include more subtleties that one would expect from a simple space shooter. The writers do an excellent job of humanising even the enemies, and develop unique – if necessarily simple – personalities for all of the characters. There’s even a role-reversal which should allow the mindful player to reflect on Max’s hardened xenophobia, and commitment to the slaughter of this alien race.
The graphics are stunning. Radiant faithfully reproduces the look and feel of the 80s arcade game, with carefully-drawn sprites, evoking the blocky 8-bit foes of a bygone era. Hexage’s graphic designers didn’t stop there, however, pushing the envelope to give the enemies unique colours and a subtle glow that really earns the game it’s title: the effect is certainly one of radiance. In an enemy-filled level, with glowing creeps swirling back and forth in sweeping strokes, and weapons fire spraying accross the screen, Radiant is truly a thing of beauty. On the Nexus One’s OLED screen, the effect is supremely impressive: you really have to see it to appreciate how good it looks. The sound effects likewise take the feel of an arcade game’s ‘beep’s and ‘boop’s, but elevate them to a whole new level, complementing the visuals for an enthralling experience.
Gameplay is fun and exciting, if a little tough. The game has three difficulty levels: ‘casual’, ‘normal’, and ‘hardcore’. I struggled through many Game Over screens, eventually completing the game on casual, though – from what I’ve seen – the other two difficulty levels aren’t that much mroe challenging. It’s not fundamentally hard per say, but quite unforgiving of mistakes. Even once you’re accustomed to the control scheme, a slight miscalculation can destroy you. Fortunately, the game saves your progress: you just have to quit and restart it to pick up from right before the fight in which you died, weapons and power-ups intact. However, even this is somewhat inconvenient: why not just give me a ‘press any button to continue’? That’s what it boils down to, only with some intervening effort and time. If there’s one thing that holds the gameplay back, it’s an overuse of asteroid fields. They’re a fun gimmick to begin with, but get old quickly. One of the least visually appealing aspects of gameplay, difficult to complete, and with limited scope for skill to influence their outcome, the game could do with a lot fewer asteroid fields.
The regular fights are fun, evoking Space Invaders, moving your ship left and right to dodge incoming fire while your weapon keeps shooting. There’s actually no ability to control the weapon’s fire rate, and it shoots small salvoes before taking a moment to recharge. This makes positioning the ship to take and dodge shots tactically interesting. When destroyed, enemies drop powerups, and ‘credits’ which can be used between levels to buy upgrades for your weapons, and extra lives. There are several weapons to choose from, though I found that one was clearly superior to the others, and stuck with that. Nevertheless, the ability to purchase improvements makes combat more engaging by adding multiple levels of strategy. How close can I get to that weapons fire to pick up that powerup? Which weapon should I upgrade next?
Boss battles add some variety, allowing the enemies to use the same sophisticated weapons as the protagonist, and prevent the normal battles from becoming boring or monotonous. Most of the bosses are given some unique character, inspired by one of the original Invaders sprites. This blend of old and new – as elsewhere in Radiant – works well, once more contributing some depth that sets it apart from a simple shooter.
Some minor gameplay niggles aside, Hexage has done a great job with Radiant, producing a truly excellent game that meets their goal of creating games that are:
“of real value, beautiful to look at and comfortable to play.”
Radiant is available in a free ‘lite’ version that goes up to the first boss, while the full version will set you back £1.50 (about $2.25). That’s less than the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee, and I guarantee that you’ll enjoy Radiant more. Radiant is available in the Android Market, and the iPhone app store.