R.A.D. and So-Bad-It’s-Good

R.A.D. (Robot Alchemic Drive) is available on Playstation 2.

By any objective measure, Robot Alchemic Drive is a garbage game. There’s a dozen design decisions that exist just to make it difficult to play, the story and presentation are laughably bad, and on the whole it feels like a protracted exercise in frustration.

Yet I love this junky little clunker so very very much.

You can’t really find it nowadays for less than double its original market price, which isn’t surprising for a relatively short-print niche game, but does constitute a bit of a head-scratcher considering that most players in the 2010s would probably bounce off this thing almost immediately.

There’s a long intro sequence at the start, and it all boils down to a quick rotation of all the trite tropes that are stereotypical of anime – high school protagonist gets coerced by their rich military parentage into piloting a giant super-robot to save the planet from alien invasion.

Oy. (And that’s just the standards that fit into a one-line zinger.)

Every line of it – with respect to those involved – is dubbed so poorly that one has to wonder if it’s a deliberate choice.

Which, to be fair, would be pretty on-brand.

Robot Alchemic Drive seems to be trying to lean as far as it possibly can into the “mecha vs. kaiju” idea, complete with a hyper-campy English dub and big, stiff motions from the fighters that belie the fact that they’re actually stunt actors in elaborate latex suits.

Speaking of, the combat is one of the clumsiest, most convoluted messes I’ve ever had to deal with in an action game, and I adore it to pieces.

Superfight! Superfight!

At a basic level, everything is controlled by a separate button on the controller.

All of  it.

Right foot forward, R1. Right foot back, R2. Left foot forward, L1. Rotate left arm, rotate left analog stick. Etc., etc.; you get the idea. It’s all at the heavy, labored pace you’d expect from a towering robot, too. Just the act of walking forward is a continuous cadence of button inputs, even simple punches require an agile hook of the control stick lest you flail your arms about like tuckered toddler, and certain special moves even require that you rotate your arms about and strike a pose like every sentai robot ever.

It’s a lot to take in, and you’re probably going to trip and stumble right through an apartment complex on your first mission.

Or your eighth.

It’s all complicated by the fact that your literal viewpoint character is never inside the mecha suit piloting it. The camera is locked to your stock protagonist, who controls entirely separately from the robot, so you need  to find them a safe perch from which to watch and remote-control things. You’d better hope that you don’t move behind an inconvenient corner or knock the kaiju into the wrong building!

Better hope that you don’t knock the kaiju into any buildings, really, because outside of some very specific circumstances, that’ll get points knocked off your reward in the form of insurance money. That’s almost a foregone conclusion considering the scale of the game and how sluggishly everything moves.

All that is to say, Robot Alchemic Drive moves at perhaps half the pace of your usual action title, looks like it runs on a set made of cardboard and glue, and generally feels like the video game equivalent of a boy on the floor slamming two toys together.

And that seems to be the whole idea, really.

Lots of us love Power Rangers despite or even partly because the mecha showdowns are clearly a hokey production involving two men in prop suits making vaguely threatening gestures at each other. For many, slapdash translation and a dub job that rides a peculiar line between overdramatic and stilted is a hallmark of the imported action films and series of decades past. It’s big, dumb, and slow, but so are most of the dozen-plus Godzilla vs. Today’s Special movies that have a huge cult following.

And in a way, it makes for a fun and satisfying challenge to feel like you’re in a robot that’s way too big to control effectively. There’s this constant low-level anxiety that the wrong move could send you toppling over, but the huge lead-in makes landing a proper hit feel every bit as big and powerful as your inner eight-year-old could want. Protecting the whole city feels like a fool’s errand in shoes two hundred sizes too large, but with proper practice you can slug an alien in the face just right so that it lays right where you want it.

None of which you could quite get with the modern sort of whip-quick action heroes.

It’s not pretty. It’s not intuitive.

But it’s sure a good rough-and-tumble time.


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