Have you ever fancied being a squid? You have? Well have I got news for you! Ratalaika Games’ latest Xbox One title is that of Radio Squid; a game that was originally developed by those kooky characters over at Pixelteriyaki. You know, the same ones that made that other weird game, Super Weekend Mode. Featuring some fantastic graphics that hark back to the glory days of the ZX Spectrum, is it worth checking out Radio Squid in order to see what’s occurring at the bottom of the sea?
You are, as I have previously mentioned, a squid. A careless squid as it turns out, as while you are merrily swimming about the deep deep sea, you manage to break something. It looks a bit like a music box, or maybe a snow globe, but whatever it is, you’ve broken it and as a result have had a curse laid upon you by a bad-tempered crab. Now, to break the curse, the crab has charged you with collecting coins and meeting him at the bottom of the sea, in order to buy your freedom. Sounds easy enough, right? Well…
Radio Squid plays out as a series of chambers, with four rooms per level, each made up of multiple discrete levels. With me so far? Now, when our intrepid squid enters a room, there are generally a multitude of enemies to dispose of, and the only way to get rid of them is to use the Siren’s Song. This is represented by a big musical note in the room somewhere, and once you grab it you can shoot bullets to the beat. It is here where the game will continually shoot for you; the only thing you can do is choose which of the four directions (up, down, left or right) the bullets come out in.
But that is not all. As I mentioned before, the bullets are fired to match the beat of the music of each level, so they aren’t always firing with the same frequency. If anything, this is a hugely interesting idea. And the other thing to take note of is that the bullets not only bounce off walls, but with the wrap-around mechanics of the rooms they can also be fired off the left of the screen and then come back on the right. This all sounds jolly lovely until you realise that your own bullets can hurt you, in addition to the enemies, and so not being able to stop shooting does cause some issues.
Once you have killed all the enemies in the room, the Siren Song stops, and so does the endless stream of projectiles, enabling you to clear all the coins from the room and move onto the next level. And what do coins make? Extra lives, that’s right! As you die, you can respawn as long as you have a suitable amount of coins, and if you manage to make it to the end of a boss fight with your coinage intact, there is a shop where you can buy certain upgrades to make your life easier. If you run out of coins? Game over. Dying in the run of levels will see you have to start again from the beginning of the world you are on, while should you fail during a boss fight, you’ll have the chance to spawn back into the fight. One note of caution however: when you respawn, you will be firing the same way you were when you died – you need to be careful not to shoot yourself.
With every four rooms, there is a boss level to find, and these help to break up the action somewhat. The bosses are all very varied, from a happy jellyfish to a weird eel-looking thing, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are very easy to kill. The hit detection sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, if I’m brutally honest, as the squid seems to have a large square hitbox drawn around him, and attacks will hit you that you are willing to swear that you avoided. Still, you soon learn to adapt, and Radio Squid turns into a fun little romp.
The graphics are great, properly retro in style, and infused with a surprising amount of personality. The regular enemies all have patterns you can exploit, as do the bosses, yet it is here where that wrap-around mechanic becomes your friend, enabling you to reach the Siren Song without exposing yourself to enemy fire.
Fans of achievements will be pleased to hear that it’s very much business as usual here with Radio Squid on Xbox One, with all of the achievements easily earned by the end of the third set of rooms. However, it is worth persevering on after that, as the game is a great deal of fun to play. Sadly, the draw is much reduced once that magical figure of 1000G is reached. This, and the previously mentioned hitbox issue, are the only problems to report here. It’s good to see everything helped along by some lovely chiptune music to groove along to and the possibility of changing the sprites on the screen to the colour you like – although I think they look great in black and white.
All in all, this is another Ratalaika Game, with all the baggage that name carries. The achievements are too easy, but the price is low, and if you are an achievement hunter then picking Radio Squid up is a no-brainer. For the rest of us, it’s better news than usual, as even when the achievements have been rinsed, the charm and personality of the characters on display here does make a good argument for continuing to play. For fans of squids, and fans of retro game experiences in general, this is one I can recommend.