HomeReviews2/5 ReviewRadioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers Review

Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers Review


There’s something very Troma and Roger Corman about Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers. You could imagine finding a dusty copy of it in the back of a video rental store; a video nasty from the ‘80s that’s been banned, but the banning only makes you want to watch it more. That’s how we were hooked into playing it: it just looked trashy, and there’s always a place for that.

Well, we weren’t wrong: it’s trashy. But it’s trash in more ways than we wanted.

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The opening cutscenes are pretty emblematic. The main character is perfect: a gun-toting lady in high-heels, dressed poorly for an evening in the sewers, but determined to bring an end to the radioactive dwarf menace. That’s the main character I want from a tongue-in-cheek action game. But then the dialogue lands: it’s barely comprehensible, as if someone has half-heartedly translated it. 

It’s emblematic because, for every step forward Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers takes (and it does have some interesting ideas), the design takes two steps back, until you realise that you’re mostly moonwalking. You wonder whether anyone cared to playtest it properly.

The gameplay in Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers is Robotron-like, with you playing the heroine in a top-down grid. The levels are slightly more sprawling than Robotron, often taking up two or three screens before you can find the exit. 

Between you and the exit are those rascally dwarfs, who won’t leave you alone. They hunt you out from the moment you appear, and it can feel like you’re Pac-Man evading ghosts: they’re that persistent. You have a pistol, which fires in slow, stuttering bursts, and some dwarves are one-hittable, while others take a frustratingly large number of hits to kill.

Kill them all and you’re still not safe. Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers likes to spawn in reinforcements according to rules that we haven’t figured out. Does it happen when all enemies are dead? When you trigger a certain area? We couldn’t tell you. What we can tell you is that the reinforcements will often appear on squares next to you, making it a pretty punishing jump-scare.

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Combat is arse. It’s arse for so many reasons, and we wince at the thought of playing more of it. A major reason is manoeuvrability: moving on a grid is fine, but try to move through a gap between blocks and it doesn’t snap you to that gap. You can be a pixel or two either side and not be able to pass through. It had us gnawing at our controller, as if the radiation had got us too.

Enemies can damage you if they’re a diagonal square away from you, too, killing you by clipping your fringe with their left big toe. It’s unfair collision detection, and only adds to the frustrations of a slow rate of fire; enemies that are bullet sponges; and spawns that appear virtually on top of you.

But the zinger is the save system. Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers doesn’t use retries or traditional lives, oh no. Instead, you have two lives with three health in each, and they are persistent from one level to the next. Lose them all and it’s game over.  But, when you complete a level it saves your progress, so you can easily, and all too often, finish a level with no lives left and only one health, and be expected to complete the rest of the game with that handicap. We had to retry Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers twice, simply because we got to the halfway point without enough lives to complete the game.

There’s some puzzly bits to keep things interesting: keys have to be found in random boxes to open doors, portals take you to different extremes of the level, maxes have to be navigated, that sort of thing. But they’re often more infuriating than enriching. Who wants to be blowing open every box in a level on the off chance that a key will be in it? When boxes take three slow shots from a limp pistol, it can be less than enthralling.

Every few levels, a kind of bonus level gets tossed in. There are ‘dream’ levels that require you to find coins in blocks before a timer runs out, but the fun ebbs out when you realise there is only a reward for getting all of them. Minecart levels, which play out as a wave-based Space Invaders, are marginally more interesting.

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To give Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers credit, it looks the part. Majorly warped and with chromatic aberration out the wazoo, it looks and feels like you are playing an old arcade classic in a cursed basement. It also has a fun approach to collectibles: you can come across newspapers that elaborate on incidents involving the dwarves (but still mangling the English language), but they are just as likely to feature riddles or puzzles from the back pages of the newspaper. It added a bit of colour to the combat dreck.

But it’s not going to get away with it that easily. Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers is nowhere near as much fun as it purports to be. We were hoping for a Toxic Avenger-style romp through B-movie levels, but it doesn’t have the smarts or the gameplay to pull that off.

Instead, what you get is a Robotron-clone that neglects the single most important element of that kind of game: the controls. It desperately needed to feel intuitive and fast, but it’s the opposite, and it undermines everything that Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers tries from there on in. A game with that title really should have been more fun.

You can buy Radioactive Dwarfs: Evil From the Sewers from theXbox Store

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