While my age prevents me from being too familiar with the Arcade scene, I do have a certain affection towards it. From childhood visits to legendary venues like Chuck E. Cheese, to the limited selection of games provided by elementary school teachers on very rare occasions, a certain essence of nostalgia pervades the gameplay style. Generally addictive, certain to be geared against the player, and a retro aesthetic make this a relished passion for players around the world to this day. PIXELTERIYAKI, creator of 2018’s Mochi Mochi Boy, has developed yet another game to add to the pile of Arcade-inspired entries. The catch this time? One must play to the motion of the music. That and more, elaborated, with this Radio Squid review for the Nintendo Switch.
Story – A Siren’s Song (Working Title)
Has this ever happened to you? You’re rudely woken up by an underling wanting your attention. Traveling through the rooms in your home—collecting bombs at your leisure—you come across a nifty gadget, only to have it break upon your touch. A voice from everywhere cries out: “How dare you! You are now cursed! Meet me at the bottom of the sea and recompense me for your negligence!” So now, in order to break the curse, you gotta shoot bullets to the rhythm of the background noise while trying not to be killed by various sea-dwelling creatures. Happens to me at least twice a week.
Suffice it to say, this is pretty typical of Arcade-esque writing. Nothing complex, easy to grasp, and doesn’t require a whole lot of build-up. One plays as a squid, they get cursed, and now the motivation is to become uncursed. After all, who wants to be cursed? Radio Squid does what it needs to do to provide the reasoning behind an adventure, even if adventure can be derived from the desire to simply adventure. A limited amount of dialogue and very, very little in-between the beginning and ending portions of the game do so much as remind the player of why they’re doing this. Does this hamper the game? Considering the Arcade style, it’s not really expected. Nevertheless, even a little extra detail regarding the plot would be nice to keep the quest resonant.
Gameplay – Jammin’ Jellyfish
Disclaimer: I have no idea if jellyfish even inhabit this game. Going into Radio Squid, I was under the impression that I would have more control over the flow of bullets that came from the central squid. I was wrong. Bullets come out by the beat of the soundtrack, and the velocity of the music determines the quantity of the bullets being shot. If brimming with vitality, the bullets come out like crazy, requiring the player to pay attention to both the screen and the soundtrack for the best strategy. It’s one of the game’s most unique features, even if rhythm-based combat isn’t entirely new.
To circle back to the “geared against the player” comment pertaining to Arcade games, this title is definitely following the model. Bullets can hurt the player, and they bounce off of walls in the direction opposite of the original path. Going through the game for the first few stages, I managed to get myself killed simply from self-inflicted damage. With how many bullets fly across the screen at a given time (they disappear eventually), the number of enemies, and the tightness of certain corridors, it is almost hilariously easy to hurt oneself. With a modern perspective of making things immediately accessible, it’s always nice to get something that invites challenge.
And Radio Squid definitely hinges more on the difficult side. If true to the Arcade inspirations, many wallets would be emptied after a certain point. One is provided a health bar, which is capable of taking between eight to ten hits (didn’t record exact number) from enemies or one’s own bullets. Unless one finds a rare item drop or spends coins after boss fights to refill it, health does not recover. Shields that protect against two hits are also possible to find, but are also quite rare. Death results in having to spend a large chunk of one’s coin count to continue, which goes against part of the game’s objective: to have as many coins as possible by the end. Die too much, and eventually the player won’t have enough to continue, sending them back to the beginning of a “world” of sorts (four stages in each world).
One of the most effective parts of the game involves this balance between coin collecting and staying alive. The player must travel from room to room and clear it of enemies in order to advance in each stage, collecting coins from fallen enemies and stray bullets in the process. When I said one loses “a large chunk” of their coin count upon death, I mean, like, 80% of it. The most I’ve accumulated at one time is just under 200, and upon death, I was back down to 40-something. Hard enough as it is to just complete the campaign, it’s another thing to try and collect enough coins to appease the curse-giver. A great measure of pushing the player to really strategize for upcoming rooms and memorize enemy patterns. Sure, the player can complete it, but can they master it?
Probably my favorite part of the entire game are the boss fights. Each provide great variety to the defenses that certain enemies employ, only emphasized. Showcasing a lot of expressiveness and energy, it also takes advantage of the pixel graphic style to give them personality. Even the final boss, which could deplete one’s coin count by itself, creates a rage within me that burns bright enough with revenge to keep the game going. Even without emotional devastation, chipping a giant health bar down while avoiding incoming attacks is a simple pleasure that the game does well. Would absolutely love a boss rush mode.
With all the positive aspects occupied, there are a couple substantial negative points that help to make things a bit too garbage. By far the most annoying pertains to hitboxes, which are strangely inconvenient. Numerous times during my playthrough, I clearly shot within a space that provided enough room for the bullet to pass through, only to have it bounce back right in my face. With my attention trying to focus in multiple places, that kind of quick drawback throws me off and causes a lot of unnecessary damage. The other aspect involves button inputs, regardless of how limited input really is. One is given the option to shoot in any direction, and while playing, it didn’t always register when I wanted to change direction. With what I described above about my focus in other places, it combined to make a bad taste of slop to swallow.
Graphics & Audio – Deep, Dark Sea Strings
Keeping with the retro look, Radio Squid rocks a pixel look with a lovely black and white (and occasionally red) color scheme. But it doesn’t have to be! The settings allow for color filters to suit the player’s desires, ranging from any color combined with red, blue, and green. Maybe black and white is too dull for you; you’re able to change it! Outside of that, the game gives off a very retro vibe without being too removed from the modern world. It’s a style I noticed with Mochi Mochi Boy, as well, as something distinct enough to be recognizable on its own. It’s not technically marvelous, but it allows for charming, cartoon-ish expressiveness that not all pixel art allows.
For a game that takes great stride in incorporating the soundtrack, it’s not totally impressive. A small few stand out among the rest, but in general, I’ve forgotten them less than a day removed from playing. Only the boss theme sticks with me, which may be influenced by my enjoying the boss fights. Though the soundtrack to a game isn’t essential to its success, here, which ties it so intimately to its gameplay, it brings itself to the forefront of importance. I wasn’t all that enthused, and there were certainly times where I wished the music would just speed up so I could get a room over with. If that ends up being the priority, there is definitely work to be done.
Radio Squid was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch, with a review key provided by Ratalaika Games.