Now that Stranger Things and Ready Player One are all the rage, it seems the ’80s are finally having their heyday. Take Lazer Ryderz, for example. Here’s a game that’s basically the light cycles from Tron.
That’s it. Were you expecting me to say more about it?
I can say from a place of great authority that the absolute best thing about Lazer Ryderz is its box. Witness with me, if you will, the way it arrives as an old VHS box set, just like the junk you found in the attic of your old family home. Neon, neon, crinkled edges, more neon. Lots of capitalized letters. Hard blocks of solid colors, like an edgy rainbow, like they’re testing you for color blindness at all times. A wild fixation on lightning and virtual reality. Maybe Bob Saget is lurking somewhere nearby.
Seriously, the box is fantastic. Each player gets their own individual VHS case, the game tray sliding out the bottom. It’s, uh, tubular.
Hey, did you ever notice how in the ’80s “bad” meant “good”? It’s like the ’80s were trying to make it impossible for us to say anything negative about them.
Oh, right, Lazer Ryderz. That thing. So the box is righteous. Is the game itself any good?
Ha, no. It’s crap.
All right, maybe that’s a bit mean. It’s grody to the max. Better?
Lazer Ryderz is the light cycles from Tron. And yes, I’m sounding as much like a broken record as Lazer Ryderz.
Here’s the deal. There are a handful of crystals on the table. Each player gets their own lazer ryder, which consists of a standee (which stands upright for no reason whatsoever) with a little gear-shift marker, a superpower you’ll probably only use once or twice per match, and a whole pile of rainbow bridge pieces.
The goal, in case you’re still reading this, is to transform a bunch of crystals to your color. The problem with that proposition is that you can’t pass over anybody’s rainbow bridge unless you’re also passing over a crystal. Most of the time, the strategy is about speeding in a straight line for the nearest crystal, gearing down for a turn to angle onto it at the last moment, and hoping you don’t roll poorly.
It’s an unholy blend of the navigation system from X-Wing, superior real-space games (might I recommend Turbo Drift?), and a whole lot of unnecessary chance. Roll poorly when attempting a turn and you risk continuing in a death-defying straight line or even spinning out, which will turn you but also set you down to first gear. Prepare to inch along for a while.
Other features add to the sense that Lazer Ryderz is little more than a gimmick. Not being able to measure your rainbow bridges prior to placing them is good common sense, forcing you to eyeball the situation from an eagle’s perspective and occasionally miss your target by this much. Same goes for flipping new crystals onto the table — watching that hexagon skitter and land in an unfavorable position makes for a fun time. Having to close your eyes when you place your starting point, though? Being penalized for selecting the same starting gear as another player? Having to interrupt a racing game to constantly recalculate player order? Those are about as enjoyable as having lasers beamed against your retinas.
The thing about Lazer Ryderz isn’t that it’s a terrible game. Strictly speaking, it’s functional. It might even pass for an attempt at a humorous game, more about rekindling your love of ’80s schlock than about actually enjoying yourself because the gameplay is good.
No, the thing about Lazer Ryderz is that it could have been tubular. If the idea had been taken to greater extremes — obstacles, jumps, crazy powers shooting off left and right — then maybe it would have been radical. In two senses of the word.
But it isn’t. Like so many bits of nostalgia dredged up from the past, what once passed for awesome now deserves a wide berth.