A bomb cyclone raged outside as I caught my first glimpse of Ra Ra Boom. The weather event seemed aptly timed to make this first viewing the most dramatic it could be.
Developer Gylee’s founder, Chris Bergman, is on the sticks alongside the title’s senior producer, Kim Edwards. While they fight together in the game, they playfully carry on a sparring match of words offscreen. As one lands a notable attack or makes a bad joke, the other comments animatedly. So, it’s no surprise this sibling-like energy shows through in the unique, story-driven beat ’em up.
Ra Ra Boom tells the tale of a tight-knit group of brave teenagers. Having lived on a spaceship their whole lives, they have no idea what the uninhabitable Earth their parents left behind even looks like. The merry band of ninja cheerleaders from outer space — as both Bergman and Edwards refer to them throughout the preview — consists of four very different members. The red-haired leader, Aris, wields a scythe. Saida looks more android than person. Machine-toting Vee is essentially a tank. And Ren’s ninja-like attributes make her the most agile of the group.
Though the game will offer four-person co-op at launch, I’m sitting this one out. I do, however, have the honor of choosing which of the two characters the team will control. I match up the tough and damaging Vee with the swift and deadly Ren. The characters leap into a virtual simulation of Earth, a kind of training that will allow players to figure out everyone’s moves before jumping into the full title.
Hilariously, the girls who created the simulation don’t know what Earth looks like. Consequently, the landscape is one long, crumbling asphalt hell with robots. The purpose of their training, I soon find out, is they intend to travel back to their parents’ planet to defeat Zoi.
Zoi is an AI that humans originally built to combat climate change. Unfortunately, the logical being concluded the best way to stop climate change was to kill off humanity. So now, in a spaceship they’ve called home their whole lives, the band prepares to fight their way to terra firma.
In this first session, I can see some of the inspirations for the beat ’em up. Bergman even mentions Streets of Rage 4 pushed them to trash the game’s previous art to reach the rival’s levels. But the team also tweaks the genre to make the game less intimidating for newcomers. My favorite innovations are the lanes on the ground. Battling against the issue many 2D games with 3D spaces run into, Gylee’s developers placed strips of subtly different colors on the ground. That way, you can always tell when an enemy is directly in front of you and if your hit is going to land.
Suddenly, the training turns serious as a giant robot infiltrates the cheerleaders’ floating station and triggers another beat-em-up mainstay: The level where players run from an enormous boss. Funnily enough, Bergman tells me the developers gave the mechanical menace and his minions unofficial names. The team refers to the boss as Bruce, while the small robots you need to explode to hurt it are all dubbed Eugene.
The end of the demo is the saddest and most story-dense section of the demo. It sets up the emotional struggles our heroes will face during their mission, in addition to the physical difficulties. Grief and mental health, Bergman and Edwards explain, will feature heavily in the game’s narrative. And I can’t wait to see what the story has in store when Ra Ra Boom releases later this year.