Review: Red Menace (The Mini-Games of Fallout 4)

This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on November 13th.

 The world of Fallout 4 is packed to the brim with little details that would never even occur to other games to consider; the parody advertisements, the pitboy animations, the extensive lore. All of these pieces of minutiae help to flesh out one of the most idiosyncratic and believable worlds in all of gaming. Along with this, the perfectly captured retro-futuristic aesthetic singles the game out from its competition, creating a world drenched in 50s Americana and New York World’s Fair era technology. It’s the way that the aforementioned eye for detail works in tandem with this innovative style, that gives the game its distinctive charm and personality.

One of the newer ways Bethesda have opted to build upon this and flesh out the world inis to include games within the game. These little additions come in the form of ‘holotapes’ which can be inserted into your pipboy device and played on the go. Each one is an obvious homage to a retro classic, like Missile Command or Space Invaders, but with a cold war era twist.

The first holotape you’re likely to come across is Red Menace. This Donkey Kong inspired platformer from the year 2053, was intended to serve as wartime propaganda against China. In this iteration, Kong is re-imagined as a Chinese invader, portrayed here as a literal alien. The princess meanwhile is an everyday American woman, kidnapped by this foreign entity. It’s up to series mascot ‘Vault Boy’, here standing in for Mario/ ‘Jumpman’, to rescue her.

Like so many other examples of fictional media in the Fallout universe, Red Menace captures the feel of 20th Century American propaganda perfectly. The humor offered by the comically overt attempts at political indoctrination are the main reason for the game’s existence. Yet as well as this, the art style is consistent with that seen in all the other ‘Vault-tech’ products within Fallout 4, and thus helps to further establish a sense that this is a real, fully fledged world.

As for the gameplay, it’s pretty much just Donkey Kong. Players control Vault Boy, guiding him up a perpetually increasing series of ladders, jumping over obstacles and avoiding projectiles. This being Fallout, said hazards are of course fashioned around nuclear paranoia, with radioactive waste and nuclear bombs being the chief threat. Like it’s real-life counterpart, Red Menace is punishingly difficult and frustrating, albeit purposefully so. Therein lies part of its appeal however, as it encourages that “just one more go” mentality that can hook even the most resistant of gamers.

Fallout 4 is an astounding accomplishment in terms of world building and immersion, and it’s only through seemingly insignificant things that this is achieved. Red Menace might just be a (intentional) Donkey Kong clone, but it is in how it contributes to the bigger picture of the Fallout universe that really makes it noteworthy.

And yes, I do realize how ridiculous it is that I just wrote a 400 word long review of a game within a game.

Fallout 4 is available now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. 

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