By now you've probably seen the amazing article at 1up.com about the process of localizing video games for other markets. For example, the well known saga of turning Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! into Elite Beat Agents or the classic Adventure Island versus Wonder Boy story are both instances of changing an existing game into another in order to appeal to international audiences. One game that slipped through 1up's cracks is Magic John, a Nintendo Famicom game that was ported across the sea as Totally Rad for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The localization team at Jaleco had apparently caught the '80s surfer slang bug, turning an otherwise average little game into a bizarre California surfer lingo adventure (with magic!). Now, all these years later, comes The Rad Project in which the two games are compared and the various differences between them are dissected and examined.
So I would venture to say that Totally Rad, while failing as a translation of Magic John, succeeds admirably on its own terms, and in fact comes out the superior work, if only because it has spirit the original sorely lacked. Let me put it this way: if Jaleco had released Magic John untouched, with a perfectly obedient translation, would its story be worth any breath right now? (Breath, electrons, whatever.) But here we are, twelve years later, and I've sunk a fair number of hours of my life into an analysis of this game's localization that hopefully amused you for 15 minutes or so. I'd say that's pretty rad.
I have no experience with Totally Rad other than to say that as a child I was able to go with my parents to an Ace Hardware vendor show where, for some reason, companies such as Capcom, Konami, and Jaleco were trying to convince Ace franchises to stock their video games next to the hammers, drill bits, and Plexiglas. I collected a lot of promo and marketing flyers that day (the kind of stuff that years later I'd collect at E3) and remember seeing Totally Rad running as an unplayable demo (that is, there was no controller hooked up to the demo unit; this was all about marketing and selling to a non-gaming audience of hardware store franchise owners, after all). I recall that I thought it looked quite average before I wandered off to see what Mega Man was up to in his next adventure. Gnarly.