I wrote this review in March and forgot about it. Its 2 months later and still nobody is talking about/has really talked about this thing. So I’m still posting it!
When Randal’s Monday was first announced for PC a couple of years ago, I was 100% on board. I like Clerks, I love adventure games and I really liked the general cartoony look of the game. Sure I don’t remember finding many of the jokes all that funny, and the seemingly very frequent pop culture references were cause for alarm, and there was no way I planned to buy it for its initial launch price ($25-$30 bucks, I forget which it was exactly), but it was on my watch list at the very least.
I did eventually buy it on PC for about four dollars, but because I’ve spent the last few years in possession of a computer that can’t process opening a web browser, I wasn’t really able to enjoy it. Thankfully a few weeks ago Randal’s Monday was dropped on to the PS4 with absolutely no fanfare. As far as I can tell, it was announced 2 days prior to launch and nobody seemed to care then, and nobody seems to care now. As the only person on the planet with seemingly any interest in this port, I spent the 13 bucks and took the plunge.
Randal’s Monday stars Randal Hicks, which has Clerks star Jeff Anderson largely playing his slacker character from those movies, only this character is much more of a sociopath. The game opens with him in possession of his best friend’s engagement ring, which he soon pawns for tons of money in order to pay his rent. The ring however is cursed and causes him to enter a time loop where he continuously repeats the events of the same Monday over and over again. So, it’s Groundhog Day, though the one difference is that some of the ways you alter the world around you do carry forward into the later day repeats.
Beyond trying to get the ring back, there is not much of a story going on in this game. That’s definitely a bummer as a strong narrative is a big part of the appeal of a quality adventure game. However, strong characters and writing can often make up for the lack of a good story. Unfortunately, Randal’s Monday does not have much going for it in either department. From the get-go, Randal is depicted as an irredeemable asshole, and that largely continues to be his one defining character trait. At first it was interesting to be put in control of a character that was 95% jerk, but this is a long game and the more I spent time with Randal, the more I wanted to skip through all of his dialogue and just be done with him.
The writing is occasionally decent, but there is actually far too much of it. Conversations tend to drag on and on with no sense of progression. You are frequently given a variety of dialogue options, however they often aren’t even options as the game forces you to cycle through each selection before being allowed to continue forward. It makes a lot of the conversations feel very fragmented as there is absolutely no flow when you have to keep going back and having variations of the exact same dialogue exchange.
The writing definitely shines when it’s not completely reliant on pop culture references, which is unfortunately not very often. Randal’s Monday operates under the Family Guy belief that simply referencing something automatically turns it into a joke and there is no need to do anything else other than acknowledge it exists. This means that about 60 to 70% of the game’s content is references to other properties. Admittedly, at first it’s fun to look around a new environment and spot all of the different referential items. You’ll see things like Cloud Strife’s sword, a Sonic ring, a variety of movie posters, etc. Eventually though, it makes the entire world redundant and nonsensical. Why would a psychiatrist have a wide poster of the Castlevania map screen outside of his office? It goes from novel to tiresome quite quickly.
The writing is even guiltier of this. Characters are constantly speaking in quotes or are dressed as famous characters (there is a comic convention happening so at least that makes sense within the fiction) and unlike the background items, this isn’t even novel at the outset. There are plenty of egregious examples, but one that stands out is a series of letters written by Randal’s best friend Matt. About halfway through each letter, it devolves into a famous movie speech. There’s no reason for this to happen, it just does. So a heartfelt letter from Matt to his friends, all of a sudden turns into a speech from The Breakfast Club or Terminator 2. Or the entirety of Ezekiel 25:17 from Pulp Fiction. It’s the laziest approach they ever could have taken to this. As mentioned, when they try and write original dialogue, it doesn’t always work, but there are some smiles to be had at the very least. Unfortunately the references are used as a near constant crutch and it becomes nothing other than more words to skip through to get things moving faster.
So the writing is largely a bust, how about the puzzles? They are a little more successful, but suffer from one consistent problem – they are far too challenging. The balance of challenging but fair puzzles can be a tough tightrope for an adventure game to walk and once you’ve passed the first day, Randal’s Monday goes plummeting to the ground. When I’m stuck in an adventure game and eventually come to the decision to look up the solutions, I want my reaction to reading the answer to be a slap on the forehead and a declaration of “Oh my god I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.” I want there to be a logic to it. My reaction when I looked up puzzle solutions to this game (which happened far more frequently than I would have liked) was almost always “How in the hell would I have ever thought to try that?!” It’s the kind of game that necessitates traveling to every available location and trying every item with everything in sight until eventually it clicks and you then begin the process again. There actually are a handful of well-designed puzzles that gave me the feeling of satisfaction I look for in this type of experience. More often than not though I found myself shrugging my shoulders and looking to a walkthrough. That way I didn’t have to spend hours aimlessly wandering in what is already a shockingly long game.
I haven’t played the PC version for more than a few minutes, but it doesn’t appear like any work was done to port this over to PS4. It controls exactly as it would on the PC as you move the cursor around with the left thumbstick and use two face buttons as the right and left mouse click equivalents. Nothing has been done to make it easier to play on PS4. You can’t just move the thumbstick around to maneuver your inventory. You have to move around the cursor to select items and if even a little bit of that cursor leaves the frame of the inventory window, it closes it and returns you to the game screen. It is cumbersome beyond belief and its shocking that something wasn’t done to make this game more accessible on a new platform. Unless I somehow missed the options, which would make me real sad to have gone through all that suffering for no reason.
Randal’s Monday makes a decent first impression. I love the look of the game, it’s cool to see Jeff Anderson in a prominent role other than Clerks (even if this is largely the same character) and the first day has some well-designed puzzles and hasn’t fully revealed it’s hand as a pop culture referencing nightmare. Beyond the first couple of hours it becomes a slog of lazy references and logic free puzzles. Even using a walkthough frequently this game felt to be about 12-15 hours so I can’t even imagine the time sink it would have taken to do it without help. I wanted Randal’s Monday to be good and there are glimmers here and there of what it could have been. However, there are far too many better adventure games out there for this to get your time or money.