Randal's Monday review: Pop culture jokes can't save this point-and-click's poor puzzles

At a Glance
  • Nexus Game Studios Randal's Monday

    PCWorld Rating

    Randal's Monday has a decent story, but playing through this point-and-click isn't worth the effort—illogical puzzles abound.

"We all wish we could go back and change some of the mistakes we've made in our lives, but what happens when the man who's been given that opportunity is a sociopathic, kleptomaniac, good-for-nothing moron?"

So asks one of Randal's Monday's opening lines. The answer? A ton of illogical puzzles, apparently.

Help, I'm stepping into the Twilight Zone

The easiest way to describe Randal's Monday is this: Kevin Smith (of Clerks and Chasing Amy fame) didn't make it, but you'd believe me if I said he did. What Clerks did for the film industry, Randal's Monday does for games. That is to say, it's a point-and-click adventure game in its own right, but most of its charm comes from a constant onslaught of pop culture references.

Randal's Monday

Duff Beer, The Big Lebowski, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, Ghostbusters—this game is crammed full of references on shelves, on posters, in literally every spare pixel of every screen. And it extends into the dialogue too, with jokes both obscure and obvious littered throughout. Even Jay and Silent Bob make an appearance, with Jason Mewes himself reprising his famous role.

It's the equivalent of a warm, fuzzy blanket of nostalgia that helps mask some of the game's more obvious flaws. You're so caught up in spotting references it's like there's a little buffer between you and the more obnoxious bits of the game. "Look, it's Tron!" is followed by "Oh, Maniac Mansion!" in the next room or "Ha, jokes about Star Wars and Star Trek!" in the room after that, and maybe that's enough to keep going.

But like I pointed out with South Park: The Stick of Truth earlier this year, a reference isn't a joke in and of itself. You can't just allude to the fact that something exists and expect that to be meaningful content. Most of the references in Randal's Monday are just that—passive allusions to classic touchstones in geek culture.

Randal's Monday

What makes it even more distracting is that the game's tone seems torn between loving homage to geek culture and derision. From the artwork and the way Randal talks about some iconic gaming characters you'd think the game is a celebration of nerds. Work your way through the story, however, and there's a dark underbelly to it all—one that mocks nerds as much as not.

One section in particular has Randal head to a science fiction convention. Once there, Randal makes fun of everyone and hands out shirts alluding to the virginity of attendees. It's a lazy joke regardless of intent, but within the larger tone of the game it's hard not to feel targeted.

Every day is the worst day of my life

It's a shame because the grander story is a solid time travel adventure a la Twilight Zone. After a night of heavy drinking, Randal finds himself in possession of a golden ring. The only problem is the uncontrollable curse on the ring, which causes Randal to relive the same Monday over and over again like an alcoholic, manic version of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Randal's Monday

The key to Randal's salvation seems to lie in the fact that he can manipulate events each day instead of the universe resetting every night. Any object that Randal interacts with will retain that state the next day. To avoid paradoxes, the universe rewrites history around Randal's actions.

For example, early in the game you'll escape your apartment through the fire escape, which breaks during your descent and clatters to the ground. The next day when you wake up the fire escape is still broken. Not only that, but your landlord swears the fire escape has been broken for years because how else could you explain waking up on a Monday morning before Randal would've broken the fire escape only to find it already broken?

And that's just the start of things. The story winds itself around and around so many times that it's hard to even decipher what's a plot hole and what's not, which is a good thing as far as time travel stories are concerned—it's so convoluted you eventually just go with it.

Randal's Monday

The real issue with Randal's Monday, and the reason it's hard to recommend to anyone, is that it's just about impossible to play. Most games nowadays shy away from what's commonly termed "Adventure Game Logic" or "Moon Logic"—in other words, puzzle solutions that are based in puns, wordplay, or outright lunacy instead of realism.

Adventure Game Logic was a staple of 90s point-and-clicks like Maniac Mansion or the Gabriel Knight series. The problem is that the puzzles require the player to think in the same way as the puzzle designer, which makes them hard to balance for difficulty.

Randal's Monday is full of crazy puzzles. Some take advantage of the game's time travel conceit, which is fair, but there are a number of puzzles where I read (yes, read, as in "looked up") the solution and shook my head in disbelief because there's no way in hell I ever would've come up with the correct sequence of steps to solve it. There are some items that are used for multiple unrelated puzzles. There are some items you'll never use in the entire game that still take up inventory space. If you examine items in your inventory, sometimes those items will break down into more items.

Randal's Monday

And trying out any solution requires opening your inventory, selecting an item, then selecting another item or an object in the environment. If it didn't work, you have to reopen your inventory, select the same item, then select a different object in the environment. It only takes a few seconds each time, but when you're stuck and you're determined not to cheat you'll start the "combine every item with every other item" nonsense that's a hallmark of classic adventure games, and it's just not very fun.

For instance, an early puzzle has you take a glass bottle, fill it up with water across the street, walk back, boil the water, stick a cue ball into a cannon built into a cuckoo clock (getting that cue ball is another ten-step walkthrough in and of itself), then attaching the boiling water to the clock with a hose to get steam to propel the ball out to break a glass case. Phew.

There is a built-in hint system, but it's more of an in-game walkthrough. The game flat-out tells you the solutions to each puzzle, step-by-step, instead of prodding you in the right direction. But as I said, there's a good chance you'll need its help at some point or another—this is one of the hardest, most unintuitive adventure games I've played in ages. If that's what you're looking for, great. Otherwise, be forewarned.

Bottom line

It's a shame I didn't have much fun playing Randal's Monday because I think the Twilight Zone story aspects of the game are pretty strong. Randal's a jerk of a character, but he's decent fun to listen to and dialogue is across-the-board solid (though at times overwritten to accommodate an excessive number of references).

Randal's Monday

But it's all covered in a thick miasma of empty pop culture, with all the oomph of a Big Mac box on the side of a highway. I opened by saying this is like Clerks, but it's not really. Clerks, for all its exploration of Jersey existentialism and day-to-day rote living, had something to say about the pop culture it steeped itself in. Characters had strong opinions. There's a reason that the discussion of contract workers on the Death Star has made its way into cultural infamy—it took Star Wars as an inspiration, but then added onto it. Randal's Monday has nothing to add.

And the puzzles are aggravating like sand in your bathing suit after a swim, except you can only get the sand out by putting crabs down your pants and you fashioned the crabs out of tin foil and a pair of tweezers.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Randal's Monday has a decent story, but playing through this point-and-click isn't worth the effort—illogical puzzles abound.

    Pros

    • Solid Twilight Zone inspiration
    • Interesting twist on point-and-click adventure tropes

    Cons

    • Outdated (aggravating) puzzle design
    • Empty pop culture references
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