What happens when a sociopathic kleptomaniac takes his best friend’s engagement ring, the one ring to rule them all, and promptly decides to sell it in order to get himself out of a jam? Randal’s Monday happens, that’s what. Developed by Nexus Game Studios and published by Daedalic Entertainment (the developers behind the much-loved Deponia series), Randal’s Monday is an insane point-and-click journey through space and time, peppered with literally hundreds of pop culture references from TV, movies, and video games from the last 50-odd years.
Randal’s Monday’s gameplay style iss reminiscent of classics like The Secret of Monkey Island or the Journeyman Project series, filled with amusing references to the nerd-geek culture. But Randal’s Monday also suffers from a lack of refinement in a few key elements. Funny, but only up to a point, ultimately Randal’s Monday delivers a good-looking game that failed to grab my attention and drove me mad with infuriatingly obscure puzzles.
The game ollows our protagonist Randal after a rough night celebrating his best friend, Matt’s, engagement – which involved a rooftop, a donkey, and a lot of booze. He wakes up the next day in possession of Matt’s wallet and the engagement ring he was going to give to his fiancée-to-be, Sally (Randall is a self-proclaimed kleptomaniac). He decides to give the items back, but reuniting those objects with their owner has to wait, as Randal first realizes he’s late for his crummy job at a local delivery service. Upon attempting to leave his apartment, he’s cornered by the landlord (who looks like Danny DeVito in his underwear, if you can come up with that disturbing mental image), who demands the last 3 months rent before he’ll let Randal leave the building.
Cue the beginning of what will become hours upon hours of lengthy dialogue and maddeningly complex, non-linear puzzles which will have you trying random combinations of items because you’ll have no idea how to progress.
For example, here’s what you need to do in order to get out of the building and past the cantankerous landlord: Go back into the apartment and enter the bathroom, take the ducky-hangar from the shower door, go to the living room and take the broom, go into the inventory and combine the broom and hangar to make the extendable duck tool, go to Randal’s room and out the fire escape where there is an angry cat blocking your way, use the extendable duck to unlock the fire escape, sending the cat, a flower pot, and yourself tumbling to the alley below.
While at first glance this sequence might seem pretty benign as far as complexity, this is by far the easiest puzzle you will encounter (and lucky you, I’ve just told you how to do it). The further you progress through the story, the more complex the puzzles become. This is pretty standard fare in any point-and-click adventure, but when you have to journey to four different map areas, suffering a loading screen between each one, and click in vain through all the intractable objects to encounter the right one at the right time and do the right thing to it in order to succeed, well… it got old really quickly. Unlike the best point and click adventures like the aforementioned Monkey Island games, Broken Sword or Grim Fandango, Randal’s Monday commits the cardinal sin of the genre in its very first scene – having puzzles which fail to make any logical sense thanks to obtuse solutions. And then it keeps committing that sin over, and over, and over again.
Perhaps aware of this, Daedalic has provided an in-game hint book, which was much needed and which you’ll be using frequently. Unfortunately, Randal’s Monday requires that for every hint you request, a kitten needs to be killed. At first I was horrified at having to kill a virtual kitten in order to figure out what to do next, and then I got over it and clicked for a hint. Then another. And then again. Finally, I had successfully received the Steam achievement for being a kitten murderer while I was still in the early stages of Day 1. The people at PETA must be having kittens over the inclusion of such a feature.
The puzzles just aren’t intuitive, and feel more like a toddler hopped on cocaine dictated what to do to the puzzle designers, rather than a designer who’s familiar with the point-and-click puzzle genre being in charge. Spending 30 minutes to gather a bunch of arbitrary garbage in order to cause a person to move from Point A to Point B so that I can pick up another arbitrary item that will allow me to do the same thing somewhere else just isn’t fun, and the lasting impression is sadly that the developer’s were so in love with just how witty and amusing their jokes were that they forgot to include satisfying gameplay. Sure, someone will find it fun, and admittedly some of the jokes are amusing enough that you can occasionally forgive the hair-pulling puzzle design, but it’s not since the late 90s that I experienced this much frustration with a point-and-click game.
Continuing in the story, I witnessed Randal getting fired from his deadbeat job, and so in order to pay his landlord, he sells Matt’s engagement ring for a quick infusion of cash. It’s no big deal, anyway, since Matt told Randal that he paid some hobo in the street a Dorito for it, so it can’t be all that bad, right? The pawn shop owner extolls on me the mysterious and slightly evil properties of this ring, gives me the cash, and I’m all set. Randal goes to bed with more cash than he knows what to do with and doesn’t feel guilty in the slightest.
He wakes up to find that it’s Monday all over again, except Matt has committed suicide and blames Randal for betraying him, and certain aspects of Randal’s life are slightly altered – no one but Randal seems to remember conversations they had with him the previous day. In true Groundhog’s Day style, Randal is now forced to re-live this Monday, with his actions each day slightly altering the future of the next Monday, until he can get the ring back and stop his best friend from killing himself in a variety of new and horrific ways (roasting himself in the oven, whirling himself through the blender, freezing himself in the fridge… you get the idea).
If this all sounds highly spoilerific, then you needn’t worry too much – all of this happens in just the first couple of hours. How long the full game takes you to complete will vary depending on how long it takes before you resort to just spamming the hint book in order to get around the needlessly obtuse puzzle design. Steam says it took me around 12 hours, but to be honest most of that was spent killing kittens in the hint screen in order to sidestep yet another completely illogical puzzle. Randal’s Monday doesn’t present an original story line, in that regard, but at least it has plenty going on to keep things moving at a decent pace.
Thankfully, there are two aspects that Daedalic really got right: the graphics and the music. The graphic style is reminiscent of the early days of flash cartoons on sites like Newground, Killfrog, and Homestar Runner, with its bright color palette, thick-lined characters, and a “dirty,” real world feel to them that feels at home on MTV. Some of you might also get a bit of a Family Guy vibe, though to the best of knowledge this is coincidental. The animation is smooth and the artwork highly stylized so as to be memorable. The music, too, offers a backdrop that summons memories of early 90’s grunge, when you sat at the radio waiting for your favorite songs to come on so you could record that sick mix tape you’ve always wanted. Out of all the nostalgia references that are thrown at you (and I really do mean thrown), the two that are the least force-fed are the two that succeed the most.
Where Randal’s Monday really falls down is the pacing. The story is excruciatingly slow and this is made worse by the difficulty of the puzzles that had me clicking every possible interaction and every combination that I could think of in order to cause something to happen that would allow me to progress in the story. It’s a fact that people read faster in their heads than they do aloud, but the dialogue speed in Randal’s Monday was right up there with molasses in winter, and I found myself constantly clicking through the voice overs. Even though Randal is voiced by Jeff Anderson (who played Randal in Clerks, another pop-culture reference), and Jason Mewes makes an appearance as Jay (Jay and Silent Bob), the slow dialogue just dragged out an experience that needed anything but more time added to it.
Randal himself is kind of an asshole, and while some fourth wall-breaking conversations with the player have a few witty zingers here and there, he’s just not someone I connected with, reminding me more of the lowlifes I avoided in college rather than someone on a quest to save his friend (never mind that it was Randal’s fault Matt decided to kill himself in the first place). Eventually, I realized I had no desire to help Randal at all. That might be the joke, but it’s one that falls flat. In order to really engage with a protagonist, you need to be able to empathise with them on some level.
Randal’s Monday’s Steam page indicates there’s “a bazillion” pop-culture references, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. They’re literally everywhere. The opening is a blatant nod to The Twilight Zone, while the background and foreground images throughout are littered with references to The Simpsons, Family Guy, Back to the Future, X-Men, Marvel, DC, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Quake… the list is endless. While at first this might make you smile, after a while it just gets old and you’ll probably stop noticing them – I did.
Daedalic has put out a good-looking game that just fails to capture the attention. They’ve given us an unlikeable protagonist. They’ve designed their puzzles to be as obscure as possible and then don’t reward the player with a significant prize to warrant the time spent trying to figure it out. They’ve made us kill kittens if we can’t solve the aforementioned puzzles. The idea of incorporating pop-culture references is a good one, but completely overdone and ending up feeling like Daedalic just threw everything at the wall to see what sticks. While the overall design and musical score are in and of themselves very well done, they’re just not enough to transform Randal’s Monday into something better. No doubt some will find plenty to like about Randal’s Monday, but ultimately there’s just too many adventure games on the market which outclass it in almost every way, making it impossible to recommend.