Review: Randal’s Monday

Clerks is a film that defines the phrase “cult following.” From the mad mind of Kevin Smith, the film was dry, snarky and instantly memorable, introducing iconic characters like Dante, Randal, Jay and Silent Bob. Now 20 years after appearing to the public as Randal, actor Jeff Anderson is back in a new video game as Randal…but a different Randal. Randal’s Monday is a point-and-click adventure game with the same sharp-tongued spirit as Clerks, but with a whole new world to explore. Randal’s Monday flubs some of the fundamentals of the adventure game genre, but with stellar writing and some standout puzzles, it keeps its head above the water.

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Randal’s Monday follows the adventures of Randal, a good-for-nothing semi-nerd who is chronically lazy, unreliable and vulnerable to intoxication. His best friend Matt and Matt’s fiancée are celebrating their engagement, with Randal joining them at the wedding shower, when Matt shows Randal a golden ring he aims to give to his fiancée. However, a night of drinking leads Matt to lose the ring and Randal to find it. In an effort to cover his overdue rent from his landlord, Randal is forced to sell the ring. That’s when things get weird. Between his best friend’s suicide and Randal awaking each morning to have his Monday repeating, the ring could very well be, as an eerily prophetic hobo tells him, “cursed.” It’s up to Randal to solve the mystery of his cyclical Monday and break the ring’s curse on him. The game captures the same dry, nerdy humor that made the Clerks series so iconic, with Randal himself delivering wise cracks, one-liners and sarcasm out the wazoo. The writing is superb from all of the characters, no matter how tertiary their roles. It’s an interesting story peppered with some surprisingly well-developed characters, and while it indulges on the pop culture references a bit too heavily (everything from Futurama to Portal to The X-Files are referenced), it has a charming vibe, one rich with that purely Clerks style of humor.

Channeling the spirit of classic point-and-click games like Day of the Tentacle and The Secret of Monkey Island, Randal’s Monday has you wandering around town, finding key items, talking to people and solving puzzles. You guide Randal with the mouse cursor and can choose to examine, talk to, or interact with an item, mechanism, or person. Simple, point-and-click stuff. The cursor is quite responsive, but Randal moves very slowly between screens, which can make exploring feel very dull and dry. This is made worse by the loading screens between areas: they’re bad. They’re not long on their own, but much of the game has you exploring various areas, meaning you’ll be going back and forth between parts of town to complete different puzzles. Because of this, you’ll be seeing plenty of loading, especially if you get stuck on a puzzle and are scouring the land for clues. It drags down the pace of an otherwise streamlined interface.

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The puzzles are not particularly easy, either. Most of them follow the tradition of using the right item or combination of items in the right place, a staple of the genre. They’re very hit-and-miss; for every great and inventive one, there’s one that’s outright obtuse. Not that there’s a problem with being complex, as some are intricate, but extremely creative. Some even use character dialogue to give clues as to what to do, a great way to both design puzzles and develop characters. The puzzles that are well-designed do nothing to hide that; you really feel accomplished when you finally figure out the solution. Sadly, there are also puzzles that aren’t very good. The load screen tips say that logic is the best weapon, but some of these puzzles simply don’t function logically. Some solutions use objects in unnatural or even contradictory ways, leaving you scratching your head and wandering back and forth around town to get a clue. There is a hint system, but it does less to provide hints and more to just explicitly tell you the next step in the puzzle. Getting clues (or actual hints) would’ve been ideal as opposed to straight-up answers, so I could actually get the puzzle completed myself instead of having the solution handed to me with the screech of a dying cat (as the game says, any time a hint is revealed, God kills a kitten).

When it comes to presentation, Randal’s Monday is surprisingly stylized. While it has a simple artistic design that borders between GoAnimate and Seth MacFarlane animation, it’s expressive and some of the animations are very detailed. Character designs are a strong highlight, as each one not only has unique characteristics, but these characteristics change as the game progresses. The soundtrack is a nice surprise, with alt rock guitars and groovy basslines. The voice acting is easily the most noteworthy aspects of the presentation. Randal’s Monday features the triumphant return of Jeff Anderson, who played Randal in Clerks, along with Jason Mewes reprising his role as Jay. Anderson’s role preserves the debonair stupidity of Clerks’ Randal, while still giving this Randal a new kind of personality. The voice acting is plentiful, although some time to a fault as dialogue exchanges can last for extensive periods of time. They’re skippable, yes, but a game like this demands attention to the writing. It just would’ve been better in more digestible amounts.

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Closing Comments:

Randal’s Monday might not be the next great adventure game, but by focusing on the same humor and style as Clerks, it has a charm to it. The animation and voice acting is superb, channeling the spirit of Sunday night animated shows without being edgy for edgy’s sake. For all his sociopathy and kleptomania, Randal is a likable protagonist and you’ll want to follow him throughout his day, even in repeat. Still, the gameplay flaws are apparent, especially in the sluggish pacing and occasionally bad puzzle design. For every superb demonstration of classic adventure creativity, there’s an example of lazy construction. The hint system could have used an overhaul, as it simply reveals the solution. Despite these flaws, however, Randal’s Monday has a place. Its lengthy story justifies its $25 price tag, and you’ll find some memorable moments scattered throughout. Randal’s Monday doesn’t do everything right, but the things it does do right are daring, and in a genre that’s been lost to the ether for years, that’s definitely something.

3outof5Platform: PC