Review: Randal’s Monday

Randal’s Monday is a point & click adventure game by Nexus Game Studios and published by Daedalic Entertainment. It follows Randal Hicks, who due to his own fault becomes trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario, repeating the same day over and over again.

The Good

  • Good visual style
  • Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes’ voice acting

The Bad

  • Uneven comedy
  • Reference overload
  • Shallow characters
  • Frustrating moon logic puzzles
  • Annoying inventory

Right before I received my review, I read the news that Jeff Anderson, the actor who portrays Randal Graves in Clerks, would be voicing this game’s Randal (whose name is a clear reference to that film: Randal’s name and Dante’s surname) and that Jason Mewes would have a cameo role. The article was distinctly mum on what the role might be but it turned out to be Jay, with his heterosexual life partner Silent Bob by his side (who’s not voiced by Kevin Smith, which is a real tragedy).

The game has a simple premise. Randal’s a good for nothing kleptomaniac bum who steals his best friend’s wedding ring. The band turns is actually cursed and forces Randal to relive the next day, Monday forever. Groundhog Day scenarios are difficult to pull off, and are fantastic tools for stories revolving around morality and growth. If everything resets, are you accountable for the atrocities you might commit? Is there any crime if it turns out to never happen? Those are the types of stories reserved for these tales, but Randal’s Monday isn’t one of them. One thing those scenarios need to be effective is a workable in-universe logic, which here goes out the window by the second Monday. I like that your actions affect the next Monday, as if the consequences for whatever you did just get piled on the next reset. It’s an interesting concept but the rules get wonkier when actions physically affect other characters, such as the barmaid who becomes more attractive with every Monday or a drunken one-night stand that turns into a marriage proposal and a girlfriend on the next day. “Whaaaat?” will be a question you ask yourself many times over the course of the game, in plot and gameplay.

The subway map...too many references in one place!
The subway map…too many references in one place!

The plot itself isn’t bad, it’s actually interesting but it takes too long to pay off. A smaller number of days would’ve been better and the game could have done without the Shawshank Redemption sequence near the end, which is too long, entirely devoid of entertainment and in fact has a blatant copy of a famous puzzle, the spitting competition from Monkey Island 2, only combined with the spit-based puzzle from near the end of that game. It’s one thing to have references, but when you rip off a puzzle, two in fact, then you’ve crossed a line.

The Ring itself behaves a lot like the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings, with its own agenda and malicious intent. By the end they even bring in the apocalypse and the Four Horsemen, but while the true villain isn’t obvious, it’s another “Whaaaat?” moment, because it seemingly comes from nowhere.

Crossing lines is what Randal’s Monday does best with its overkill references. One or two or even many spread out thinly over the course of the game can give your players fun chuckle moments, but Nexus goes overboard with them. Everything is a reference to another thing and when everything is a reference, nothing is original or entertaining. It took this ‘humorous’ game five of its days to do something funny. Aside from that, I never laughed once. One example is the comic book store with the HAL 9000 security system. I know the intention is to have a fun play with Space Odyssey, but they go too far by keeping the computer’s name, using the same red-eye design, giving it the same voice and even use the name Dave in dialogue. It’s too much piled on and it stops being clever and becomes dull. And don’t get me started on the Adamantium Claws.

I do love the attention to detail here!
I do love the attention to detail here!

Randal’s Monday’s humour is clearly Clerk-ish, a distinct style dependent on “dick and fart jokes,” but the writers at Nexus lack the comedic and dialogue genius of Kevin Smith and because of that, the humour sometime mostly falls flat and the characters come off unappealing instead of satirized over-the-top personalities. Randal is hands down one of the most unlikeable characters in video games. He learns nothing and he doesn’t grow, remaining the same disgusting human being throughout. The rest of the cast are cardboard cut-outs, with simple and bland (or annoying) personalities. The greatest offender is the extremely cliché hard-ass Detective you meet almost every day, who at no point is even remotely funny. It’s the Dirty Harry stereotype but it isn’t played with well enough to give you some entertainment value.

When I said you’ll ask yourself “Whaaaat?” in gameplay, it’s because the game claims there are a small number of “strange” puzzles but that most are logic based. Yes, moon-logic based. At any given time you’ll have items in your inventory that you know are sensible solutions to the current problem, but none of them will work. Instead, as with most moon-logic games, you’ll have to find the most circuitous way to the solution, using items in ways no one has ever even conceived they should be used. Sure, there’s a feeling of elation, accomplishment even when you do solve one, but for the most part you’ll just be frustrated. The comic-book styled inventory doesn’t help, as there are sometimes items you have to combine but they’re on different pages and if the combination is incorrect, you have to get the item, return to the previous pages and try again.

Even more references here. I do like the character sprites!
Even more references here. I do like the character sprites!

In terms of sound, the music is actually pretty nice, but it could’ve used a bit more variety, especially as you’re constantly revisiting the same places over the course of several days. Voice acting is good, with the best being Anderson and Mewes. Then again, they aren’t playing new characters but ones they’ve been playing for the past 20 years. Randal Hicks IS Randal Graves in everything but the name and they have Jay & Silent Bob in the game.

My favourite part of the game has to be the visuals. The cartoon style is really good, even with the large wobble-like heads and even if they go overboard with the references, they are very well animated, and the comic book store has actual comic book covers. I recognized a few in there and Jay & Silent Bob are spot on from their Clerks counterparts. Despite that, there is some pixel hunting, as some items are very difficult to see.

Every surface is crawling with references. The "birthday" puzzle here is insane...
Every surface is crawling with references. The “birthday” puzzle here is insane…

Randal’s Monday is a game that desperately wants to entertain you and be ‘old-school’ at the same time, but between the absurd puzzles and inventory, the weak writing and the overuse of references it comes off short. Still, for adventure gamers it offers a significant challenge.

TMA Score: Wait for a Sale.

Review: Goodbye Deponia

Goodbye Deponia is the last instalment in Daedalic Entertainment’s Deponia Trilogy, finishing the story of Rufus, Goal and the doom of the junk world Deponia.

The Good

  • Charming visuals
  • Creative ingenuity puzzles

The Bad

  • Moon-Logic-centric
  • Unlikeable cast
  • Convoluted plot

Goodbye Deponia picks up right after the events of its predecessor, with Rufus, Doc, Goal and Bozo on their roller car. Things seem to be going smoothly until Rufus messes things up and causes the roller to be destroyed, forcing the team into hiding while trying to stop the destruction of Deponia.

From the start, this game showed me its greatest flaw: characterization. In the past two games Rufus has always been selfish and self-absorbed and both a genius and a klutz, and it was disappointing to see that two outings hadn’t been enough to make him mature or change a little bit. Rufus is extremely unlikeable as a protagonist and makes it difficult for the audience to give a damn about his antics. Most of the secondary characters remain the same as they’ve always been, and while there are a handful of characters that do change, the game makes a point out of destroying their lives so they revert to type. By the end, I just wanted all of Deponia, including these flat characters, to die a horribly slow death. I was offended that they decided to dismiss Rufus’ asinine behaviour with this cop-out excuse: he’s a clone and programmed not to care about anyone’s life. It’s lazy writing.

Using food and condiments to clone. I'm not kidding, it's this weird
Using food and condiments to clone. I’m not kidding, it’s this weird

The plot is a convoluted mess. Every title in the series has gotten close to having Rufus and Goal reach Elysium, only to have something happen at the last minute, which derails the plans, and Goodbye Deponia does it again, giving me the impression that the plot was artificially inflated just to extend game-time. It’s even more apparent when the logic and argument behind the roundabout are so weak. Another proof of extended plot is the fact that at one point you control three Rufus clones, each with their own missions and puzzles that make the game feel bloated.

The writing and humour themselves are much hit and miss. There are very funny references and Rufus’ “We are Asses” speech near the end is fantastic, but in most cases the jokes are downright offensive, coming off racist and sexist at best. It’s made even more disgusting by what I previously mentioned: you are forced to wreck other people’s lives to make progress. There’s a sequence involving a Monkey and a Grinder that is very offensive. I am not politically correct, but there’s offensive-funny and Deponia misses the mark on that and goes straight for simply offensive.

The Bozo family house has a built in laugh track and some atrocious writing!
The Bozo family house has a built in laugh track and some atrocious writing!

The gameplay is standard point & click adventuring, with puzzles coming in two varieties: inventory based and ingenuity puzzles. Inventory based puzzles are very annoying and often require obscure and frankly obtuse leaps of logic to which “Moon Logic” doesn’t even apply anymore; Mars logic is more apt. You have to combine almost random items with each other in order to progress. The randomness is the most apparent with the spiced-up pie you serve Bozo, an old vending machine with toothpaste, dust, pepper and other nonsense put on top. It doesn’t make much sense, but you get through it just by trial and error.

Ingenuity Puzzles are the real gem in this game as they take a step back from the convoluted logic-leaps and just have you use your wits. From a Disco-themed puzzle in which you need to keep cameras from seeing Goal to a tapeworm removal surgery puzzle. They’re a much-needed break from the moon logic madness that plagues the game and I’m sad there weren’t more of these puzzles.

This puzzle was very fun and creative!
This puzzle was very fun and creative!

Sound-wise, it has good voice acting and the hobo-singer between acts remains the best of the series. Background music however, tends to get a bit repetitive, especially in areas with plenty of backtracking. My biggest gripe however, comes with Cowboy Dodo, and annoying new character, which has a couple of appalling musical parts.

Deponia has always been charming in its derelict kind of way and with its cartoonish visuals and the third installment brings more of that bizarre and goofy goodness. Environments look shabby and downright uncomfortable but they work for Deponians. Items are easily identifiable and character animation is very good. I do have mixed feelings with the animated cutscenes though. Some of them look very good but others, especially those with plenty of ‘action’ look like cheap flash animations.

Some cutscenes look really well!
Some cutscenes look really well!

In the end, Goodbye Deponia closes the trilogy with a bittersweet leaning towards sad conclusion that would’ve worked even better if they’d taken the proper care to polish their plot and characters. As it stands however, I can’t say I’ll miss it and after playing Memoria, Goodbye Deponia seems to be a step back for Daedalic.

The Mental Attic Score: Wait for a Sale. If you can, get the game in a bundle with the other two, so you can play them straight, if you dare.


Review: Contrast

Contrast is a platforming game developed by Compulsion Games. It stars a mysterious girl named Dawn who can meld into shadows and move through them. She uses these abilities to help little Didi, whose family is a bit of a mess.

The Good

  • Shadowmelding
  • Strong voice acting

The Bad

  • Very short
  • Shallow escort centered gameplay
  • Dawn is a non-character

When I first saw gameplay footage for Contrast I was excited because I could see the potential. As an adventure maniac, I could already envision complex puzzles using shadows and light, and while Contrast does deliver some of that, it doesn’t achieve its full potential.

Shadow puzzles mostly revolve around creating platforms to jump on or opening paths to previously closed-off areas. Near the end of the game you also get two or three instances of getting moving other objects through the environment using lights, such as carrying a box in a beam of light or using a clockwork mechanism’s shadow to lift a sphere to an upper floor. Some of the more ‘complex’ puzzles revolve around moving objects around a light source to change the shape of the shadows, but much like the previous set of puzzles, you only see a handful of them throughout the game.

Didi talking to her mother, just another disembodied shadow.
Didi talking to her mother, just another disembodied shadow.

The problem isn’t the puzzles themselves, but the fact that with such a short game, they feel like prototypes of ideas that never got fully developed. Contrast also makes the mistake of locking some of your abilities until the plot requires you to have them, further limiting the type of puzzles available and the overall difficulty of the platforming. There also aren’t that many shadows to jump in, with only the puzzle related ones and those needed for the mostly optional collectible-hunt.

Contrast isn’t a challenging game in any way, and I’m sad to have seen so many box-moving puzzles, even if it’s very fun to meld into shadows carrying a big box. It also suffers from some uneven controls. It’s said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result; well, in Contrast it’s not insane. Very often I found myself performing the same jumps and getting completely different results. The most infuriating and frustrating ones where those cases when using the dash ability kicked me out of a shadow for no reason.

Sometimes shadowy characters not only advance the plot but also serve as platforming segments
Sometimes shadowy characters not only advance the plot but also serve as platforming segments

The plot revolves around helping Didi fix her personal life, with a cabaret singer Mom and deadbeat all-around loser Dad, whom you spend most of the game helping so mobsters don’t kill him and his latest harebrained scheme pays out so Did can have a full family again. It’s not the most complex of plots but it works and it’s emotionally satisfying.

The problem is that because of the plot, the game revolves around following Didi around. It’s one game-long escort mission. I wouldn’t mind the mostly closed-off levels if there was a bit more freedom in exploration, but instead you go from Didi’s current predicament to the next. You’re her personal superhero/handyperson and there’s not much else to do. Even the collectible hunt is shallow, with none of them being more than a few feet away, almost as if they couldn’t conceive of you wanting to explore their world, which, to be perfectly honest, is quite intriguing.

You spend the entire game helping this little girl, but at least she's useful!
You spend the entire game helping this little girl, but at least she’s useful!

The game takes place in a French town with a distinct Noir feel. It floats over nothingness, which you can see when like me, you make a bad jump and fall off, not that it happens that frequently. For much of the plot you don’t know much about this strange place, but near the end and with the help of the collectibles you begin to piece together the truth about this place where all inhabitants except Dawn and Didi are shadows on a wall. Up until the end of the game, you two are the only 3D characters in this shadow realm.

My greatest frustration with the gameplay was how Constrast constantly forced me into a walking speed when around the little girl. Dawn moves sluggishly when not running.

Posters and billboards like these are very Noir-esque!
Posters and billboards like these are very Noir-esque!

Speaking of our heroine, she’s the least developed character in entertainment. Hidden collectibles tell a bit of her story and fill out the gaps in the plot and in-game universe, but no effort is made in even giving Dawn a voice. She’s completely blank, a mindless minion to this very energetic little girl. I understand that part of the point is to make you wonder if she’s an imaginary friend, but even so, her lack of personality makes immersion very difficult, as you essentially control a mannequin.

The environments are beautiful and seem straight out of a 1920’s French movie, combined with locations and elements you’d expect from classic Noir films. The use of shadows for atmosphere and to portray characters and their stories is absolutely brilliant. The music itself helps anchor you in this strange French Noir town and the voice acting is outstanding, giving personalities and life to these disembodied shadows.

One of the VERY few shadow perspective puzzles. I wish there had been more.
One of the VERY few shadow perspective puzzles. I wish there had been more.

In the end, while Contrast does deliver a satisfying if short personal tale, it fails to live up to its gameplay potential, making this feel more like a prototype of the different concepts than a full game; and if so, I can only hope there’s a continuation. The world and in-universe concepts are fascinating, but much like the gameplay and the main character, they’re merely introduced but never fully fleshed out.

The Mental Attic Score: Wait for a Sale. It’s enjoyable but there’s simply not enough.

Review: Crysis 2

Crysis 2 is the sequel to the critically acclaimed tech demo/game Crysis. The Ceph, the aliens from the first game, have released a plague on the world, and it’s up to newcomer silent protagonist Alcatraz to don the Nanosuit and save the world…by doing a bunch of unimportant stuff right up to the end. Continue reading Review: Crysis 2