If there’s a particular art to making an adventure game, I reckon it comes down to the puzzles more than anything. The art, dialogue, writing, story, and general flow all matter too, obviously, but that’s true for all sorts of other games. Adventure games have to tie that into inventory puzzles with some sort of logic.
On the positive side of things, you’ve got the generally realistic and logical puzzles of something like Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, or the zany-but-supported-by-internal-logic puzzles of something like Day of the Tentacle. On the less positive side, you’ve got the completely ridiculous puzzles of something like Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, or the zany-but-no-seriously-what-the-hell puzzles of something like Discworld.
Randal’s Monday, for the most part, has wrangled its way into the latter camp. It’s not all bad, though! And I’m not even sure the insane puzzles are even completely relevant, because… well…
Randal’s Monday puts you in control of Randal Hicks, a sociopathic, kleptomaniac, hard-drinking, amoral arsehole. After getting very drunk celebrating his friend Matt’s engagement, Randal wakes up and discovers that he needs to pay rent… and the only thing he can pawn is the engagement ring he “borrowed” when Matt dropped it.
Unfortunately, this leads to a rather unexpected series of events. For starters, every time he wakes up it’s Monday again – only a Monday that’s subtly different, with the universe having rewritten itself to accommodate any changes Randal made the last time he went through Monday. Also, his buddy Matt keeps committing suicide in a variety of truly bizarre ways. This all seems to have started with the pawning of the ring, so Randal’s off on an adventure to get it back, in the hopes of someday waking up on a Tuesday.
Which, I think you’ll agree, is a rather good premise for an adventure. It gives legitimate reason for you to keep revisiting the same locations, and for them to be different each time. The whole “butterfly effect” theory that minor changes can have big effects also gives legitimate reason for things to get very, very weird, like… well, like when you finagle things so that a koala convention is replaced with a sci-fi convention, and this results in koalas infesting the streets. And that’s actually a pretty minor example.
The comic insanity is buoyed along by lovely art, decent dialogue, and solid voice-acting. Randal is voiced by Jeff Anderson (Randal of Clerks and Clerks 2, and no, this character is a different Randal) and there are a fair few other familiar voices within. The most prominent is probably Jason Mewes (Jay, of pretty much every View Askewniverse film) who… well, he plays Jay. And yes, Silent Bob is there too.
But Randal’s Monday isn’t a View Askewniverse game; these are just a few of the many, many nerd culture references peppered throughout. There’s usually at least one reference in every second line of dialogue, and each scene has half a dozen little background nods in it, either to pop culture, games, sci-fi or, fantasy. Expect a statue of Purple Tentacle, posters advertising Rapture, the Boss Key from Zelda, Portal‘s Companion Cube, a trivia mini-game asking about Star Wars, a panoramic view of the opening scene to Maniac Mansion…
It can get a little overbearing, in truth, but it never really spoiled my fun. Most of the items can be examined and there’s normally some smart-ass dialogue if you try to pick them up, and even though the dialogue makes a whole lot of references on its own, it’s usually with some sort of purpose – even if only to prove that basically everyone in this game world is a massive nerd. Still, if Family Guy seems too heavy on the references then Randal’s Monday will likely make you want to kill yourself, so some caution is advised if you really don’t like that sort of humour.
I’m happy with all of this stuff. I like the characters (and yes, despite his jerk nature, Randal is still rather likeable – even when he’s doing some truly, truly despicable stuff under your orders) and the story. I like the writing, and the regular breaches of the fourth wall. I like the art, and the animation.
I don’t like the puzzles.
Okay, so that’s not entirely fair. The first Monday is pretty solid, and the second Monday only really has one big stumper (which, unfortunately, is made up of many little stumpers). The last couple of Mondays lock you into a limited number of locations and give you a very limited number of items, so they’re small enough that you’ll stumble upon the necessary solutions without too much difficulty, even when those solutions strain the boundaries of cartoon logic. The problem is the middle bit of the game.
From the second Monday onwards you’re inundated with inventory items and locations to visit, your immediate goals are occasionally a little indistinct, and the solutions to the puzzles regularly forgo common sense and require some utterly absurd leaps of logic. I don’t want to spoil too many solutions, but I do want to give a few examples, so…
There’s a gumball machine in one location, and you need a coin to get some gum out of it. Now, you do have an utterly obscene amount of money in your pockets from pawning the ring, but it’s all in bills. How do you go about getting a coin? Well, if you thought “go and buy something” or “ask someone in one of the multiple shop locations in the game to help you make change”, then you thought wrong. The solution involves someone idly flipping a coin (who only appears much later in the game) and requires you to distract him with a radio and a pipe, hide in a box, and use a magnet to steal the coin when he flips it into the air.
That’s actually one of the more logical ones. We could talk about the coathanger that cannot be bent into shape with a hammer or your hands, but instead has to be put into a blender – full of bits of your suicidal friend – which will magically knock it into the correct shape. We could mention the stuck drawer that cannot be yanked open, levered open, or smashed to bits, but has to be blown up. We could mention the cuckoo clock that has to be turned into an implement of destruction through what I believe to be some truly questionable physics. We could talk about any one of three dozen completely ridiculous puzzles that strain the mind.
They also strained my patience so much that I eventually had to ask for a walkthrough that I could reference whenever things got a bit too much to bear, and honestly, I’d probably still be stuck on the third or fourth Monday without it. It doesn’t help that the inventory takes a second to open or to scroll through, so attempting the old adventurer trick of “use everything on everything” requires multiple pauses and quickly becomes irritating. There are also a few problems of pacing, insofar as the solution to one problem often just immediately throws up another problem rather than giving you access to something new and interesting, which makes some segments a bit of a chore.
And yet, despite this, there are some absolute gems in there. There are a couple of genuinely great dialogue puzzles, and a few puzzles which do give that glowing feeling of satisfaction when you figure them out. There are also a lot which give that frustrated “how the hell was I supposed to know that would work?” feeling when some random trial-and-error provides the solution.
But like I said… I’m not sure how relevant all of this is. We’re living in an age where adventure gamers can take to the internet and find a walkthrough in under 30 seconds provides too much trouble, so there are likely a whole lot of people out there who will be playing this with a solution only an alt-tab away. I’m not sure how much “100% puzzle coherence” matters, particularly when Randal’s Monday is enjoyable enough through its writing and plot, and particularly when it has a couple of blindingly good puzzles in there anyway.
So this is a guarded recommendation, but a recommendation nonetheless. If you don’t know your nerd culture or your old adventures then Randal’s Monday probably won’t do a great deal for you, and if you demand perfectly logical puzzles that just require a bit of careful thought then it will drive you insane. But if you want an amusing, wacky, well-written adventure packed full of references – and you don’t mind checking a walkthrough a few times during play – then chances are you’ll have a pretty good time.
Whew. And I made it right the way through without mentioning Groundhog Day… oh, dammit.