Randall is a mash-up of several 2-D, side-scrolling genres that have recently seen success as downloadable games. It attempts to blend puzzle solving, platforming and brawler mechanics into one amalgamation that is often referred to as a “Metroidvania”. While the spirit of the genre is present throughout the game, technical hiccups and a storyline that lacks focus prevent Randall from being memorable.
Upon starting the game, the player is given almost no exposition about who your character is, or his personality. The enemy is not properly identified other than a few brief images of some kind of primate in a space suit, yet the player is immediately thrust into the action. As you progress, you encounter other strange NPCs that attempt to fill in the gaps that were never even acknowledged during the game’s opening sequence. However, they too fail to explain why the player should care about the hero’s plight and actually do more harm than good. The dialogue comes off as a “dude bro” speak that translates worse through text bubbles than it even would through spoken word.
The gameplay consists of guiding the titular hero through a maze of platforming obstacles using Randall’s abilities, finding new power-ups to conquer puzzles, and beating up faceless, forgettable enemies that offer very little resistance. Randall’s initial suite of skills consists of dashing, jumping, and dash-jumping. These moves are the core of the mechanics of Randall; which makes their maddening controls even more frustrating.
Jumping is pressure-sensitive, as most platformers are. The longer you hold the button, the longer Randall stays airborne. With that in mind, it is hard to fathom that more than once in my time with Randall the jump button on my controller just stopped working entirely. In a game centered around jumping, this is simply unacceptable. I even tried connecting a different controller, fearing that my Dualshock 4 had kicked the bucket. Thankfully, it had not; however, the only way to fix the issue is to kill your character (and any progress you had made) or quit out to the main menu. The latter was my only option at one point when my jump button quit working while hanging from a wall obstacle. The only way to exit a wall-hang is to jump. Obviously, this hindered my progress and I was forced to exit out of the game entirely.
The platforming isn’t the only area of the game suffering from a significant lack of polish. Combat is intended to be reminiscent of great brawlers from the 90s, such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. Randall never reaches that goal, however. Randall can punch high, kick low, throw uppercuts, and grab airborne enemies in mid-air for a pile-driver like move. Randall can also grab opponents and move them to the opposite side of him. This is because, according to the game, Randall can only fight one enemy at a time so you must separate the enemies. The button input for separating enemies is unforgiving, so if you accidentally hit the button to separate the enemies more than once, Randall does a sort of dance with the enemy – moving them from one side of his body to the opposite, and then immediately moving them back. The animation for separating the enemies feels unresponsive, so it is all but inevitable that this will happen. Not that the separation mechanic is a useful as it is initially implied in game. Most enemies can be defeated by simply mashing the attack button and avoiding enemy’s well telegraphed attacks. Worse yet is the fact that enemies have a fall down animation that happens after you defeat them. Once the enemy’s health has depleted entirely, the enemy will stand up just to fall back down again. This isn’t the worst bug I have ever seen, but the game encourages you to perform combo strings against multiple enemies. Your combo ends if you throw a punch that doesn’t land and this bug is sure to end many player’s combos.
The puzzle aspect of the game isn’t particularly deep either. Most require well timed jumps and grabs in the environment. As I mentioned earlier, the controls do more harm than good. It is too easy to perform one action when you intended to perform another - which ultimately leads to death. Thankfully, checkpoints can be somewhat generous. However, secret areas seem to be the most difficult when it comes to puzzles and the payoff for completing them is not significant enough to bother. Worse yet, once you make it through the puzzle and claim your reward, you are forced to go through the same puzzle in reverse instead of taking an exit that is accessible from only one direction.
Along with the myriad of gameplay choices that left me scratching my head, the game just does not perform well from a technical standpoint. Stuttering framerates and strange hit boxes plagued my time with Randall. For a game that is not graphically intensive, this issue only compounds upon the other flaws and is a detriment to the entire experience.
This is the freshman effort for developer We the Force Studios and it is certainly noticeable throughout the entirety of Randall. The Mexico based developer has crafted a game that obviously pays homage to a style of gameplay that they are fond of. However, the end result is little more than just that: an homage without any of the hooks that make other games of this variety so great. There is certainly potential for a great game within Randall and I hope this fledgling developer is able to learn from its mistakes to craft a more cohesive game in its next attempt.