When a side-scrolling “Metroidvania” game is at its best, it’s addictive, challenging, and full of unique experiences. As a fan of the genre, I look back fondly at classics like Super Metroid, and some of the fantastic modern titles like Ori and the Blind Forest. When this genre is at its worst, though, it’s clunky, buggy, and derivative — in other words, it’s Randall.
There isn’t a whole lot that I can tell you about Randall’s story, despite having played through it. Randall wakes up in a mysterious facility with amnesia and tries to escape. Along the way, he remembers that he has various abilities, including the power to control the minds of others. Randall also meets various characters, mostly prison guards and other baddies who want to kill him. Randall also has a sassy alter ego, with whom Randall shares regular banter. Unfortunately, almost none of this is communicated well. For example, it took me a good chunk of time to even realize that Randall had an alter ego, even though it’s a core plot point of the game. This is the first of the game’s many issues: An incredibly weak narrative, and unintelligible writing.
Randall was made by Mexican game developer, We The Force, and the localization from Spanish to English is poorly executed. Nearly every line of dialogue contains typos, and grammatical and syntactical errors. In many cases these issues make the dialogue difficult to understand, and so what little enjoyment the story has to offer is buried under a mountain of incomprehensible dialogue. On the bright side, I sometimes found this element to be amusing, even if it wasn’t intentional.
While the story and writing are an annoyance, Randall’s gameplay is downright frustrating. The game is a side-scrolling “Metroidvania” game with segments of 2D platforming, beat-em-up combat, and boss fights, none of which are particularly enjoyable. The combat sequences are the most annoying, which lock you into a small space and force you to take on enemies one at a time. If multiple enemies appear, you need to press the “separate” button to push the characters away from one another and focus on one enemy — doing otherwise gets you caught in a chain of stun-locking attacks, which will kill you. As you can imagine, this process is quite boring, and when repeated over and over again, becomes absolutely infuriating. Worse yet, the ability to separate enemies from one another and the consistency of Randall’s melee attacks registering is shoddy and doesn’t appear to work as intended. Sometimes Randall will push the enemies apart sufficiently and other times he just won’t for no discernable reason. Melee attacks work similarly, with roughly a third of attacks not registering at all, by my estimates.
The inconsistency and repetitiveness extends to boss fights as well, which are honestly just designed incompetently. For example, one boss fight centers around a mean-looking prison inmate, who slowly walks back and forth through a small area and tries to smack you around. Your goal is to punch him…a lot, before he eventually dies, but due to the inconsistent registering of your attacks, you’ll get hit and die a bunch at no fault of your own. In my case, the encounter glitched out completely after a few attempts and exactly zero of my attacks would register until I closed out the game and rebooted. This happened multiple times during my playthrough, and not just during this single encounter.
The platforming is slightly more competent than the combat or boss fights, but never manages to be interesting or unique in any way. The biggest issue is that Randall’s platforming is sloppy, and controlling Randall feels stiff and clunky. As one example, wall-jumping in Randall is bizarrely designed. Whereas in most games you can expect to hop on a wall, then press the analog stick or d-pad in the opposite direction and execute a second jump, Randall makes you fall off the wall if you try to do anything other than press jump a second time. It’s an odd choice that punishes the player for existing platforming habits, and makes the experience a little more frustrating — issues like this one permeate every part of Randall’s platforming experience.
Randall’s presentation is nothing special, but is at the very least a glimmer of “fine” in a vast ocean of “ugh.” The sound design is a mixed bag with voice-acting and sound effects being consistently sub-par, but the soundtrack being decent most of the time (I’m not a huge dubstep guy, but the dubstep tracks during boss fights seemed like acceptable pieces of the genre). The visuals aren’t terrible, but don’t stand out in any way. You’ll see a lot of repetitive environments and get lost in samey hallways, but compared to Randall’s other issues, this is minor by comparison. However, Randall also suffers from technical issues, like an inconsistent framerate and long load times, which don’t help the situation.
There are very few things that Randall gets right: The platforming is sloppy, the combat is dull, the story and writing is unintelligible, and the boss fights are unbearable. When they work, mind control abilities are entertaining, but poor game design and game-breaking glitches make Randall a thoroughly unpleasant gaming experience.