A dystopia is like, the worst kind of “topia.” They don’t always start off terrible though. Typically, they’re creation is grounded in creative ideas and good intentions that seem great on paper, but then just don’t really work out and everyone involved just ends up angry and sad. Unfortunately, Randall is that kind of “topia”.
Created by Mexican-based indie studio We The Force, Randall is a single-player, metroidvania, 2D-platformer set in a dystopian future, hence the previous metaphor. The mysterious protagonist, Randall, is a slightly schizophrenic telepath who awakens from a blackout to battle an oppressive, ever-watching government. Like many platformers, the narrative is completely inconsequential to enjoying the game. However, if you do want to understand what’s going on, you’d better read an external description as Randall offers little in-game explanation and what clues it does provide are muddled by an abundance of spelling and grammatical errors. If I hadn’t learned elsewhere that the protagonist had a Deadpool-like multiple personality, I never would have realized that the majority of conversation dialogue was actually just Randall arguing with himself.
The combat is straightforward, consisting of a basic brawler moves set. By attaining a high enough combo, you can replenish a certain amount of health, but whereas the combat offers no motivation for varying up attacks, combat typically just breaks down into spamming the punch button and intermittently dashing. The classic Double Dragon ability to punch, kick or throw enemies at each other after grappling them would have made combat far less tedious.
Things get more interesting after the first hour and a half, when you finally begin to unlock Randall’s psychic abilities. After stunning an enemy with a psychic blast, you can catapult yourself off of them in any direction, or control their minds for a limited time. Using the toughest bad guy in the room to beat up on his friends is a lot of fun, but combos can’t be attained this way and therefore no you get no health bonus. Also, when psychically commandeering an enemy, Randall literally rides them. This makes sense on enemies that have a beneficial means of conveyance like flight or walking on ceilings, but when you see the tough-as-nails, badass protagonist taking a piggyback ride, it seems hilariously out of character.
Like Super Meat Boy and other great platformers, Randall‘s platforming requires pinpoint accuracy when dodging traps or landing jumps, which makes it’s inconsistent controls feel all the more unfair. For example, to grab a ledge you’re told to press R2. By pressing and holding R2 when you’re mid jump, you will automatically grab some ledges, while other ledges demand that you press R2 the instant you reach the ledge, leaving you to plummet to your death if you’ve pressed it too early. To wall jump, you’re told to press X. Although it’s not necessary, I felt a natural inclination to press away from the way with the left stick when jumping. Sometimes, pressing a direction like this is inconsequential, while other times it appears to prevent the jump input entirely, again letting you plummet to your doom. Sporadically, pressing the grapple button will grapple and then ungrapple, leaving you vulnerable to attack and even advancing the dialogue screens requires you to pound on the X button multiple times to get any response.
More frustrating than the inconsistent controls and more confusing than the narrative is the level design. The hallmark of metroidvanias is unlocking previously unreachable areas by using newly obtained abilities. The layout of Randall‘s different “levels” and how they are interconnected is not only very confusing, but there is literally no overworld map to explain it, making it very difficult to purposely return to specific areas. The individuals “levels” are divided into multiple areas that do thankfully include mini maps, but they are stationary in each level and can’t be taken with you to be consulted on the fly. I eventually resigned to literally taking a picture of my TV with my phone when I’d find theses maps, but even they are so vaguely labeled they weren’t all that helpful.
Adding to the frustration is that the game’s glitches are not limited to the occasional screen tearing. At least once during every play session I had to restart from a previous save point because Randall would simply vanish when transitioning from one area to another. This wouldn’t be a game breaking frustration if save points were prevalent, but they aren’t. Exiting to the main menu and restarting from your last save point because of a glitch is infuriatingly unfair, especially right after successfully completing a difficult platforming puzzle you’d been throwing yourself at for an hour.
A tough, metroidvania, action platformer with telepathic combat and a rad looking protagonist sounds fantastic on paper, but Randall falls short and ends up frustrating for all the wrong reasons. It’s uncompromising demand for precision without providing the proper means is akin to tackling a bobsled course full of hairpin turns in only a Radio Flyer red wagon. Perhaps with more development time and a few more levels of polish, Randall could’ve achieved the greatness it was admirably chasing.
Randall is available now for digital download on both Steam and PS4 for $14.99. A PS4 copy was provided for this review.