Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time clearly draws a lot of its influence from video games in the vein of many retro adventure romps, such as The Legend of Zelda and Gauntlet. Naturally, this would make the surreal cartoon the perfect fit for a video game, but developer WayForward’s first attempt was met with a mixed reception. Perhaps their sophomore outing could bring the adventures of Finn and Jake to consoles the way they deserve by upping the scale, adding multiplayer, and full on voice acting. Does it really make a difference in the end?
Ultimately, there is one word to describe the entire tone of Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW—rushed. Everything about this game simply lacks basic polish. Gameplay is slow and insultingly easy, the pixelated “retro” graphics simply look like a placeholder rush job, glitches are everywhere, the music is surprisingly underwhelming, and there are many confusing and unintuitive design choices. But where does this wreck all start? Well, let’s start with the story.
Princess Bubblegum has Finn, Jake, Marceline, and Cinnamon Bun explore the one hundred different floors of her royal dungeon because… I don’t know. No, literally, that’s what she says in the opening cutscene. Admittedly, as a fan of Adventure Time, I could really get down the premise of Finn and Jake stumbling upon a dungeon and exploring it for no reason whatsoever, but having Princess Bubblegum decree this for no reason simply feels a bit lazy, and even the cutscenes feel the same way. Despite being fully voiced—the whole game is actually fully voiced by the original cast, surpringly—story is told through low-fi “pixelated” cutscenes taking place in a tiny window approximately one tenth the size of the screen, a la retro PC games.
Where this worked for something as tongue in cheek as Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, here in AT:ETDBIDK it feels a bit insulting to players. Even actual full HD non-pixelated stills from the show would’ve worked a bit better than these cutscenes. The same goes for the sprites in game which adopt the same retro pixelated style. WayForward’s cel-animated sprites look absolutely gorgeous in DuckTales: Remastered and the upcoming Shantae game. The same style would’ve greatly benefited this game, especially against the sparse and repetitive 3D environments.
The gameplay also ascribes to some sort of weird retro simulacrum. Players play as one of eight characters in an overhead view, slaying strange beasts and collecting various loot, a la Gauntlet. In theory, this should be really fun, but in practice it’s just boring. This is due to the incredibly slow gameplay which throws very few easy-to-defeat enemies at you, moving at a slow pace. This is compounded by characters’ own slow movements. Each character has special abilities to help aid with combat and movement, but many of the skills are negligible at best. You can pick your favorite character without any hesitation, but characters such as Jake and Marceline ultimately come out on top with their unrestricted mobility.
Characters can be leveled up to help make fighting easier, but this system is extremely frustrating. Upgrades must be bought topside in the Candy Kingdom using treasures found below in the dungeons. But when players are ready to return to the dungeon, they must relinquish all of their currency for no real good reason. In one session, I came up with a cache of treasure to buy a strength upgrade, but was short by just one. When I realized returning to the dungeon meant throwing away all of this treasure, I spent it on items in the store I didn’t need just so it wouldn’t go to waste. Honestly, it’s not even worth bothering since abilities and skills can be manually applied with badges before going back in.
The game does become a lot more playable as you get the hang of managing abilities and weapons, but ultimately, the game never gets any more interesting. The game might provide some leisurely mindless play with a few friends for an afternoon, but enjoyment with the game comes in short bursts. There are a few fun bosses in the mix, offering up an interesting synergism between beat-em-up gameplay with shmup bullet patterns, but these too don’t take these ideas as far as they possibly could.
There are some really cool Adventure Time shout-outs throughout the game in the form of characters, small references in items, and side-quests, but a lot of these will be lost on anyone but the most hardcore of fans. If the appearance of Stanley the Watermelon doesn’t exactly excite you, then let that serve as an example of what exactly I mean. There’s a little bit of new story here in the game, but without the irreverent charm of the show, it doesn’t quite feel worth it to work up to those points.
Adventure Time honestly deserves a better game than this, and WayForward can certainly do much better. Even the soundtrack by WayForward mainstay composer Jake “Virt” Kaufman is very barebones here at best. Judging from how empty the game feels in both quality and heart, and from how many game-freezing gltiches I ran into, my guess is that it was made in a tight development window to meet holiday wishlists. Perhaps a bit more time or a much smaller scale might’ve ultimately helped the quality of the game. As it stands, Adventure Time fans will have to keep waiting for some time for the true must-have game based on the show.
[+Full voice acting including Lady Rainicorn in Korean][+A lot of cool references to the show][+Some satisfying boss fights][+The best acronym in gaming since PAAOTRSPOD] [-The whole “retro” look does not work for this game][-Lazy unpolished design everywhere][-Disappointingly poor music][-Too easy, too slow, rarely fun]