We feel safe in saying that there’s no other cartoon series currently more deserving of a videogame tie-in than Adventure Time. WayForward showed us late last year that they have a fondness for Finn and Jake with the US-only ‘Hey Ice King, Why Did You Steal Our Garbage?!’ while show creator Pendleton Ward is clearly an avid gamer with nods and winks to various videogames rife in the cartoons.
What should be a match made in heaven though has clearly been hindered by budget, not to mention a seemingly short development period that has resulted in a lack of ambition.
Princess Bubblegum has summoned Finn and Jake for a quest to discover why the prisoners in her dungeon have started to run amok. The show’s stars are soon joined by Cinnamon Bun and Marceline the Vampire Queen to form the initial four playable characters, with another four added to the roster as the story progresses. Stats for each character vary slightly, while Marceline and Jake both have the advantage of being able to travel over bottomless pits and pools of water.
What we’ve got here is a 100 floor dungeon crawler, which in concept alone is perfectly fine. These aren’t intelligently designed Zelda-style dungeons filled with puzzles though, despite WayForward having a crack at such a thing with their first Adventure Time game. Instead, they’re randomly generated with Atari’s arcade classic Gauntlet providing the bulk of the inspiration – right down to having to destroy piles of bones that constantly respawn enemies.
Dungeons change theme every 20 floors, with each having an exit to find as well as the occasional pursuit to locate keys that unlock doors to new areas and rooms filled with treasure.
Due to being randomly generated sometimes you’ll get lucky and start just a few feet away from the exit, while other times – and more often than not usually the case – you’ll simply find yourself casually wandering down dull corridors and performing U-turns in the irritatingly frequent dead ends. Descend further into the dungeon and the labyrinth-like levels increase in size, thus becoming even easier to get lost in. Enemies also grow greater in number, with those able to spew projectiles in all directions becoming more frequent. Although it is possible to block and absorb said projectiles, the blocking system is so sluggish and unreliable that we found ourselves simply skirting around them.
Every five floors it’s possible to return back to the Candy Kingdom to upgrade stats, swap weapons, switch characters and browse the Choose Goose’s store. The upgrades don’t come cheap though, quickly escalating in cost to the point where they’re elusive to obtain.
To make matters worse, if you happen to die during one of the boss battles your treasure amount is halved. Die once more, and it’s halved again. The option is given to try again, but this’ll set you back five floors and reduce the treasure tally back to zero. It’s a concept that often ruins all sense of progression and sometimes even extinguished our desire to explore further into the dungeons for booty.
Frustration doesn’t end there. Somewhat confusingly, unspent treasure cannot be rolled over for the next visit to the hub. According to Princess Bubblegum, it’s instead taken away for “Candy Tax” purposes. As such, it’s not uncommon to forfeit a whole floor’s worth of treasure simply because there’s nothing available to spend it on before returning to the dungeon. Perhaps we should just be thankful that players can share their spoils between one another. Up to four can play at once, incidentally.
Even with a long list of power-ups and suitably daft weapons combat grows tedious quickly, and so from early on we started to avoid contact with enemies to try and plough through the adventure as quickly as possible. From thereon in the boss battles and cut-scenes were the only things that kept us playing.
The regularly occurring bosses are pleasingly ‘old skool’ – learning their attack patterns and exploiting their weak spots so that you can (eventually) beat them without having your loot halved can be quite satisfying. The cut-scenes meanwhile feature the same delightfully surreal sense of humour from the TV series, complete with authentic vocal work. We were more than pleased to discover that LSP gets plenty of limelight, given that she has been seldom seen in recent episodes.
Indeed, the presentation is by far the biggest highlight. The colourful cast of characters are well-drawn and nicely animated while the chip-tune soundtrack pleases in the way that only chip-tunes can. And although the 2D cut-scenes do look a little cheap, having seemingly been drawn using MS Paint, they do fit with the rest of the game’s unashamedly retro style. We wish we could say the same about the screen-filling special attacks, which appear to have been included right at the last minute.
The Adventure Time cartoons may only be 11-or-so minutes long, but they’re fast-paced and pack in plenty of action and drama. Explore the Dungeon is almost the total opposite – a slow-paced and laborious slog where imagination is thin on the ground. If it were a downloadable game costing around £10 we may have given it an easier ride, but as an almost full-price release it’s pretty unpardonable. It’s not hard to imagine only the most determined of Adventure Time fans sticking with it to the end.