Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time is one of Cartoon Network’s biggest success stories of the last decade. Currently in its tenth season, the show doesn’t get the insane ratings it once did, but it still appeals to many fans, young and old alike. Adventure Time’s appeal lies in its DNA, it has the amazing ability to be easily accessible, colourful and fun for kids, but also it’s a dark show, with fully fledged character backgrounds and lore.
It seems odd that there’s not been more Adventure Time games. Sure, there’s been a few, but not the level that you’d expect for such a big title. That’s largely down to the question of: who is this game for? So far, despite the vast differences in the ages of Adventure Time fans, the games have all been very child orientated, which is a shame, I mean, can you imagine exploring the Land of Ooo in a Elder Scrolls or Zelda style game? It’d be amazing, but sadly this isn’t the case, as all too often games aimed directly at kids are — how do I word this? — not very good. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is no exception.
But let’s first be positive. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion nails the look down like few other cartoon to game adaptations have ever done before. Moving from 2D to 3D often looks weird, just look at the likes of South Park (N64), The Simpsons and Futurama games. 2D images translated to 3D feel almost creepy at times, although I do admit that as graphical technology has improved so has the presentation of these sorts of adaptations. It’s hard to get it right when you try and visualise 2D to 3D in many cases, with South Park’s residents all having weird spherical heads in 3D and don’t get me started on how Lisa Simpsons’s hair looks in the third dimension.
Adventure Time never falls into this trap, totally managing to recreate the aesthetic of the show perfectly. Okay, the graphics aren’t the world’s greatest, but that really doesn’t matter. Finn looks like Finn, Jake looks like Jake. The cartoon has a great sense of physical depth within the animation and it’s a testament to the animators that Adventure Time manages to portray the depth on a 2D plain so easily, so it was simple for Climax Studios to work these into a 3D world without it looking curious and strange.
It also helps that the vocal talent is all present and correct. Your main team of Finn, Jake, Marceline and BMO are all voiced by their Cartoon Network counterparts, as well as a supporting cast featuring the likes of Ice King, Peppermint Butler and Princess Bubblegum amongst others. It helps that the writing is pretty good too, managing to hold on the the banter, tone and humour of the series and I genuinely chuckled at a couple of points during playing. One downside is that a some of the phrases either repeat or are rather similar, which can get a little annoying after a while. Sadly, this is not the only downside.
The main thing I have against Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is that it’s a jack of all trades, yet a master of none. Starting out, it’s a third person adventure, and has you travelling to the different lands of Ooo via a boat due to unexpected flooding. The boat sections are minimalistic, but not in a good way, as you pootle around, pick up floating debris and occasionally getting into fights with pirates. The land sections are mainly exploration, but when you are tasked with on an enemy, the game goes all turn-based RPG on you.
The problem is, it’s not a particularly great turn-based system. It’s rather simplistic, and while the game did require some tactics later on, it’s mainly just a case of outlasting your opponent. The system feels old-fashioned and clunky. The developers seem to try and justify their choice by using a retro chiptune battle track, but it just feels outdated.
Grinding is something I’m not a fan of in RPGs. It’s an annoying thing that we all know you have to do, and we accept it. However, some games handle this better than others and unfortunately, Adventure Time doesn’t handle it well. Battles feel like a chore and having to collect coins, improve your character, buy potions, battle, level up, collect coins then rinse and repeat gets old very, very quickly. If you try and continue on with the story and head to the next world, there’s a good chance you’ll hit a nasty, and potentially impossible, difficulty spike.
Then there’s a totally unexpected addition to this game: Interrogation Time. Yes you read that right, and don’t worry it isn’t the Soviet approved version of the cartoon. It’s a bizarre mini-game that is played at times when you need to speak to someone or, well, interrogate them. The game comprises a wheel, with a marker spinning and four icons, two good cop, two bad cop (I think that’s what they’re meant to be), with two belonging to Finn and two to Jake. Problem is, much like L.A Noire, it becomes difficult to know what to ask next. Most interrogations start with a clue, like Finn saying “Let’s go easy on him” or something, but you sometimes need to change tactics mid-interrogation, and it often boils down to merely guess work.
Adventure Time also had a weird non-stealth stealth section, which sees Marceline go invisible for a short space of time, and saw me going to another hiding spot, hiding from the enemies, then going invisible again and moving to the next. It had little substance to it and felt like it was there just to break up the battle/grinding formula. To make matters worse, the camera was a pain, often ending up directly looking into the back of Marceline’s head, meaning I couldn’t really examine my surroundings easily.
The game engine is another aspect of this game that feels out of date. 3D platformers have had a renaissance of late, and whereas 3D platform games of the 90s could feel loose and unfair, today’s platform titles usually feel tight and precise. Now I’m aware that it is unfair to compare Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion to a modern platform title as it’s not a platformer, but it’s engine feels like it could’ve been. The engine feels dated and imprecise, at one stage I fell off the same ledge four times. It’s true that this was partially down to human error, but I couldn’t move Finn away from the water in the same way as I would in most other modern, third person adventures, his clumsy turning leading me off the edge once more. I had to physically move Finn toward the camera and away from the ledge before moving anywhere else.
I found a few technical issues in my review copy of the game, but I’d imagine these will be patched before release, and none stopped me playing or ruined the game for me, but were slightly annoying. CPU controlled allies falling into water required a short fade to black and restart, just as you would if you fell in the water. This also happened when I unexpectedly jumped behind a box, but still within game limits. Also, the game suffered from pretty hefty load times for some reason, and the battle menus would even load before the battle actually did. Again, this is all just pre-release stuff and it should be patched by the time the game launches.
I’ve been reasonable with Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. I feel I could’ve scored it harsher, but I’m not overly sure that I’m their target demographic. The game feels like it’s pushing for a target audience of kids, as I can’t see many grown up gamers putting up with its mish-mash of ideas. Then again, are kids going to want to put up with an RPG which appears to be increasing its length by the large amount of grinding?
The worlds I played through were fairly simple and the only thing that halted my progress was sudden difficult spikes, leading me to go off and grind for a while. The game appears to want to be an open world adventure, however it feels much more level based, with its water-based open world boating feeling more akin to a fancy map screen. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion’s aesthetic will no doubt appeal to kids and most likely Finn & Jake die-hards, but it’ll leave many other players wanting more.
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Great art and design can’t make up for dated, semi-open world adventuring.
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