WayForward's second video game take on Adventure Time switches format from the Zelda II wannabe that last year's Hey Ice King, Why'd You Steal Our Garbage? adopted, instead taking the form of a Gauntlet-inspired multiplayer RPG. In light of this new approach, we thought it would be appropriate to ask husband-and-wife Adventure Time David and Nadia Oxford to tackle both the game and the review together.
DAVID: Let's start by addressing the Tree Trunks in the room. Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW! should never have been a retail game. Maybe if WayForward were going with the whole "Special Edition" package for fans it would make sense, but even then, we likely would have been buying it more for the bonus swag than as a game that comes with bonus fun stuff. But they only did that for the Nintendo 3DS version, so I'm not really sure what to think.
Mind, that isn't to say this is a bad game; it's just the kind of thing that would have thrived as a download-only title (eShop and the like notwithstanding) with a lower price point. The semi-premium $40 they're asking for it doesn't make sense.
NADIA: Yeah, totally in agreement, even though it physically pains me to say anything negative about a title that spoofs Dragon Warrior II's title screen so beautifully. Heck, given the game's overall retro theme (8-bit graphics, Gauntlet-style gameplay), now I want an Enix-era turn-based Adventure Time RPG more than I want my own Rainicorn.
DAVID: You have to give the developers credit: Adventure Time is one of those cases that's tough to win on a graphical standpoint, since the source material's animation wouldn't translate well into 3D polygon models. Matching the 8- or 16-bit style here to match the Gauntlet-style theme was an inspired choice.
NADIA: I have no major complaints about the graphics. Marceline's umbrella (seen only when she's above ground and in the sun) is adorable. Far as I'm concerned, a game can utilize whatever style it wants as long as it shows me a good time (which is why I've dropped a fair sum of money on different iterations of Cave Story, and will continue to do so until the sun turns into a bloody red lump).
But gameplay is where things get sticky with Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW!. It takes its sweet time getting you fired up. For the first couple of levels, you're like, "Ha ha! I'm Jake! I'm stretching over pits and using a kitten gun against skeletons and birds with shivs for beaks!" Then you hit level 13, and it's more like, "I'm Jake. I'm stretching over pits. I'm using a kitten gun against birds with shivs for beaks."
The first 20 levels utilize identical textures, present very little enemy variety, and spread those enemies far apart so you spend more time getting to them than you do actually fighting them. Worse, the levels are big, the characters move excruciatingly slowly, and Glob help you if you're not using someone capable of floating over pits and other traps.
DAVID: Which is basically Marceline in a nutshell, as she pretty much owns this entire game (almost appropriately, as she seems like she'd fit in well with WayForward's growing cast of femme protagonists). She may have a few disadvantages, like less health and an inability to block, but everything else she has going on makes up for it in spades, not the least of which being that she's the fastest character and, as noted, can float over pits.
Crossing pits isn't unique to her. Among your starting foursome, Jake can do it as well, but he's much slower at it -- and slower in general. It really kind of kills the pacing when one player is so much faster than the others (more so if they have the speed token) as one player zips around the map fighting enemies and grabbing treasure while the others struggle to keep up.
In general, the need to use the speed tokens to achieve a decent speed shows just how much of a slog normal gameplay is. And as noted, this is even more problematic in the early going when there are fewer enemies around the dungeons to help break up the simple act of moving around.
NADIA: Interestingly, I found the game less monotonous when I was playing alone and equipped Marcy with a speed token to double my walking (floating?) speed. I'm not sure why WayForward didn't just make all the characters move faster, period. Frankly, if I'd not been playing alone with a juiced-up Marcy, there's no way I would have been able to finish the second boss fight, which involves outrunning an angry prison mob. Having a second player trailing behind at normal speed just slows things down too much, even with the speed-boosting honey energy drinks scattered here and there.
Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW! does pick up quite a bit by the Ice Caves level, but enemies are still tedious to take down because they require so many hits. It doesn't help that upgrading your characters' stats is borderline impossible because the upgrades are expensive, treasure is dished out in small quantities, and if you don't use what you've got when you surface every five levels, Princess Bubblegum takes everything you've got before you descend again. She calls it "candy tax."
Let the candy people pay the candy tax. I pay the half-demon vampire tax.
DAVID: Candy Kingdom economics suck. You're always picking up treasure, and even if you're sharing it between two players as needed, one of you might be lucky enough to buy one or two good upgrades here or there, or an item. And that might even be okay, except each character levels up independently, and so trying to make any progress across the board is going to be nigh impossible, short of perhaps getting four people playing.
That brings us to another issue in the game: Multiplayer is local-only. A game like this feels like it's made for multiplayer, and online multiplayer at that. See: Diablo. Unfortunately, no version of the game has anything like this. On the other hand, when you've got bosses like the angry prison mob, they're just as likely to get swallowed up without speed boosters, so it's a bit of a lose-lose proposition either way.
The more I think about it, actually, the more I'm at a loss. The game seems like it should be a full-on multiplayer blast, since it features a number of Adventure Time characters, and is just overall filled with great Adventure Time jokes. But for every reference, there's a problem with the game's mechanics.
The Nitty Gritty:
Visuals: The Super Nintendo-style sprites fit in well with the retro hack-and-slash gameplay. The whole package feels like it'd be at home on a 16-bit system, which might make you all the more wary of paying full retail price for the game.
Sound: The music doesn't stick to your brain, nor does it get in the way. The voice acting is perfect, though the sound clips get repetitive after a while. Marceline sings often, which is good.
Interface: Move with the control stick. Attack with a button. It doesn't get much more complicated than that. Response time is fine.
Lasting Appeal: Man, there are over 100 levels to explore here, so expect to stay busy for hours. The question is whether or not you'll be entertained enough to stick around that long.