Wot I Think: Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon…

By John Walker on November 22nd, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

With the incredible lore and stories of 70 or so episodes, and the infectious glee of the adored series, it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with an Adventure Time RPG. Well, if you would like to find out, read on. Here’s wot I think of the abysmal Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW.

Oh my goodness, I persisted. No one can say I didn’t. I stuck with Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW (ATE) for 27 levels. That may not sound like much. It took, maybe, four hours, and then crashed losing me an hour’s tedious, miserable progress. And I can’t bear to carry on. I’m so astronomically bored I’m a danger to satellites.

I really enjoy Adventure Time. I think the cartoon is wonderful, in its splendidly disjointed and freeform way. I love the characters, the voices, the locations. It has so very much going for it. So it leaves the rather stark question: why developers WayForward decided to dump all of that, and set it in blandly repeating featureless dungeons, interspersed with a tiny handful of endlessly repeated barks, with no joy or imagination whatsoever?

ATE is a phenomenally boring game. That’s a word we don’t usually use in reviews. “Only boring people get bored” I hear echoing in my head. But this offensively dull affair takes the repetitive nature of the typical dungeon crawler, and distils it down to its most banal, wearying essence, and titrates it directly onto your screen. Where that perpetual clicking usually creates a sort of hypnotic pleasure, incessantly dazzling you with new loot, new improvements, incremental change, here all that is taken away, and it’s just the unrewarding button tapping, slowed down to a slumbering crawl.

So, Princess Bubblegum has been keeping lots of prisoners in her 100 floor dungeon, but they’ve been escaping. You’re tasked with battling your way down and down, hitting them all until you find the end of your own personal tether. You can play as Jake, Finn, Marceline, Cinnamon Bun or Peppermint Butler, with other characters unlocked as you go. Other characters you “rescue” become quest-givers, with the apparent plan that you’ll have a bunch of tasks and an ever-expanding dungeon to explore.

Except what you get is ten near-identical levels between bland, or poorly conceived boss fights (of the two I could stand to stick through), in which you trudge around hitting or throwing things at the piddling number of enemy types, gathering treasures to buy upgrades back on the surface. It’s best played with a gamepad, since it was overtly designed with one in mind, and involves walking toward the identikit enemies and pressing B. There are other options, but you don’t need them. There’s no variety, no surprises, no sense of exploration or achievement. Just ten bland levels of the same thing, before the tile art changes and you do it all over again.

Dungeons are the same shape each time, with no challenge to exploring them. The minimap is god-awful beyond belief, and utterly belies how little effort went into crafting the places you spend 99% of the game – just grey rectangles either dark grey or light grey if you’ve been in that section. No detail, no care, no suggestion that there’s any more to this than the single-minded chore.

Every five levels you can come back to the surface and spend your treasures. Either on items, or upgrades to each character. However, an upgrade to Finn won’t upgrade Jake, etc, meaning that to get any of them up to a level to survive later dungeons, you’d have to replay the earlier ones – oh God, no, please, no, [wakes up sweating].

Anything you don’t spend is sacrificed when you go back down, so there’s no saving up for anything decent. So instead to get anywhere it’s a case of picking a character and persisting. After taking Jake and Finn down, I became thoroughly sick of hearing the same one or two word barks for the 900th time (perhaps with the exception of Jake’s saying “SCOOP!” every third time he picked something up, which for some reason worked for me.) I in the end opted for Marceline, who thanks to her vampiric hovering ways can at least float over the tedious array of pits that litter every floor. Her gentle voice keeps me slightly more calm, even if she only says about three things.

All these voices are provided by the proper cast, and it’s just so sad that it’s all wasted in such a dreadful game. So you’ve got Jeremy Shada (and his now far too old voice, poor thing), John DiMaggio, the incredible Tom Kenny, creator Pendleton Ward (although seemingly having forgotten how to do Lumpy Space Princess’s voice, devastatingly) and the rest of the regulars, alongside fantastic guest stars of the likes of Andy Milonakis, Neil Patrick Harris, Maria Bamford and only bloody Stephen Root.

Yet, as you play the game, by its very nature they never interact. So from its opening concept, the game never had a chance of capturing what the show is all about. In the scripted sequences above ground there are flashes of it, but it’s all so stilted that there’s no flow, no punch.

This is all then rendered even more clumsy and peculiar by the weird decision to half-make it a tribute to classic Nintendo RPGs. Not the way the game plays, at all, whatsoever, not one bit. But the cutscenes, which are static letterboxed images of the characters rendered in crude pixel form, with white Nintendo-style text below, and the dungeons and characters themselves, which are meaninglessly “retro”. Why, when your source is the gorgeously loopy and bendy animation style of the Cartoon Network success, would you instead deliver extremely poorly animated sprites?

It’s such a weird decision, made even more so by the frequent cutaways to the characters drawn properly. Use Finn’s “special move” (it’s so, so not special) and you’ll see a gorgeous drawing of Lady Rainicorn screaming something in Korean just as she should be, before it cuts back to the grainy, dreary faux-pixel bore of the main game. Just knowing they could have delivered something that at least looked like Adventure Time is made more gutting by how completely irrelevant the retro styling is. If the game played like bloody Zelda, then fine! But when it’s like a half-arsed 69p iOS game released at a premium price on PC and current gen consoles, it’s madness.

As I played, I tried to work out who it was for. Adventure Time, the TV series, occupies that wonderful space of being completely engrossing to children, while equally so for adults. I think perhaps there was an attempt to do the same here, creating a game that maybe parents could play with kids? I’m not entirely sure, but their opinion of children can’t be that high if they thought something this vacuous and bland would be good enough to entertain them. I sentence everyone involved to playing TT Games’ Lego series until they finally get it.

This is a game with the entire creative team of the show, the array of extraordinary voice actors, and the freedom to explore that world, and it’s set in agonisingly monotonous rectangular dungeons, with characters who don’t speak but for shouting the same half-sentences until your ears crawl off your head and hide under your armpits. If it were a cheapo mobile game getting a Steam release, you might not mind wasting a couple of quid on listening to the character chatter up top, before quickly tiring of it. But £30?! What were they thinking?

In the end you’ve got a game that doesn’t look like the cartoon it’s based on, certainly doesn’t even try to capture the atmosphere of its source material, completely misunderstands how dungeon crawlers work, has the most dreadful, tinny chiptune music, and looks apathetic in every element.

This could have been a wonderful RPG, set in the show’s array of utterly fantastic locations, quests and side-quests sending you on various journeys, with pretty much the same combat mechanic. It could have been something that celebrated Adventure Time, made use of the amazing resources it had to hand. But instead this is an insipid, limp waste of it all, and a proper shame.

Adventure Time: ETDBIDK is available on Steam for the astonishingly stupid price of £30.

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42 Comments »

  1. Jams O'Donnell says:

    I feel sad for you that you had to review this one.

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      RedViv says:

      Yes. Very much so.

      (Side note: Why too old? Jeremy Shada, 15 years, I think to be perfect for Finn the Human, 15 years.)

  2. Maxheadroom says:

    So still better than X-Rebirth then?

  3. Meat Circus says:

    UNACCEPTABLE!

  4. Kefren says:

    Might prefer this: http://www.gog.com/game/99_levels_to_hell
    I enjoyed it for a while, particularly the atmosphere and music.

  5. Premium User Badge

    CVraden says:

    This is just immensely disappointing. Such a wasted opportunity.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Tinus says:

    Sickening.

    Why don’t they give the license to someone willing to take some risks and leaps. It’s such a nice opportunity to try non-sequitur in gameplay.

    At least give us a game that is to Adventure Time as Trespasser is to Jurassic Park. Broken, but immensely interesting.

    Maybe just let The Catamites do an RPG maker thing. Or do another AT gamejam and cultivate the best entries into commercial products.

    Anything, jeez.

    • EveryoneIsWrong says:

      Wow… trespasser… I LOVED that game. It gave me gaming moments I still remember to this day.

      I remember walking on a broken monorail.. uh… rail.. (velociraptors circling below… waiting for me to make a mistake). At one point I had to jump onto a cherrypicker crane thingy. I made the jump alright except I forgot my hand was physically in the world so when I slammed my wrist onto the edge of the cherrypicker my character dropped the pistol I was holding. I cursed and looked down to see two dinos circling the gun on the ground below. Damn.

      Then there was the time I was being charged by a dinosaur and fired my last 3 bullets (to no avail) and in desperation I threw my gun at the charging dino… only to cause it to trip and impale itself on some nearby bones.

      Such a messy half-broken game with such wonderful experienced to be had inside it. Also… petting dead dinosaurs was fun.

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    RedViv says:

    So the game gets at least a million years dungeon, right?

  8. Kefren says:

    Weird, it sounds nothing like the trailer on their site, which is a side-scrolling game: http://www.adventuretimevideogames.com/category/videos/

    • heyricochet says:

      That’s cause the last update from that website was from the equally terrible “Hey Ice King, Why’d you steal our garbage?” which you could basically cut and paste this review into. I bought into the early hype for what turned out to be the most boring generic platformer I’ve ever played.

    • John Walker says:

      That’s the 3DS game, which is apparently slightly better.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        There’s a DS and a 3DS version if it. The 3DS one is decent, but not amazing. The DS version is a terribly cut down version of the 3DS one.

        • Creeping Death says:

          What’s the difference between the two? I’ve only played the DS version, but it was an alright Zelda II-esque game.

          • Mokinokaro says:

            I’ve unfortunately only played the 3DS version, but I’ve been told the regular DS one lacks the voicework (which in an AT game is pretty significant) and has smaller levels.

            Both are still as you say fairly competent Zelda 2 clones.

      • malkav11 says:

        Until they started releasing Shin Megami Tensei games, the Adventure Time 3DS game was one of the best received adventure/RPG releases on the system as far as I could tell. Certainly that’s why I bought (and have yet to play) it, despite having no experience of the show whatsoever.

  9. zaphos says:

    It seems like there’s really a lot of interesting game potential in the adventure time universe … I really wish they’d give the license to better game developers :(

    • Mokinokaro says:

      The thing is: WayForward have developed good games as well. Either they’re getting bad direction from the show creators or too small of a budget to work with.

  10. Williz says:

    I can’t believe it’s not been said yet…

    UNACCEPTABLE!

  11. Shuck says:

    I have sympathy for whoever has to play this, but also for the developers. Licensed games are always problematic, to varying degrees. You have to be faithful to the source material (which is its own set of restrictions, and development time spent familiarizing yourself with the material) and you have to develop a game worth playing on its own. But you’ve just spent a chunk of your budget on the license, which means the game is that much less developed. In a case like this, you’re also stuck with a voice cast that’s far more expensive than what you might normally have, so your budget takes another hit and you can’t afford to have them do much dialog, either. Decent procedurally generated content is much harder than you might think, too, if you’ve never done it before (and even if you have). On top of that, the developers don’t necessarily have any particular love for the source material – the decision to license it was done somewhere up the corporate ladder, and they’re probably expecting (and budgeting for) a game that gets all its sales from name recognition rather than quality.

    • MykulJaxin says:

      I find it odd that they could somehow make something lousy out of Adventure Time: There’s already so much good material and videogame influence to begin with. I guess that’s just the curse of licensed games…

      • Shuck says:

        Yeah, I thought so too, but that presumes certain things, including a familiarity with the source material. My own experience with working on a licensed game was that the IP was forced upon the dev team by upper management, who also had a notion of what sort of (cheap, formulaic) gameplay it should have (that was completely, completely wrong for the IP). Even in a better case scenario, you’ve got your source material providing inspiration, but you still have to come up with an actual game that fulfills that inspiration. Since time and resources are limited, you’re still likely to end up sticking an outer shell with a superficial resemblance to the source material onto some sort of pre-existing gameplay of the sort with which you’re already familiar.

  12. wilynumber13 says:

    I wonder who’s to blame here: the team at Wayforward, who recently lost some of their best members to startup Yacht Club games, or if Cartoon Network had too much creative control and forced the game down avenues it shouldn’t have gone.

    When Wayforward makes a licensed platformer, they usually make it well; even on the Gameboy Color they made some impressive licensed games! I think this might have been their first attempt at an RPG of any kind so it’s too bad they missed the mark so widely.

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    DrScuttles says:

    Oh. To echo what has come before, this game is in unacceptable condition.
    To think that anything Adventure Time could make me feel sad. Not good sad in the way that Island Song does during the end credits, but just sad. Properly sad.

  14. Baines says:

    I so much wanted this game to be good. I like Adventure Time. I like large dungeon crawls. I liked the idea of multiplayer.

    But the game never looked good. Even the previews on game sites couldn’t muster up much positive about the gameplay. It simply looked sluggish and boring. It didn’t look like an interesting game. Without the Adventure Time license, it would be a free indie game (or a microtransactions-based phone game). Even with the license, it looked like a $5 or less game.

    What it does look like is that WayForward should be ashamed of themselves for the phoned in effort of this title.

  15. Epsz says:

    What a shame.

  16. maximiZe says:

    Such a bummer.

  17. rapchee says:

    never seen the show, just bits here and there, looked kinda meh.
    huh. so this “Marceline” has a gentle voice. let’s google that. first youtube result: “I’m just your problem”
    oh. OH. maybe i should watch this.
    also, do want extended version of the song (i’ve found covers, but not like the original, with just bass and vocal)

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    Hypocee says:

    Huh! This was the one that got away at PAX. I never had the time in one piece to wait for a turn at the stations, but over people’s shoulders it looked good enough that despite not being into Adventure Time I put it on my radar. I was probably reading some kind of procedural element into it that isn’t actually there.

    From a distance it looked good. But then, from a distance we are instruments marching in a common band.

  19. EOT says:

    WayForward makes bad game. Film at 11.

  20. Josh W says:

    Heh, “explore the dungeon” -> “all dungeons have the same layout”

    in a repeating sprite-based game, that is a profoundly lazy decision!

  21. qrter says:

    creator Pendleton Ward (although seemingly having forgotten how to do Lumpy Space Princess’s voice, devastatingly)

    John Walker just made me cry!

    Or to let Lumpy Space Princess say it herself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmC1vknpqgg&t=0m46s