Friday, December 28, 2012

I Really Don't Like The Adventure Time Game

WayForward, you have let me down.

The Adventure Time game, on first glance, practically screamed things I would appreciate. I felt like the last fan of Zelda II in the world, and here was one that was embraced by hands-down my favorite cartoon ever, Adventure Time. How could this go wrong? Beautifully drawn sprites, kickin' music, and a plot that would crack me up.

I don't think it did any of these right.

Core combat felt annoying from the get go, by forcing me to use bareknuckles to fight with. With an absurdly short range, I slipped frequently into enemies, taking more damage and occasionally knocking me into the too-frequent pits scattered everywhere about. Thank god, I finally got Scarlett, Finn's sword, which gave me bonus range, but only provided I had more than one heart (four hits). Which makes a lot of sense, right? Only after you take a lot of damage do you lose your ability to attack from safety.

The annoyance of the clunky and frustrating combat is assuaged by a plentiful amount of healing items, but they're dropped at an absurd rate. After a few combats, you've got more apples than a produce store, and the less-useless powerups go unused as you tank-and-potion your way through. There's a pseudo Earthbound-like aspect of combining condiments with food, but neither is especially useful, convenient, or interesting. Earthbound did the same thing over a decade ago, and it was automatic and fit with the RPG system. AT does neither of these things.

I could forgive annoying combat with a stronger compilation of features, but HIKWYSOG borrows all of the worst aspects of Zelda II and removes all of the compelling points. There's overworld random encounters, but you can't run from them, there is no experience or level progression to grind, and all they do is give you more items, clogging your inventory with a needless amount. Every important landmark has a small level between it, but the quests in this game are aimed almost entirely at the 'fetch' variety.

In every zone you have to run errands before you can enter the dungeon, and not in a fun way, but in an obnoxious way. Collect three of something by talking to famous Adventure Time cast members, then run around and talk to someone they tell you to talk to. Talk to Lemongrab, talk to the three people in the area, talk to the Gravedigger, talk to the Nut King, talk to Mr. the time you're done, you've given up on genuinely fighting the enemies before you instead of jumping over them or running past. There is no fast travel at all. You have to run everywhere. There's a map, but it tells you only that there are landmarks there, not what they are or even where travel locations are.

With the 2d combat, the dungeons had a lot of things they could play with, but there's practically nothing there. Most of the dungeons can be cleared in about ten minutes, none of the bosses are especially creative, and it's not so much a 'puzzle' as it is 'hit button, return to previous room.'

Again, all of these things could be forgiven for being a huge chore, but the writing just is...lacking. Not only does it feel oddly out of place compared to Adventure Time, there's no writing charm either. None of the gags made me crack up laughing like the show frequently does, instead most of them are just kind of cute. They also have this odd habit of making a storyline reason for Jake to learn a power, but Finn learns something like the downthrust (Zelda II, again) out of opening a chest. The consistency from the show vanished.

Additionally, the lengths the game goes to put characters into the game starts to have serious dissonance with the show to anyone, not just the hardcore. The most egregious example of this is Earl of Lemongrab - in the show, there's no episode where he shows up that people like him. He only takes over after Princess Bubblegum no longer can be the Princess. So then why does she offhandedly mention that Lemongrab is running the investigation? And further, the bad guy is the Ice King, but he's been in the same category as Bowser as 'humorous once-bad guy turned mild annoyance,' so how am I expected to take him seriously as a villain? And why are Finn and Jake trying to fight him about their garbage? They handwave it as 'It's Adventure Time', but it feels out of place with the writing really missing the AT justifications. I don't understand how Pendelton Ward could have participated in this when they're so haphazard with the canon.

The game just feels so soulless, in every way. The visuals are nice, even if many events happen with a fade-out-fade-in rather than an animation, and the music is great, but everything else just misses the mark. The combat is boring, the dungeons are brainless, the writing can't even make you smile, the plot is threadbare, and the tenuous connections to the show barely exist.

It feels like this was not a labor of love from WayFoward, but instead from their publisher at Cartoon Network Interactive. As though the game was a product that a machine turned out after the entire series and a cartridge of Zelda II was dumped into it - wearing a mask, waving its wobbly arms, spouting "butts" and "mathematical!", begging you to mistake it for the real thing. No love was put into the game, and it shows horribly. I was hoping something with this much potential would be impressive, but it fails in every way it can.

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