Arguably more so than any other network that has attempted this feat, Cartoon Network has the best track record of creating cartoons that appeal to both grown-ups and kids. Even taking the Adult Swim lineup out of the picture, Cartoon Network has shown a pretty good knack for creating animated series that youngsters and oldsters can find funny and interesting, and often for different reasons. One of the more recent examples of this would be the hugely popular Adventure Time, the adventures of Finn the human and Jake the dog exploring the post-apocalyptic land of Ooo, helping protect the Candy Kingdom from danger (and occasionally itself) and learning valuable, if not existentially terrifying, lessons along the way. As with any popular property aimed at persnickety preteens (boosh! Four p-words!) there has already been a couple of games and phone applications set in the world of Adventure Time. Modern-day 2D geniuses WayForward have already taken one crack at the franchise already, with last year’s well-received Zelda II: The Adventures of Link pastiche Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage? And now, in the first Adventure Time title for home consoles and PC, WayForward is back with another retro-throwback (and charmingly cumbersome to say) title, Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW!
Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW!(yes, I will type that in its entirety as OFTEN AS I HAVE TO!) is, as the name would indicate, some kind of Gauntlet ripoff/tribute with elements of more modern dungeon crawlers blended in. Taking control of a surprisingly robust roster of characters from the Adventure Time universe, you are tasked by Princess Bubblegum to explore her… hideous subterranean dungeon full of her enemies (‘her enemies’, as the show has indicated, could mean a pretty wide range of things) and find out if there’s any shady dealings going on. What that means for you, the player, is that you get to stomp through the various floors of this prison, smashing goons for their treasure, and using that treasure to better your character.
Elements pretty familiar to dungeon crawlers are in place, such as a boss every few floors, a hub world to purchase goods and level up, and Gauntlet-style enemy generators that keep pooping out skeletons and birds for you to fight. These elements, however, are shot through the charmingly skewed (and surprisingly dark) filter of the Adventure Time universe. While you don’t have as many stats as in other RPGs, the ones that are there are given names like “rowdiness” and “imagination” instead of the more banal “strength” and “magic”, and the characters that you pay to improve these stats (such as Muscle Princess and N.E.P.T.R.!) give awkward and hilarious descriptions of what they do and why they’re doing it. Instead of the traditional RPG method of leveling up by gaining experience, your stats can only be affected by purchasing upgrades using treasure. You can also find tokens within the dungeon that can be equipped to provide further boosts to your character, such as better defense or more hearts.
The action inside the dungeon proceeds in a pretty similar fashion. Everyone gets one standard attack that can be charged up to perform a slightly different function, such as moving obstacles or temporarily freezing enemies. Sub-weapons abound and add a little spice to the combat, ranging from a cat launcher to a ice cream-based flail. On top of those two attacks, everyone gets a unique Imagination Attack, wherein they summon whatever or whoever they think about most to perform some special function on the battlefield. Jake, for example, summons Lady Rainicorn to drop off random items (ranging from health and ammo to additional treasure) and Peppermint Butler uses his mysterious connection to the Land of the Dead to boost everyone’s strength and health temporarily. Due to the surprisingly wide range of characters (Lumpy Space Princess! Cinnamon Bun!) and the pretty vast differences between them, it’s worth trying out everyone until you find a combination of character and tokens you want to stick with.
Is all of this maybe sounding a little familiar? This is really my only legitimate beef with Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon oh you get it. The farther you get into the game, the samer it starts to feel. I don’t so much mind that it’s kind of a blatant mixing of a few other titles/genres with an Adventure Time coat of paint. The previous game was exactly the same thing as Zelda II except you were Finn and it was still great. If you pitched this game to me by saying “it’s Gauntlet except you’re Marceline” I’d have been just as excited about the new one as I was the last one. However, some people might have a problem with the familiarity of it all and turn away. The game is guilty of a more internal sense of copying as well. There just…isn’t a ton of variety in the levels. The art style is great, the animations are charming and representative of each character (watching Cinnamon Bun chew on treasure chests is funny every time), and the music is good (if not varied – noticing a trend?). Even as fun as the co-op mode can be, with everyone bickering over treasure and eggs flying all over the place, you may start to feel like you’re just going through the same five basements over and over again until the bosses crop up.
That’s not to say Adventure Time: You Know What This Game Is Called By Now is bad. I myself rather liked it and everyone I was able to sucker into playing it co-op with me seemed to have a pretty good time. However, this can probably be attributed to the fact that everyone I played it with was already a big Adventure Time fan and can catch many of the references. In fact, the story was actually penned by the series’ creator Pendleton Ward (see what I did with that ‘penned’ joke?) and allegedly connects to the overall plot of the series, and may explain more about certain characters maybe. If you just want an action RPG, you should look elsewhere. Anyone who owns a Finn hat and has between one and three friends (fair warning: on the PC version, it seems one player HAS to use a keyboard and cannot be set as player 1) should round everyone up, put together some Everything Burritos, and set off to find out what hideous secrets lie within Princess Bubblegum’s dungeon. Everyone else can go hang out with Donnie.
Or…don’t. Donnie’s the worst. Just go play something else and let us Adventure Time fans save (or be) the princesses.