Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know
System(s): Wii U (Also available for 3DS, PS3, Xbox 360)
Release Date: November 19th, 2013
Publisher (Developer): D3 Publisher
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Cartoon Violence and Comic Mischief
When I talk about Adventure Time proper, I’m talking about a TV show that is great for kids but still entertaining for adults; a rare treat. When I talk about Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! , I am talking about a video game that is acceptable for nostalgia-craving adults, with a difficulty that seems to forget its core audience; children. It’s all of the charm of the show, with the grueling, punishing, repetitiveness of classic dungeon crawling games like the original Gauntlet. Why? BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW.
The formula works, to an extent, but only because it relies so heavily on the characterization carried over from the television show. On its own merit, the game would likely fall flat. Luckily, Pendleton Ward, the mind behind the show, is a co-creator on this game. Familiar voices and favorites are a saving grace and do much to make an aged genre sort of sufferable.
Princess Bubblegum Is A Benevolent But Misguided Ruler, And I’m Mad At Her
Deep beneath the Candy Kingdom where Princess Bubblegum rules over her sugar coated denizens, trouble brews. It seems that she’s been using the sewer system as a makeshift prison to store baddies of varying notoriety, and due to her policy of dolling out life sentences, the catacombs have become overcrowded and now the unruly mass of prisoners are escaping.
Gee, pretty surprising, PB.
Popular characters Finn, Jake, Marceline, and for reasons uncertain, Cinnamon Bun, are called upon to explore the Secret Dungeons to figure out how the inmates are breaking free because, as the scientific PB admits, she doesn’t know. The story doesn’t evolve much from this point, and feels largely tacked on for the purpose of giving some context to the repetitive grinding, a sort of forced marriage between a successful franchise and a bad idea.
The esteemed Princess goes into a bit more exposition before sending you into the perils. She explains that while any treasure the player collects will serve as currency outside the dungeon, strangely, if they want to re-enter the dungeon, all of their unspent gold will be collected for tax reasons. She says this as if it is somehow outside her control, her clown glistening atop her royal head. The system may have worked if it weren’t for the unforgiving way the game serves up its levels, coupled with the often outrageous price of items and upgrades. The penalty for dying is also the loss of treasure, which just isn’t acceptable in a game that targets children.
The Wii U Version Surpasses Others Because Beemo is so Totally Algebraic
Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know has 100 levels, and you can technically call them all unique. They are served up in groups of 5, and unless a special token is used, can only be left at those specific intervals. Of course, the player is given the option of powering through another 5 subsequent dungeons in order to amass greater fortune. It’s a fun measure of risk versus reward, until it becomes less of a choice and more of a required practice. Things will become too expensive to afford from a measly run of five floors. Every 10 floors, there is another boss, and those can be insanely difficult. After the second boss of the game, where an escaping mob of prisoners forces the players to avoid obstacles in a dead sprint for the exit, it’s a risk most players won’t be willing to take. Personally, I lost 10 floors worth of treasure to that “boss” and I wasn’t even playing single player. My entire party was wiped by what could only be called bunk.
We are 20-something year olds, and somehow, I don’t think we’re the target demographic. The demographic I imagine is probably less capable of not only clearing these boss floors, but managing their items. If I am wrong, let me know, so I can be thoroughly embarrassed.
Up to four players can choose between a variety of unlockable characters, all with unique abilities. They are given a basic attack, which can sort of combo and is usually melee based, a guard, which may or may not have a dodging or absorption component to it, and an imagination move that is so retro-chic that it’s amazing. Imagination moves can be activated once the imagination bar is full and typically do damage to all enemies on screen after a quick and quirky animation. These sort of moves harken back to classic brawlers like Streets of Rage or Golden Axe. It’s worth noting that these Imagination moves may have a unique element to them. Cinnamon Bun, for example, causes food to rain down from the sky.
Food is used to replenish health, and is pretty readily available which is nice considering the lack of max HP, or thumps, the characters have. Other stats are also upgradeable via treasure-based purchases. These stats are Focus, which is a characters charge attack, Rowdiness, or strength in conventional terms, and Imagination.
Within the dungeon, players will also find tokens. These one-time-use items can be slotted onto the character before deployment to give a wealth of different benefits. The ability to float over chasms, speed boosts, increased thumps, and booties with ice-gripping spikes are some notable additions. Not all tokens are compatible with every character. Marceline, for example, already floats, so those tokens are entirely useless, and therefore, unable to be equipped.
Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know also contains a wealth of subweapons, which function primarily as a second attack mapped to a second button. These weapons are a bit more than an excuse to show of the title’s wit, and a little less than game changing. Most service as a melee weapon with additional damage or effects, effectively replacing your primary attack, while others add quirky elements to the game play. One item shoots launches adorable kittens at the foe. Another, deemed the “Goblin Whip,” allows the player to bash upon their enemies with a goblin.
The Wii U gamepad is repurposed in Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know to simulate a real life version of Beemo. The adorable sentient console’s face adorns your screen and offers companionship and commentary as the player trudges through floor after floor. “Bang bang, meow meow!” he will shout. “This gun fires adorable kittens,” he advises. “Finn needs food badly,” he quips, paying homage to the game’s retro roots. He’s almost always chattering about something and it’s a bit weird how present Beemo actually feels. The atmosphere he adds to the game is both welcome and undeniable.
Which is good, because Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know is nothing without its atmosphere. The 16 bit (or is it 8-bit?) graphics, the fully realized voice acting, and the well-executed humor are the reason to play the game over, say, Gauntlet, which it is otherwise nearly identical to.
So Close, WayForward. So Very Close.
The tragedy of Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know is in how close it comes to being something great. With better pacing, perhaps half the amount of standard floors (the boss floors, however, are great fun) and a more forgiving attitude, the game would successfully circumnavigate the monotony that plagues it. For the most hardcore of Adventure Time fans, the game is still incredibly worthwhile. It affords parents a good opportunity to play games with their kids while still being challenged. The voice work and true-to-franchise writing also promises to keep both layers of the dual-audience amused.
What troubles me the most is how Wayforward Technologies succeeded so gloriously with last year’s Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage? That game inspired a sense of hope for this one, and it simply didn’t live up. So, if you were expecting more of the same, consider this review a warning.