Preview: Adventure Time steals the show, this time on 3DS
It’s not often that we see a cartoon transcend the boundary between adolescent distraction and 20-something entertainment. Shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren and Stimpy, and Spongebob Squarepants come to mind, as they’ve all managed to maintain younger audiences while giving adults something to laugh about as well. Cartoon Network’s Emmy-nominated Adventure Time is the latest show to do just that, as it combines a land of fantasy with comedy often geared towards high school- and college-age viewers.
Adventure Time details the adventures of Finn the Human and his older adoptive brother Jake – who happens to be a magical, shape-shifting 28-year-old dog voiced by John DiMaggio (also known for voicing Bender in Futurama). The duo has no trouble finding adventure in the fictional Land of Ooo, and they’re often joined by recurring characters like Lady Rainicorn (Jake’s half-unicorn/half-rainbow girlfriend), Flame Princess (Finn’s love interest), Beemo (an AI-packing video game system), and The Ice King, who typically fills the role of the show’s villain.
The Ice King is where we begin with the new Nintendo 3DS title Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d you steal our garbage?!! (As that’s a bit of a mouthful, let’s just call it Adventure Time 3DS from now on, shall we?) Adventure Time 3DS is being developed by WayForward (Aliens: Infestation, Double Dragon Neon), and it follows Finn and Jake as they try and discover why the Ice King is robbing them of their trash. The quest to reclaim their refuse leads Finn and Jake through the Land of Ooo while interacting with most of the characters found in the show. New characters have also been added, most of which pop up as unique enemies, like the bear with a chainsaw mounted to its back.
Adventure Time 3DS has a story penned by the show’s creator (Pendleton Ward), and it combines the characters and comedy of the show with the gameplay mechanics and elements found in classic titles like Zelda II: A Link To The Past. Similar to everyone’s favorite NES game, Adventure Time 3DS is WayForward’s attempt at combining action RPG elements with the tried and true platformer genre…or is it combining platformer elements with the action RPG genre? I’m not entirely sure, but the end result is incredibly fun, as it successfully combines both game types. Roaming the world like goofy, magical ronin, you take Finn and Jake through the Land of Ooo via a top-down world map, complete with landmarks, dungeons, save fountains (complete with water nymphs to save your data), and random battles. Once you’re in those dungeons or battles, however, the landscape transforms into traditional, side-scrolling platform mode.
The combat system gets both Finn and Jake involved, as the latter typically rides around on the former’s back. Carefully timed Finn and Jake attack combos are both effective and entertaining; I had Jake using his magically extending arms to deliver canine-fueled fists of fury while Finn was power sliding all over the place. It doesn’t take very long to whip up an effective combat strategy, which keeps those Zelda-esque health hearts filled. But if you arrive at the end of a dungeon feeling worse for wear, your HP will rise after consuming some burgers or other food items. That in itself is true to the show, but using condiments to enhance your food items to make them more effective (like ketchup on a hamburger), or less effective (the same tomato-based goodness on an ice cream cone) adds some fun to a normally boring element of RPG gameplay.
The rest of those treasured RPG elements are there as well. Items and gear (like extra weapons and potions) come from defeated enemy loot drops, as well as chests at the end of boss battles and dungeons. Wizard Stars are the most important dropped items, as they’re used to increase your attack powers, speed, and give you more hearts/health. These Stars effectively replace leveling and XP in the game, so don’t expect to see a grind-friendly experience bar anywhere on the screens.
Adventure Time 3DS is a 3D game, as you likely guessed, and the 3D is par for the course. It’s not going to change the way you think about 3D gaming on the 3DS, nor is it going to force you to push the 3D slider to the “off” position. It’s also worth noting that a DS version of the game will be available, too, with the only difference being the lack of 3D. If anything, it’s telling that the 3D isn’t a necessity, but rather a nice addition on a platform that happens to support the feature.
It’s rare to see polished and effective gameplay mechanics in a licensed title, but that’s exactly what Adventure Time 3DS delivers. WayForward didn’t reinvent the wheel, but Finn and Jake are certainly given due diligence, and the game really does feel like an homage to Zelda II while incorporating Pendleton Ward’s vision and voice. Finn seems to be the main character, while Jake plays the sidekick role. The same can be said for many of the show’s episodes, but it would have been nice to have more control over Jake in the game. The system in place for combat, which involves more control of Finn than Jake, is executed well, but I can only wonder how the game would play with more of a Ratchet and Clank or Donkey Kong Country feel to character control.
The lack of character voices was also a letdown, as the show’s voice acting is fantastic (if you don’t enjoy the comical stylings of John DiMaggio, then we probably can’t be friends). All the important info is conveyed via text bubbles. Hearing the voices of Finn and Jake could bring the experience closer to that of the TV show, but the lack thereof seems like a tip of the hat to older RPGs.
One area where Adventure Time 3DS seems to stray from its roots? Play time. Granted, I didn’t play through the entire game, but D3Publisher says the game is 4-6 hours long. Compare that to Zelda II at 10-15 hours, and $30 for such a short campaign is a tough call to make in a crowded marketplace.
If Adventure Time 3DS delivers on what I saw during the preview, it’s a rare gem. Not only does it fall in the typically prejudiced, frowned upon licensed game category , but it’s also a third-party 3DS title. How often does a quality licensed portable come along? About as often as a cartoon that appeals to (and is appropriate for) young and old alike. If you can get past the short play time, it’s a game worth checking out later this year.