Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! Review: Trouble in Candy Kingdom

Looting dungeons is supposed to be fun. Why else would we crave the incessant click, click of hack-n-slash games like Diablo?

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! (out now for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U, and 3DS) plays more like the classic arcade game Gauntlet than Diablo, and it suffers for it. Developer WayForward Technologies sticks to outdated conventions rather than try to make its gameplay enjoyable.

Delving into the 100-floor Secret Royal Dungeon beneath the Candy Kingdom (represented as a disappointingly limited overworld) as the eponymous cartoon show’s characters Finn, Jake, Marceline, and Cinnamon Bun is a slog. Teaming up with other local players doesn’t make it better. You take the dungeon in sets of floors — maybe four or five until you reach a checkpoint, when you’re given the option to return to the hub to cash in your treasure. It’s always too little to buy the higher-level stat upgrades for your Thump meter (health), Imagination (special ability meter), Focus (charged attack time), and Rowdiness (attack damage), so braver adventurers might choose to continue for another four or five levels until they reach a boss.

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Only, bosses are so unpredictable and frustrating that I’d rather count what few treasures I have than risk losing them all. Each boss lacks a health meter, but that’s not as bad as simply figuring out either what you’re supposed to do (once, I beat a psychic kitten without every understanding why) or who you’re supposed to kill (the Ice King distracted me when nearly untouchable ice statues were my real foes). Sometimes, they’re just annoying and tedious.

Die on a dungeon floor, and you return to the hub with lighter pockets. Die on a boss, and you can either accept failure or try again — at the expense of half your earnings. This pay cut happens every time you retry.

Explore the Dungeon is determined to leave you with as little wealth as possible, and let’s face it: These kinds of hack-n-slashes are fun for the loot more than the enemies you destroy or the dungeons you crawl through. The floors of this one are especially repetitive. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, though the theme changes every 20 floors or so. Even new challenges like timed floors add startlingly little to the mix.

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When you exit the dungeon, you might as well find a way to spend every penny you have because Princess Bubblegum will claim the rest when you reenter — for candy taxes. It’s a lame excuse. This isn’t Diablo, where gold is overly plentiful. Every piece of treasure you pick up in this dungeon counts for a small amount — one, maybe two, or if you’re lucky, five gold.

Players are punished in other ways, too. The crawl from floor to floor is virtually identical and mind-numbingly slow, and when you finally find a cool subweapon (a must-have as regular attacks tend to be weak), the game is all too glad to take it from you without warning unless you stash it in the holding box above ground. Die on a boss, though, and retry, and it’s gone for good.

The simple joy of opening chests and discovering new subweapons, tokens (buffs you can equip), or familiars (creatures that help you temporarily) is mildly entertaining — as are the retro pixel cutscenes complete with humorous dialogue from the show’s voice actors — but there’s little desire to trudge through all 100 floors. Fulfilling quests from some of the characters eases the burden, but not by much. Unlocking more playable characters than the starter four might be the only real incentive.

This is one dungeon better left unexplored. Unlike what the title says, I know plenty of reasons why.