I love Adventure Time. I love Zelda 2. By all logical reasoning, I should also love this game. But I don’t.
Adventure Time has taken over my life: I didn’t think much of it when it first debuted in 2010, but within minutes of watching my first episode, I knew it was something special. With its unique mix of cute characters and surprisingly subversive and dark humor, Adventure Time has gone on to become one of Cartoon Network’s most popular series’, finding an audience with both kids and adults alike… and of course, whenever there’s a successful cartoon, there’s going to be loads of merchandise that follows in its wake: walk into any collectibles shop in the country and you’ll likely find an aisle full of Adventure Time t-shirts, stuffed animals, wallets, posters, spin-off comic books, and of course, now there’s a video game.
Normally a video game based on a popular cartoon wouldn’t be anything to get excited about: outside of the odd exception like The Chronicles of Riddick, Goldeneye, or Capcom’s old Disney licensed NES games, most games based on a licensed property still tend to be… well, crap. But Adventure Time: Hey Ice King Why’d You Steal Our Garbage has a bit of a pedigree behind it: besides having a story line written by the show’s writers (including series creator Pendelton Ward,) the game itself was developed and designed by the talented people at Wayforward Technologies, the company behind cult classic 2D platformer Shantae as well as hardcore favorites like Contra 4, Aliens: Infestation and Mighty Switch Force.
The game seemed promising in terms of premise too: Hey Ice King Why’d You Steal Our Garbage was supposed to mix Adventure Time’s world and characters with the general gameplay structure and mechanics of the woefully under-appreciated 8-bit classic, The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. While Zelda 2 is often regarded as the black-sheep of the “real” Zelda games (no, the CD-i abominations don’t count,) it’s mix of sidescrolling action, light RPG elements, and traditional overhead exploration seemed like the perfect way to encapsulate Adventure Time’s, uh, adventures in video game form.
From a narrative standpoint, the Adventure Time game succeeds: the story is as charming and well written as some of the show’s best episodes, and there’s lots of references to old episodes and cameos from beloved characters for fans to keep an eye out for. The gameplay seems great at first too; Finn’s controls are responsive and he’s got a decent repertoire of moves to work with, and the game’s inventory and map menu’s on the bottom screen are thoughtfully designed and easy to use. The characters are all smoothly animated and the game manages to perfectly recreate the show’s simple but iconic look.
Unfortunately, Adventure Time is missing one key aspect that holds it back from being the definitive Adventure Time experience that it could’ve been: challenge.
To put it in terms that fans of the show will understand, this game is “easier than child birth.” Now, I’m not the type of guy who cranks the difficulty up to Legendary the moment I start playing a game, nor am I the type who plays Dark Souls solely as a misguided attempt to prove my “hardcore” machismo, and I certainly didn’t start playing Adventure Time with the expectation that the game would push my reflexes and skills to the limit. Adventure Time is a series with mass market appeal, and I went into it knowing full well that the game’s difficulty would probably be tuned with casual audiences in mind.
With that said, this game is still way too easy. Enemies just pretty much stand around and let you stab them to death, health pick-ups and upgrades are plentiful so you don’t even really need to worry about blocking attacks or dodging, and the game’s puzzles are super-simple fetch quests that don’t require any thought whatsoever. The simple platforming in the game never gets more difficult than what you would experience in the first world of a Mario game, and the dungeon crawling never gets more complex than what you would experience in the tutorial dungeon of a Zelda game. I understand that the game’s developers wanted to make a game that everybody could play, but Adventure Time’s complete lack of challenge comes off as more patronizing rather than friendly. The developers obviously tuned the game to be easy because they wanted to avoid any situations that could frustrate less experienced gamers, but in doing so, they also managed to avoid creating any game play that was exciting or fun. While I found myself laughing out loud at Adventure Time’s dialogue and cut-scenes, I was basically falling asleep during the actual game play parts.
The story is filled with jokes and references to tons of classic videogames, ranging from everything to Super Mario Bros. to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The jokes are indeed funny, but it raises a weird disconnect between the narrative and the game play: if you’re enough of a gamer to understand the game’s humor, you’ll likely be bored to death by the game’s super simple, neutered game play. Like wise, if you’re a young kid or a casual gamer, you might enjoy parts of the game play, but a lot of the charm of the story will be completely lost to you. By trying to create a game that appealed to everybody, WayForward has created an experience that most people will probably only enjoy half of.
It doesn’t help that the game is also extremely short: the Land of Ooo from the show is supposed to be a vast continent filled with innumerable places to explore, but the Land of Ooo in the game is a relatively tiny series of islands that you’ll probably explore fully within an afternoon. The game only has four real “dungeons,” but even though the game draws a ton of influence from the Zelda series, these dungeons aren’t the labyrinthine, challenging mazes you’d expect from one of Link’s adventures: most of the dungeons in the game are only a dozen or so rooms long and almost all of them can be completely in under an hour (if that.) The game tries to pad out its length with a ton of tedious fetch quests that often require you to backtrack to locations from the beginning of the game, but even with all the busy work that the developers throw at you, the game can still be easily completed in a single day.
It’s a shame that the game play was so boring, because I really, really wanted to like Adventure Time. I preordered the game months in advance, paid extra for the limited edition package that comes in a tin that looks like the Enchiridion from the show, and I put off writing this review for a few days because after all the months I spent hyping the game up, I didn’t want to admit that… well, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King Why’d You Steal Our Garbage is kind of disappointing.
The game’s story is interesting and the dialogue is hilarious, the graphics are cute and the music (especially the ending theme,) is great, but the game just falls short in the most important aspect: the game play is just boring as hell. Hardcore Adventure Time fanatics will likely feel that the game’s thematic elements are more than enough to compensate for its shortcomings, but I just can’t recommend this game, especially since it’s a fully priced retail release, to anybody else. If you’re simply looking for some Adventure Time fan service, this game might be enough to sate your cravings until the next new episode, but if you’re like me and wanted an interesting game in addition to the story, you’ll be incredibly disappointed. Adventure Time: Hey Ice King Why’d You Steal Our Garbage is funny and charming, but it’s also boring and predictable… and if there’s two words that should never be used to describe Adventure Time, it’s “boring” and “predictable.”
Final Score: 6 out of 10