I hear a lot of people complain about the quality of children’s television, and it’s almost always in comparison to what they themselves used to watch when they were younger. Confidently, they all claim that there’s just nothing out there that rivals Duck Tales; Ninja Turtles; Power Rangers; Rugrats; Goof Troop; that weird one where the gigantic mutant sharks fought crime; the one where the Gargoyles came to life (I always forget the name to that one), and so on and so forth. It has become so bad that I even typed out that last sentence partially in fear of all of you flaming me for not mentioning your favorites! But there is a show running currently that I’d like to introduce you to as soon as you’re done crying over the Big Bad Beetleborgs. It’s Adventure Time.
I can’t honestly say I remember loving a cartoon as much as I love Adventure Time. The characters all interact with each other extremely well, the dialogue is hilarious and sometimes surprisingly mature, and the complexity of the mythos behind it all is overwhelmingly delightful that it just keeps me coming back for more. A lot of this stuff must fly right over the kiddies’ heads (for instance, the setting of the show is a post-apocalyptic mutated wasteland that used to be Earth) and yet there is enough there to keep them coming back as well.
Yes, I love Adventure Time, so naturally when I heard that there was a game coming out for the DS and 3DS, the feeling was… bittersweet. (Well okay, truth be told, I totally forgot about it and then Christmas rolled around and I stumbled upon it browsing Amazon, but c’mon, for the sake of the review…) Part of me was excited because an Adventure Time video game seems like something that would just be amazing, what with the show constantly having Finn and Jake go through dungeons and the writers always sneaking in Dungeons & Dragons references, among references to other games. Then the much bigger part of me (where the brain lives and stuff) remembered that there was a very likely possibility that the execution would just be… terrible. Games based on Cartoon Network shows tend to be lackluster to say the least. So, in true fanboy colors, I decided to do no research at all, buy the most expensive collector’s edition I could get my hands on and dove right in.
WayForward’s Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! opens with a scene featuring our heroes talking with the Cosmic Owl, and the first thing I noticed is that it feels completely genuine. Every interaction in the game feels as though that’s how it would have happened in the show, not a single character felt like they were just there to give you your quest, even though they essentially were. The spirit of the show isn’t just present in the characters and dialogue either, the entire game as a whole is jam packed with nods to the show to the point to where I had to stop and inspect every item I picked up, not only to see which reference it was (like the Everything Burrito, Tree Trunks Pie, Bomba, and the Sword of Billy), but also to read the humorous descriptions of each one. On top of all the familiar references is the story itself, which is entirely brand new content instead of just rehashed material from the show.
After a handy tutorial, you are thrown into a top-down style map where you travel to your next destination, and once you reach it (or run into a baddie), you are then tossed into a 2D side scrolling environment where you use abilities like sword slashes and Jake’s magic stretchy powers. Jake gains abilities as you move along with the story and they mostly serve to help you get to places you couldn’t reach before, while Finn only gains one other attack other than his main slashing. Attack strength, speed, and health are all leveled up via special chests scattered throughout the planet in the side scrolling segments.
The pacing at which you can find the chests is handled very well, you never feel as though you are overpowered for the task at hand, nor do you feel as though you made a mistake in the stat you selected to level up. This does, unfortunately, leave you with a bunch of temporary power-up items that end up just filling your inventory because they never really feel necessary, unless you’re engaged in one of the boss battles. After hacking and slashing your way through dungeons, you’ll always find a boss waiting for you at the end, and while I was excited to see which character it would be every time, the difficulty of the battles themselves seemed out of place and perhaps even impossible for the ill-experienced fans that may be playing.
Getting to the dungeons themselves can be quite the task for new gamers, as well as an annoyance for veterans. In order for the game to progress, you have to embark on many quests, and the objectives aren’t always clear. At times, I felt as though I was doing secret side-quests for extra rewards, only to find out later that I was, in fact, just doing the normal questline and that, had I taken the more obvious road instead of exploring, the characters in town would have just told me to backtrack and explore anyway. Upon reaching the end of the game, I had felt a little cheated because the bulk of the game was in fact backtracking to older realms, picking up item ‘X’ for character ‘Y’ and revisiting realm ‘A,’ but this time with power ‘C.’
The character preservation and silly items help scratch my fandom itch, but it wouldn’t have been complete without Jake Kaufman’s fantastic score and the game’s fluid visuals. Kaufman may not be one of the show’s composers, but that just makes the game’s music all the more impressive. The music is catchy and may have had a big part in what made the backtracking so bearable, because if the game didn’t make me go back to progress the story, I would have been back anyway for the sweet tunes. I’m guilty of also quitting to the title screen to hear the awesome opening song, which some games would have just left with some bland elevator music, let alone a full-fledged song written just for the game.
As far as visuals go, screenshots do not really do the game justice. The 3D was used simply to help the sprites and platforms pop out more (which I always like, I can’t stand the whole 3D-finger-breaking-the-fourth-wall-just-to-be-a-gimmick gimmick), and even without the 3D, the game looks great. The show’s visual aesthetic is translated into the game so well that the game feels familiar and the entire time you can see that a lot of care was put into making sure the fans felt at home, whether its making sure the Candy Zombies decomposed just right when you killed them, or making sure that the Ice King’s castle felt just like the castle we’ve seen on the show countless times.
From a gameplay perspective, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d you steal our garbage?! is an adequate side-scrolling RPG that feels like a Zelda II clone, but I’d still encourage non-fans of the show to give it a rent. The bosses, landscape and even the characters will probably be easily forgotten, but it is a good taste of what makes the show special and it may even make you give it a watch.
But, to state the perfectly obvious, this game is for the fans. The hilarious dialogue, fantastic music, tight controls and incredible character preservation are all what will keep this fan coming back for more and if you’re on the fence like I was, let me assure you that Hey Ice King! will not only satisfy, but it will leave you begging for a sequel.
8 out of 10.
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