As a huge fan of the show, I couldn’t help but sport a smile as soon as the title screen flickered on. The show’s characters are charmingly presented in a pixilized fashion and cheerily “blip” closer and closer to the screen before sharing one of their trademark knuckle-touches. A chiptune-variant of the theme song chirping all the while. Any hopeful would have trouble thinking anything other than: “*This* will be the game that does the show justice.” While it certainly isn’t, the assumption did hold true for a little while.
The most accurate description I can think of for AT:E is “Roguelike-lite”, it maintains the genre’s high-penalty for death, but takes away some of its more complex progression systems. As the title implies, what you’re doing in the game is exploring a dungeon that is made up of one-hundred floors. On each level, all you’re really trying to do is find the staircase down to the next floor. With each five floors you complete you’re awarded with a checkpoint to return to in the event of your demise, and every ten floors there’s a boss. If you die during a boss fight, you can try it as many times as you want at the expense of your treasure (which can be spent on upgrades and items). Early-on, the game feels less like a Roguelike, and more like a beat-em-up; and that’s a good thing. Exploring the dungeon, taking out a few baddies and picking up loot is a satisfying, and fun experience; and it’s only supplemented by the peppering-in of some snappy lines by the show’s cast. As the game progresses, it grows in difficulty slightly, dying a few times without progression definitely happened to me in the first few hours of the game, but thanks to what seemed like a pretty intelligent level-generator, repetition took a while to set in.
There’s even some interesting evolution early-on. You start out on one-room floors with easily accessible exits. But in successive floors, the game introduces buttons which can either cause health items to drop, enemies to drop, or open up a locked exit. The environment also expands several more rooms. There are even side-quests to be found in the game’s hub, the completion of which grant you free stat-upgrades. As time moves on, though, the game grows more and more difficult, while nothing evolves to conform to it. What did evolve though, was my smile; into a hollow grimace, transformed by the thoughts of what could have been.
Once the game begins to really ramp-up in difficulty, the game’s metaphorical seams begin to tear. My main character (Jake) was heavily upgraded, but that didn’t matter. Rather than playing an enjoyable brawler, or even an enjoyable Roguelike, it felt as though I was playing some sort of mutated game of Football. Like I was running with the ball in a field full of dozens of opponents trying to tackle (read:kill) me. Even if I had the ability to kill every enemy with a single blow I would have been outnumbered. Stopping to hit any enemy would lead to me being completely surrounded, killed, and booted back to the hubworld with all of my progression removed. But the most frustrating thing of all is how artificial the difficulty is. The game isn’t made more difficult by introducing more powerful enemies that require any sort of strategy to take-out, they just throw more at you while you do the same thing you’ve been doing for the whole game: looking for the exit.
Rather than being able to thoughtfully take-out mobs of enemies, and disposing of their spawners, I had no choice but to juke my way through them, hoping an exit was near. Each time I died and had to restart, all I could do was hope that the level-generator would be merciful and not force me to hunt for the door-opening-button I needed across the floor’s four enemy-infested rooms. It wasn’t fun, there was no sense of progression, but one thing was clear: I wasn’t being limited by my own skill; I was at the mercy of the level-generator
Some sort of meaningful progression in the game may have at least made these late-game quagmires more tolerable. Over the course of the game you can only upgrade your character’s four traits: Thumps (health), Rowdiness (attack power), Focus (the speed at which you can charge a powerful attack), and Imagination (your character’s special power that charges as you deal damage to enemies). Out of all of these, the only one thing that causes any apparent effect is upgrading your health. I found that upgrading my attack caused an indiscernible boost at best, and leveling my focus was pointless, as charging an attack requires that you stand still which is detrimental to your survival on the later floors. Finally, upgrading Jake’s Imagination was absolutely pointless. Normally, Jake’s special move is calling in his girlfriend (Lady Rainicorn) to drop-in either some health items, or one of the game’s few sub weapons. But upon upgrading the move, and allowing the “Imagination Bar” to fill completely, it doesn’t do anything apparent (additionally, even his regular move would sometimes fail, as the item sometimes dropped into the map’s geometry).
At this point I feel no need to investigate through queries about what the upgrade does, it may very well do something, but it isn’t made at all apparent. None of my in-game abilities changed. Nothing. There’s a great lack of communication in the game. Certain items seemingly have no effect on you, and there’s no further explanation to be found in the minimalist manual.
One of the most interesting parts of the game is its badge system. Before delving into the dungeon, you can select a certain number of badges (depending on which character you’re playing) that can help you out in your dungeon-spelunking. An example would be one that makes immune to fire damage, or keeps you from being knocked-back by an enemy’s blows. These are typically useful, but while at one point I had an abundance of badges, I quickly expended them all on later floors when nothing could help me from being surrounded and killed by enemies and their projectiles. There are also a number of different characters each with different abilities. I found Jake to be the most useful, as he can stretch-over in-game gaps to reach items that no one else can. Others have seemingly interesting abilities too, but I honestly feel no need to investigate them more than I have.
In addition to how outrageously outnumbered you are in the latter half of the game, there are also a few new obstacles between you and your goal. Some walls are laced with sticky bubble gum that traps you. The only means of escape is to walk at a very specific angle to free yourself. At several points, the level-generator obviously didn’t take this into account, and placed the gum near an incredibly narrow pathway to my only exit. It was literally impossible to get through, and I ended up having to allow myself to die and start over. The game also froze upwards of seven times during my time with it; while this was surely coincidental, it always seemed to happen when I was close to hitting a checkpoint.
Its infuriating. Not only is the game just artificially difficult, but its mechanics don’t even allow for the reaction-time and precision seemingly expected of you. The basic attack-combo for Jake is composed three hits, but if a projectile begins speeding at you mid-attack, there’s no way to halt the “hit” animation and block. The animation has to play all the way through before anything can be done. The same goes for moving, or dodging. Additionally, just blocking does nothing; exact timing is required. But again, considering the constant danger you’re in during the latter half of the game, the mechanic is basically useless. It also doesn’t help that the game’s hit detection is shoddy at best.
But through all of this, I stuck with the game. Not solely out of obligation as a reviewer, but out of my love for the IP, and the way the game successfully presents its trademark humor and charm. I wanted desperately to see it through to the end, so for hours and hours I pushed through to the end. It took me a total of seven hours to finally complete floors eighty-one through ninety, and another five hours to finally beat ninety-one through ninety-nine. At long last, I was at the final boss fight. And it was one of the worst boss fights I’ve gone through. As the game’s story moments are its highlight, there’s no need to spoil what’s fought. But there are many attacks that cannot be avoided, and infinitely spawning enemies. It’s not a fun time, and took far longer to beat than I’d like to admit. However, the ending of the game was pretty satisfying, as it’s canonical with the show, reveals some secrets about characters, and opens up some interesting threads for future episodes.
In all of this, though, keep in mind that the game was designed with local multiplayer in-mind. So if you happen to have a gamer and fellow fan of the show at your disposal, it may prove to be a better experience; especially since you can revive your couch-sharing ally in the game. But if you’re even considering going at it alone, just play a better, cheaper Roguelike while watching Adventure Time. Full of deep-cut references to the show, I can only assume that the developer has a sincere appreciation for the source material; and they may very well end up being the creators of the great Adventure Time game, but this certainly isn’t it. It can be funny at times, and is enjoyable early-on, but devolves into a joyless slog less-than halfway through. If you have a few buddies to partake in couch co-op with it may at least prove tolerable. However, as someone who doesn’t have any fellow players to combat the enemies of Ooo with, this experience is unacceptable(!) to say the least. Its few story moments are, admittedly, pretty excellent; but even they weren’t worth the thirty hours of difficult repetition.
(Note: While I can’t speak to the 3DS version of the game, keep in mind that it has no multiplayer component.)
Version Reviewed: PC