Whatever your opinion of it, there’s no denying that Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time has had a massive influence on the cartoon landscape. Despite its home on a network primarily aimed at children, the award-winning series has a reach that spans all ages and backgrounds. Smart writing, well-rounded characters and great music are just a few things the show has going for it, but one of its best qualities is in its worldbuilding. The land of Ooo and the people that inhabit it are imaginative and rich in backstory, and really help to lend the events of the show’s ten seasons the kind of impact that makes it so engaging for fans.
It stands to reason, then, that a franchise such as Adventure Time is well worth adapting to a medium like video games. So far though, fans have had to make do with a raft of the typical mobile game cash grabs and a handful of forgettable console and handheld entries, with Cartoon Network seemingly uninterested in taking a punt on anything but the standard licensed game fare. Enter Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion, announced late last year and billed as an open-world adventure with an original story set in Ooo and the show’s cast on board for the voice work. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Well, any recipe sounds good on paper, but the difference between Chef Gordon Ramsay making a rustic Italian lasagne with fresh imported ingredients and me half burning a McCain job in my K-Mart microwave is quantifiably huge.
Dog scooters – a mailman’s best friend or worst enemy?
There’s a common philosophy in game development that the first hour of a game is the most important, it’s where a game needs to work its hardest to hook players and get them invested and wanting more. That advice has clearly been taken to heart in this case, because Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion peaks in about the first thirty minutes.
The game opens well enough – Finn, Jake and BMO are hanging out at the top of their treehouse, whiling the hours away, and soon succumb to the sweet embrace of sleep. On waking, Finn and Jake find that the Ice Kingdom has melted and the whole of Ooo has almost completely flooded, and BMO is missing! Naturally, the pair take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of things and sail off in a boat named Jeff to investigate. Everything about the game’s opening moments gives the impression that players are in for a solid adventure based on the hit show, with the original cast providing voice work for the fairly well-realised 3D representations of the characters with dialogue worthy of the cartoon. Setting sail in a flooded Ooo for the first time feels good, spotting recognisable landmarks as the crew of two partake in an entertaining impromptu sea shanty on the way to visit the Ice King. It’s around the moment they arrive that the game’s initial promise starts to fall apart.
Save some dosh, split the Ooober home with friends
Over the course of the story in Pirates of the Enchiridion, Finn and Jake along with Marceline and eventually BMO sail around Ooo trying to solve the problem of all the water that’s around. At first I thought, y’know, this whole flood thing is kind of a brilliant, creative solution to making an open-world Adventure Time game without having to render the show’s entire world while giving the whole thing a novel kind of Wind Waker feel. And certainly, that could have been the case. In reality though, the whole game is spent sailing tediously back and forth across unexciting waters between a handful of even more unexciting islands that kinda look like places from the show but aren’t really, while engaging in monotonous fetch quests and boring turn-based battles. You know how mediocre open world games tend to rely too heavily on repetitive filler content to pad out their playtimes? Well imagine a whole game of that, but it only goes for about six hours.
Cutscenes generally look decent, and the characters don’t always clip through the floor
When you’re not slowly ambling around identical-looking pathways in environments skinned to look like they might exist in the show’s world, you’ll be engaged in strategic, turn-based battles with various monsters and series baddies. These battles are fairly simple, with each character able to attack, defend, use items or employ unique abilities in their turn, slowly whittling away at enemies’ health bars until victory is achieved. Strategy usually comes by way of managing opponents’ elemental strengths and weaknesses, and the player party’s power meter, which slowly charges on each turn and allows for the use of special abilities. To be fair, it all works as intended, but the battles themselves feel so lacking in excitement or challenge that they quickly become an exercise in monotony. There were almost no fights that I wasn’t able to win simply by attacking relentlessly, only stopping occasionally to throw healing items at my party, and in fact I don’t recall touching any of the buff/debuff/status ailment curing items available even once during my entire playthrough. There are a few cool animations and some nice nods to the show thanks to each character’s unique abilities, but overall battles just feel a tad lifeless. Some of that might come down to the dodgy audio mix that has the battle music way too soft and some random sound effects distractingly loud.
All of this would be just a little easier to forgive if there was enough payoff for Adventure Time fans that choose to give the game a chance. You can probably already tell from the tone of the review so far, but this is not the case. Of all of the places you’ll visit in Pirates of the Enchiridion, only the Candy Kingdom comes even close to resembling a recognisable locale from the show. Everywhere else from the Fire Kingdom to the Ice Kingdom and Evil Forest (actually, that is everywhere else in this game) is reduced to small land masses of random paths that almost certainly aren’t real places from the show. I mean I get it, Ooo is flooded and so everything is underwater, but having almost no familiar landmarks from the show is a little disappointing. The initially promising story is wasted too, especially when important plot information is glossed over or seemingly not included at all, resulting in an ending that’s abrupt and confusing. Also, no Lemongrab or Treetrunks? For shame. The sea shanties while sailing around are pretty great, however, as is a lot of the music in general.
Spoken by Colonel Candy Corn. Authorised by the Australian Government, Canberra
Licensed games, especially those based on ‘children’s’ properties, are rarely high-budget productions offering anything close to AAA level of quality. I know this. Even taking that into consideration though, Pirates of the Enchiridion is rough. Firstly, the game is rife with bugs; things like characters constantly falling through the world or clipping through objects (even during non-playable moments!), audio cutting in and out, freezing and stuttering are all commonplace throughout. Add to that poor performance, frequent load screens while sailing the ‘open’ world, frustrating inconsistencies when it comes to controls during gameplay and in menus and poorly stitched-together textures and the whole thing feels cheap at best, and completely unfinished at worst. The game’s overall look does do a decent job of translating the show’s style to a 3D space though, and the developers have included a respectable amount of referential material where they could, so props for that I guess. Not quite sure how they managed to spell Marceline’s name wrong in one of the trophies, though.
I had high hopes for Pirates of the Enchiridion. Well, reasonable hopes. I don’t think anyone was expecting the next in a line of average licensed games based on the franchise to light the world on fire, but this one barely manages to ignite a spark. It sucks, because there is definitely a sense of passion for the property from some facets of the game’s development but any good is quickly snuffed out by bad design, frustrating technical issues and the unshakeable feeling that this is an unfinished product. For what it’s worth, a ‘day one’ patch has gone live since I completed the game and wrote this review, but after examining the changes I’m confident that my criticisms still stand and my final score still reflects how I feel about the game.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher