Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Little Orbit
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)
Score: A- (90%)
In the Nameless Kingdom, there’s a huge shop early on that “sells” nothing but the clay vases Finn been smashing to bits in that first dungeon you went through that opens the game. Finn can’t actually BUY a vase at all as far as I can tell. He can only lift one up to carry around and eventually try to leave with it. Or he can smash as many as he can with a weapon or just throw that lifted vase to the ground, breaking it. The only thing that happens when he does any of those things is an alarm goes off and a timer starts ticking down. Fifteen seconds later, a guard from the castle grabs Finn and then he’s outside the shop. When you go back inside, the clerk/owner scolds you a little and that’s that. Well, that is until later in the game when you discover a way to really get that guy’s attention by busting every jar at once. Such is the weird world of Adventure Time.
But that one event and its oddball randomness yet familiar to the show sameness is neither here nor there. The third time’s the charm (and how!) for WayForward Technologies with Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom being the best of the three games they’ve made to date with Finn and company. This latest title is clearly influenced by Nintendo’s older games in The Legend of Zelda franchise to the point that it feels like a really spectacular mod that happens to be Adventure Time related. It’s also a surprisingly tough game, or not so surprisingly tough if you’re well versed in how this style of game should be played. There’s no hand-holding here, you learn what needs to be done by observing the environment and enemies while paying attention to (and using) what’s in your inventory. You’ll very likely get stuck in spots, but the game has enough hidden stuff and offbeat side quests that make up for the vagueness it often bashes you on the head with…
The plot is certainly amusingly generic enough and is spelled out in the text crawl that pops up if you let the title screen sit for a bit. Princess Bubblegum sends Finn and Jake the Dog into The Nameless Kingdom to collect the three princesses from the castles there for a little coronation ceremony. Of course, all three princesses have gone missing and it’s up to the not so dynamic duo (or really awesome duo, if you ask them) to save the day. The game world is large enough and dangerous enough (well, after the first intentionally too easy dungeon tutorial) that you’ll tread cautiously. Newbies beware: your starting gear and mere three Thumps means you won’t last long against certain enemies and traps you’ll most likely stumble into when you go wandering about.
Just like those old Zelda games, stronger enemies are mixed in with weaker ones and will let you know with a bash upside Finn’s noggin if you’re in over your head. The game’s only guidance system is a map with a portrait of one of the three princesses highlighted to show where you need to go. After that, it’s up to you to figure out how to find her. Each section of the kingdom is filled with respawning monsters, shrubbery to chop down (or grab and toss) and yes, random amounts of gold, Thump refills and assorted collectibles. You’ll also find a few familiar NPC’s from the show in weird places who require some side-questing to be done, although as noted ,the game isn’t exactly handing out quest markers or any sort of journal updates. This old school style might fluster some not used to it, but Zelda veterans and those who crave the thrill of hunting down goofball items for a bunch of goofballs will be grinning away.
Finn will acquire necessary skills such as a fire spell that can light up dark dungeons and any enemies or objects susceptible to being burnt to a crisp. His initial grass sword can be upgraded into a more sturdy version and yes, there are plenty of other cool items to nab as the game progresses. Jake goes from being Finn’s trusty shield to a playable character as well. His stretchy powers come into play for solving some puzzles and nabbing some formerly out of reach items. Expect to do a great deal of backtracking and forward thinking, as the game absolutely wants you to think ahead on a few levels. Nothing you find is wasted, although needing to find plastic baggies to hold items is sort of a pain if you need more and can’t locate any. Fear not, they’re there somewhere in a dungeon or in the hands of someone on the map who needs you to do or get something for them…
Combat is great and requires using Jake as a shield against tougher or multiple enemies. Just going in slashing away is a bad thing with big baddies that need knocking down or stopping briefly so you can rush in and whack them with that trusty sword or spell. Some objectives may seem ridiculously vague, but the solutions to pretty much every puzzle and problem lies in your collected inventory. The starting castle has helpful hints of the light variety from Pillowmint Butler and his guards and as you free each princess, you’ll find other clues. As there’s no quest log, the game also tests your brain in recalling what you need to succeed. But feel free to take notes if you’re one of those who can’t remember stuff like where you ran into a certain character who has part of the solution to a puzzle you’ve gotten stuck on.
With three castles and the areas around them to explore (and a secret bonus if you find it), the expansive map isn’t quite as large as a Zelda game. However, the amount of time it will take to complete the adventure will vary greatly based on your skills at fighting, finding and figuring stuff out. There are enough roadblocks to progress to frustrate the easily deterred, but if you’re a Zelda veteran, nearly all here will bring a smile to your face. The game also tosses a few bosses and other hard to dispatch meanies at you, but none are as slap-happy tough as some in the previous game (Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!) were.
Speaking of that previous game, SotNK reuses some sprites, but this isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, it adds consistency from the previous games and makes the Adventure Time game universe WayForward has created more familiar. In fact, some enemy types have been made a bit tougher here or at least, they take a bit more work to dispatch than before thanks to Finn’s starting gear. The different environments and castles are well laid out and feature plenty of brain-busting puzzles that aren’t just “kill every enemy in a room, get the key” familiarity. Sounds and music are great as all the voice cast from the show is here and the tunes nicely carry the action. If you’re balking at the $30 price point, remember that it’s probably because the cast had to be paid for this work, not because Cartoon Network and Little Orbit are trying to stab you in the pants pocket.
The only issues with the game are it’s not as funny as the show and yes, the lack of any sort of casual play modes mean if you’re a parent buying this for a kid into the show, you’ll be playing it more than they will. On the other hand, it’s hard to convey the show’s complete sense of humor in an interactive manner unless animated cut scenes are part of the experience. This is a game that’s going for a specific retro vibe, so it’s going to lose a bit in that nostalgic process. The other thing is I’m betting WayForward didn’t quite make this game for kids, but older farts like myself who grew up playing Zelda games and know the drill. In that classic manner, it succeeds fantastically and I can’t thank the team enough for making a more cerebral game that’s quite a nice surprise at the end of the day.
So, yeah – stop worrying already and buy a copy of Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom already. It’s the same game on all platforms (I’ve played the PC version and am just about done with the PS3 version for a review another site), and I’m betting Link is a bit jealous because he’s only in a big deal beat ’em up and a bigger deal fighting game while Finn gets to go on a more suitable adventure that’s on more consoles and handhelds.
(review copy provided by the publisher)