Adventure Time! Come on grab your friends and… dungeon crawl. Of all the licensed properties to make a video game out of, you would think that Adventure Time would be one of the best. Seriously, this is an IP set in a world with vampires, demons, people made of candy, a princess made of fire, magic dogs, flying rainbow snake unicorns that speak Korean, and B-Mo! Heck, it’s a world where participating in video game style quests is the norm. How could a video game set in the Adventure Time world be bad? Besides, the first Adventure Time game, “Hey Ice King! Why’d you steal our garbage?!!” was halfway decent, so Adventure Time fans everywhere were waiting eagerly for the franchises newest video game release “Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW!” Unfortunately “Explore the Dungeon” fails to deliver on Adventure Time’s promise of adventure.
Explore the Dungeon’s story is simple, as Adventure Time stories tend to be. Princess Bubblegum’s royal dungeon is overflowing with bad guys. The baddies have started to escape the dungeon, and so it’s up to Finn and Jake to brave the dungeon’s 100 floors in order to defeat the baddies and imprison them once more. It’s a perfect plotline for an Adventure Time episode filled with awesome loot, sweet fight scenes, and if we are really lucky, Lemongrab. Unfortunately, this concept has a couple issues when used as the central point of a video game.
Explore the Dungeon is essentially a Gauntlet clone, which is kind of cool. We haven’t seen Gauntlet style games in a while, and it’s always nice to lose yourself in a pure dungeon crawling experience. Your eventual goal is to survive the hordes of baddies long enough to find the stairs to the next level, collecting loot along the way. Every five levels you get to take a break and spend your loot to upgrade your character. You also get to accept some side-quests from townsfolk and then it’s back into the dungeon with you.
The problem is that’s all you’ll ever do in Explore the Dungeon, dungeon crawling. There’s no real story outside of the standard Adventure Time references, no secondary systems to allow you to customize your character in great detail, nothing other than the randomly generated dungeons to keep you coming back.
Collecting loot isn’t all that interesting as every time you go to spend it, anything you don’t spend gets taken away from you as “tax.” Most of the upgrades you actually want are always way out of your price range and this makes you stop caring about loot all together.
Quests aren’t that interesting either. They fall into the basic mold of go to floor X of the dungeon and kill thing Y. The rewards are almost never worth the extra effort, which makes you ignore quests as well.
Character customization is incredibly shallow. Outside of the upgrades you can buy in town or tokens that you can equip to increase your health or damage, there isn’t much you can do. You can find secondary weapons in dungeons to help you out, but these are more like simple power-ups than actual equipment. “Leveling up” so to speak, feels like a linear slog instead of a grand achievement.
Then there is the gameplay itself which is more evolved than the original gauntlet but not by much. Characters have a single primary attack, a charged attack, a magic attack, a secondary attack for whatever secondary weapon you are holding, and a block. Unfortunately, combat in Explore the Dungeon usually devolves into lining yourself up with an enemy and spam the attack button.
Each character has different abilities, strengths, and weakness, and you get to unlock more characters as you go, which is kind of neat. Finn and Jake are cool but getting to try out Flame Princess or the Ice King (… or Lemongrab) is even cooler. Unfortunately, some of these character choices are just really weird. Who the heck actually wants to play as Cinnamon Bun?
Honestly, there’s really no reason to fight enemies in the first place. There’s no experience system that makes you more powerful as you kill your foes. Every upgrade is based on loot and loot alone, and so it’s far more effective to make a mad treasure dash before heading to the exit stairs without ever pressing the attack button.
Unfortunately, Explore the Dungeon just isn’t very interesting. The maze-like corridors of the dungeon all look alike and they just feel like a chore to navigate, even when friends are along for the ride. The endless hordes of carbon copy enemies aren’t fun to fight and don’t present any real challenge. Almost every death feels cheap rather than deserved, and when you do die you have to go back several levels in the dungeon, which just makes the slog carry on longer. The boss fights are cool in a referential way but aren’t particularly challenging, and even if they were you can just chuck some of your loot to carry on.
The best parts of Explore the Dungeon are the graphics and sound. The sprite based renditions of classic Adventure Time characters are cool to look at and move fluidly. The retro chip-tunes soundtrack is a real treat and is worth buying/downloading independent of the game itself. The voice acting is perfect and the voice cast of the TV show really gives it their all. If there is anything that does keep you coming back, it’s the hopes that you get to meet one more Adventure Time character just to see how it is rendered.
Adventure Time Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know is fun for a short while and could provide an interesting co-op experience if you can routinely get a group of four people together to play it. However, as a single player experience it gets too repetitive far too quickly. It’s available at the budget price of $39.99, but even that is just too high. Maybe if this was a $10 indie game we would recommend it, but as it stands there just isn’t enough here to justify the price-tag. That money is far better spent getting an Adventure Time box-set, or even picking up WayForward’s previous Adventure Time release for the 3DS.
This review was based on a retail copy of Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! for the PS3.