It seems almost traditional that titles based on western animated TV shows are rarely ever, well… good. I suppose you do have games like South Park: The Fractured But Whole to bat against this theory, and maybe the odd retro throwback that holds some nostalgic value. It’s just unfortunate in the grand scheme of things that there just hasn’t been many tie-ins that have ever done the referenced source material much justice. With that said, the mega-popular and long-running Adventure Time series seems like a perfect fit to please fans with its quirky characters, current pop culture references and loveable charm. Yet, with previous attempts only ever gaining a mediocre reception at best, could Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion’s effort at an open world RPG adventure turn the tide?
In this latest adventure, Jake the dog and Finn the human embark on a journey across the colourful post-apocalyptic world of Ooo. This time the Ooo has been flooded as Hyrule was in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and it’s up to the inseparable companions to once again find out what the deal is in order to save the wacky candy-kissed land that we all know and love. This leads the duo on a pirate-themed swashbuckling adventure to where there’s high seas and plenty of treasures to be found. Everything looks and sounds true to form with vibrant cell-shaded visuals, along with original series voice casting to stay faithful to the franchise. However, it doesn’t take long to notice the cracks and safety nets that many licensed games tend to constantly fall victim to.
To cut to the chase, there’s a technical lack of polish that reeks of fast food development and a sense of content from simply ticking off boxes to provide a relationship with the series. While there are a few gags in place that will hit on target from time to time, it never really quite captures the depth and complexity of the characters that make the series itself so god damn clever and hilarious in the first place. The same can be said about the overworld itself. The map shows a vast journey ahead only to kill the pace by how predictably linear and barren the world has been portrayed here. Don’t get me wrong, there has been an effort made to cater to the fans – it just never attempts to go that extra mile to make any of it truly believable. This is mainly due to the roundabout format of sailing to a familiar location in your boat, smashing up breakable objects to farm for coins on land, acquiring a side mission that usually involves collectathon chores, and triggering an event to carry on with the story.
In between this predictable loop of events you will be confronted by two other gameplay mechanics – the combat and an L.A. Noire-style interrogation scenario. The combat is a simple turn-based system that is very approachable for beginners to the genre, yet never really opens up for the more seasoned enthusiast. I did find this choice to be a practical approach, as I would imagine a Square Enix-style depth would feel quite out of place in this particular case. This is, after all, a game that is clearly aimed towards a younger audience. It does fit well enough in the “my first turn-based RPG” bracket, which, as a noob to the format, I found worked well enough to show me the ropes and get some sort of appreciation in understanding what the hook is with the genre.
Basically, your eventual team of four – that consists of Marceline the vampire, BMO the little Game Boy-type fellow and our two main protagonists – take turns to attack and defend. Attacks can come in three forms. Your standard hit to deal some damage, a more specialised ability that uses your meter, and, finally, a devastating blow that you can unleash when requirements are met. Items can be used once per turn and won’t affect your go – giving you a strategic edge to revive, boost and strengthen your team’s vital attributes. Currency can be used to purchase items as well as level up each character’s abilities with very little grinding needed to max out each stat per level up. One of the more welcome decisions that I found was the lack of random battles whether it be on land or sea. It is worth confronting enemies regularly though, for they are usually guarding juicy loot and necessary pathways to press forward. While there is some sort of depth to your choices in combat, it’s quite easy to rely on a small handful of decisions to simply mow over the competition providing the enemy is at a reasonable level.
The interrogation sequences have you selecting a good cop, bad cop approach based on a twister-style spin of a wheel. It’s not a random selection, it is more the case of pressing the button at the right time to set off your desired approach. It’s a fair little feature to keep certain cutscenes interactive with subtle hints and common sense in deciding what method of interrogation to take. It can lead to sometimes hilarious moments like seeing Jake slap Peppermint Butler in the chops out of nowhere to dig out some valuable information from him.
Yet that’s the thing, there is a hint of charm sewn into the mediocrity of the gameplay. Sailing across the budget The Wind Waker-style patterns of the sea has the crew singing songs that are true to form from the spirit of series – all sounding spontaneously made up yet instantly catchy. It’s more the lack of polish that makes the sense of the world seem artificial and hollow. I ran into tons of small environmental and audio glitches and the stiff control of your character feels as robotic as the animations. The loading screens after losing battles are punishingly lengthy, to the point where I could literally boil a kettle and make a cup of tea before I had even respawned. The day one update that was released did little to solve any of these issues, either. In fact, I still don’t know what it has actually done to improve the game’s performance.
Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion may be an original story written to serve a slice of entertainment to the fans. However, just like many licensed titles before it there just isn’t enough varnish here to provide the magic and originality that the series has shaped over the last decade. The turn-based mechanics, on the other hand, are fittingly simple and less daunting to widen the audience, and the mid-tier price range is about right for a game that’s clearly not afraid to cut corners.
On the whole, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion does just enough to allow you to interact with the world of Ooo. It’s more a shame that considering the series as a whole is coming to an end, there’s no true celebration here to close out the franchise with a potential classic.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment