The Fancy Pants Adventures started out life as a simple but addictive little Flash-based game. A platformer with parkour elements, its two worlds enthralled gamers and made them hungry for more action featuring a spiky-haired stick man in big orange pants. This seemed to catch the attention of EA, who contacted the original creator and published a console version of the game. The Fancy Pants Adventures on both Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network may bring new modes, various tweaks and an expanded adventure, but it still manages to retain the charm of the original browser-based versions.
The plot is rather simple and will be familiar to any platforming fan. Fancy Pants Man and his sister, Cutie Pants Girl, live happily in the town of Squiggleville. One day, Cutie Pants Girl is kidnapped by a bunch of pirates intent on making her their captain after you've beaten their original one. Not wanting to see his sister forced into being a pirate captain, Fancy Pants Man sets off to rescue her.
For the most part, The Fancy Pants Adventures has all of the standard trappings of most classic 2-D platformers. Enemies can be stomped into submission, and touching them any other way results in you losing part of your energy. You can obtain pick-ups in the form of squiggles and stars, as you can undertake bonus challenges within each level. There's even a percentage system to let you know how much you've completed in a level, and each level can be replayed to mop up what's left. Anyone who's ever touched a platformer before should instantly feel at home.
The big hook for the game is the physics system, particularly as it pertains to character movement. Momentum has to be factored in while moving, so you can expect to gain more speed if you have room to run, but you shouldn't expect to do a full stop the minute you stop holding the analog stick in one direction. It also means bigger jumps due to that speed, and it's something to consider when performing wall jumps, skimming over the water surface, and launching from underwater walls.
The acrobatics and momentum really shine through in the level design. Aside from the various chasms and spikes you normally see, you'll also encounter curves and slopes and loops on which you can start tricks. It's not uncommon, for example, to see a section of a level where you're expected to run toward a curve so you can go upside-down, across a gap, and land on a platform that was otherwise inaccessible. Couple this with your own speed, angled springboards and areas where you can wall-jump, and you suddenly have a large playground where you gain satisfaction from completing a level as stylishly as possible.
There are other parts to the game's single-player component that make it a joy to play. Each level is littered with various pick-ups, including stars; when enough are obtained, you can unlock the two original worlds of the Flash game that have been remade with this game's engine and mechanics. The levels also contain minichallenges, as well as bonus rooms to unlock costume items, such as hats and new pants. There are a wide range of challenges, including races and collecting or knocking down various items within a set time limit, and they are just as challenging as the main levels. Finally, there's the humor. Whether it comes from the bottled messages you pick up or the conversations with NPCs, the game has a sort of subtle humor that can make one giggle whenever something is said, and it's made even better by the fact that it feels organic and not forced.
The design falters a bit in places. Wall jumps don't feel as fluid as they do in other games. As acrobatic and as fast as Fancy Pants Man is, it always seems like he's struggling to do any sort of wall jump. Most of the time, you'll find wall jumping difficult enough that it's almost impossible to make it to the top in one go. The other complaint lies with weaponry. About two-thirds of the way into the campaign, you'll obtain a pencil that can be used as a sword to defeat enemies. It becomes useful for breaking down walls, but it is useless when attacking enemies since because it takes more hits to kill them instead of just using jumping techniques. Since you can't run and attack at the same time, it also slows down your momentum, so you'll only want to use it occasionally.
Aside from the new story and levels, the other new feature in The Fancy Pants Adventures is multiplayer, both local and online. There are three modes, each supporting up to four players. King of the Hill provides the least amount of fun since it's simply you against three other people trying to obtain as many squiggles as possible while knocking out the squiggles that others have. With no real variation involved, it gets rather old rather quickly. Race mode is a little better since it's a fight to see who can reach the finish line first. With the courses having the same kinds of curves and tricky jumps as the normal levels, there can be some rather fun matches. By far the best mode is campaign, where four players can experience every level of the single-player campaign together. The adventure doesn't change, but added moves, such as the ability to bounce off the heads of one another and getting kicked into new areas, make some pick-ups and secret rooms more accessible. It also enables one to earn more costume parts, making this a game worth experiencing a few times on multiplayer just to maximize the chances of unlocking something cool.
The main fault of the multiplayer campaign has to do with the camera. It doesn't zoom out quickly when a group gets separated, so while there is a brief moment when players may find themselves off-screen, there isn't a moment of disorientation where everyone suddenly doesn't know where they are in the level. Depending on how far you go, though, it can be tough to see exactly where you are. Unless everyone has large or loud costume pieces, it becomes almost impossible to see where everyone is or if anyone is in danger of being hit by enemies. Only those with rather large screens will be able to properly follow the action without squinting, and those with smaller sets will try to kill their characters in the hope of reuniting with remaining team members.
Part of the game's charm comes from the graphics. The backgrounds make excellent use of bright colors, and the art style evokes the feeling that this was designed by little kids. You won't see much of this nowadays, with games constantly trying to go for realistic looks. The characters also display that same sort of child-like style; Fancy Pants Man and Cutie Pants Girl are nothing more than stick figures with clothing. Other human enemies and NPCs feel like they were ripped out of a "Where's Waldo?" book while the enemies — whether they're spiders with large eyes, rats with guns or snails struggling to pull their own shells — feel like cartoon sketches quickly thrown together in a notebook. Whether you love or hate the style, it really shines once everything is moving. Everyone moves fluidly, especially Fancy Pants Man, so all of the acrobatic stunts and maneuvers look great on-screen. The fluidity doesn't sacrifice efficiency either, so the moves don't feel exaggerated and you don't have to wait for one animation to finish before going into another one. Despite the simplicity, the graphics end up being a strong suit for the title.
One thing that will catch you off guard is the music. The same happy-go-lucky vibe you get from other platformers is here in full force, but it continues this theme regardless of the environment. Whether you're underwater, in a cave, or in a pirate ship, the music is lively enough to ignore the norms of what should be playing in certain environments. While the game sports no voice work, the sound effects lend a playful cartoon attitude that resonates well with the title's appearance.
The Fancy Pants Adventures is fun, if imperfect. The inclusion of a weapon doesn't really do much for the game, and unless you have a large TV, multiplayer can be difficult to enjoy should the group get separated in a level. The main gameplay is solid, and with the size of each level being so large and varied, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and trick off of, ensuring some serious play time invested into the title if you're a completionist. Platforming fans and fans of the original Flash game will enjoy this title the most. As for everyone else, playing through the demo just might be enough to entice you to spend $10 to give this one a spin.
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