Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW! is my first foray into Adventure Time video games, and with any luck, it will be the last. I've played my fair share of bad, licensed, kid-focused video games over the near-decade that I've reviewed titles, and there are certainly worse games than this. However, Adventure Time: EtDBIDK! is one of the most boring, excruciatingly dull experiences I've had to endure in quite a while. Whether you're an adult fan of the show or you have children or siblings who absolutely adore Jake and Finn, I think everyone can agree this is not the video game that "Adventure Time" deserves.
The fact that EtDBIDK! falls so short of the mark is incredible for two reasons. For one thing, the developer is WayForward, the folks behind great to fantastic titles like Aliens: Infestation, A Boy and His Blob, Contra 4, and Shantae. While it's created its share of middling, licensed projects in the past, this developer is certainly capable of great things. This isn't its first go-around with the Adventure Time license, either, but clearly something went absolutely, horribly wrong with this one.
The other element that makes a bad Adventure Time game so baffling is that the show is essentially a walking, breathing video game adventure. Anyone who watches the show knows that "Adventure Time" is chock-full of video game references. There are a lot of overt, in-your-face elements like BMO, the walking, talking portable game system that's clearly modeled after the original Game Boy. There are also a host of other, more obscure references that are likely to fly over the heads of modern gamers, since a lot of humor is geared toward older viewers. Basically, "Adventure Time" is dripping with video game references and influences, and if there's any children's property that was ripe for a solid video game adaptation, "Adventure Time" would certainly be it.
Little of that humor and love for video games is captured in EtDBIDK!. The concept, as the name implies, is a traditional dungeon crawler. You can choose from four different characters: Cinnamon Bun, Finn, Jake and Marceline. You're sent on a quest by Princess Bubblegum to explore the Royal Dungeon beneath the Land of Ooo because prisoners contained within are escaping, and she doesn't know how. It's a real simple setup, and it's all that's really needed to propel the game forward. The Royal Dungeon is presented across a series of floors, progressing further down, with breaks every five levels that allow you to resurface topside and purchase items or enhance stats.
Every 10th level, you'll encounter a boss fight, which provides the only stand-out moments for EtDBIDK!. Boss encounters begin with basic button-mashing fights that have you swinging your weapon repeatedly at a larger enemy, but they sometimes give way to more interesting encounters. The second boss fight has the player trying to survive a rushing wave of prisoners across an icy maze that is filled with tantalizing treasure. There's a huge risk in picking up the treasure, as the horde moves at random speeds, often catching you off-guard and ill-prepared for its advance. Not every encounter stands out as great, but in a sea of mediocrity, these moments provided a few beacons of much-needed light.
The rest of your journey through the 100 floors that comprise EtDBIDK! is a painstakingly dull, unrewarding slog through what feels like the same content over and over again, though it's been slightly randomized from one floor the next. Enemy types and stage themes might change, but you'll repeat the same, mindless hack-and-slash activity. It seems like WayForward attempted to emulate something akin to the Diablo experience but had no idea why those types of games are fun.
The four characters available at the outset largely play the same way, with some slight variations. For instance, Finn can carry more badges, which serve as swappable equipment that grant bonuses like extra health or speed. Marceline is able to float over chasms that litter each stage, allowing her access to out-of-reach items and gold. Each character has a set of badges to equip, along with individual stats that can be further upgraded with gold spent at vendors in the above-ground hub.
This act of spending gold to upgrade stats is one of my bigger annoyances with EtDBIDK!. The economy feels busted; it takes forever to get gold while exploring, with small amounts doled out in each stage, even if you take your time to check out every nook and cranny. You're given the option to exit the dungeon every five stages, but you'll find that it's hardly enough time to amass enough gold to purchase the ridiculously high-priced upgrades for your characters.
However, if you exit and try to return to the dungeon, you have to pay something called a "Candy Tax," which wipes out your gold stash and returns you to 0. The process is absolutely ridiculous and overly punishing for players, and I had no patience for it. It's a little different to encounter a similar system in a game like Rogue Legacy because at least the upgrade pricing in that game allows for the fact that you won't have much gold in the beginning. As you advance in EtDBIDK!, you'll start to see higher amounts of gold that are obtainable, but the early 20 to 30 levels are devoid of riches.
Another element where EtDBIDK! falls flat is with the lack of meaningful item drops and useful badges. The best badges fall into two categories: health and speed increases. Health isn't as necessary because life-restoring food is generally plentiful throughout your adventure, but it's nice to have a buffer when you run a little low. The badge that grants increased walking speed feels like an absolute blessing because the default walking speed is far too slow.
The rest of the badges are generally useless additions, preventing effects like knockback or speeding up the time it takes to build your special ability meter. The amount and variety in badge drops are also wildly inconsistent. Early on, I saw nothing but Thump (health) badges, and I had collected seven before I even caught a glimpse of another badge type. Despite most characters having the ability to equip multiple badges, you can't stack one badge multiple times, making the badge drops even more frustrating.
The real crime with EtDBIDK! is the monotonous, uninspired gameplay. Heading into a dungeon, swinging a weapon against the same enemy types for two to three hits, clearing the floor, collecting gold, and advancing on to the next dungeon doesn't make for a fun game — especially when it's married to a game that lacks any of the charm and whimsy in the original licensed material.
Very little is enticing about Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW! outside of the license being used, and even that isn't applied properly here. Cut the game length by half, cut the price even further, stick this in a digital shop, and you have an OK time-waster that doesn't overstay its welcome. Even then, I think most would see through the shoddy, repetitive structure that makes up the meat of this game. "Adventure Time" fans deserve far better than this.
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