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The Adventure Pals

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Armor Games Studios
Developer: Massive Monster
Release Date: April 3, 2018

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'The Adventure Pals'

by Joseph Doyle on Sept. 18, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

The Adventure Pals is a side-scrolling action-adventure platformer about friendship and exploration, featuring RPG elements and two-player local drop-in/drop-out co-op.

We can all agree that children's programming today has a penchant for the uncanny, right? It's been that way since 2007 or so, when Cartoon Network's "Chowder" and the repertoire of shows of that ilk began to crop up on the scene. Children's programming began spanning the bridge between innocence and surrealism, replacing in-your-face shock of horror and/or tense action with whimsical, wide-eyed wonder. For example, in the mid-aughts, the DC Comics-based "Teen Titans" bolstered superhero action and drama and then was turned into "Teen Titans Go!," a show that embraced the eccentric and weird, replacing mysterious intrigue with fun hijinks. The game being examined today, Adventure Pals, is a child of this newer tone of media and pulls from the exemplar of this style, Adventure Time, almost mercilessly. The art style and writing feel like they'd be right at home in the show itself. On the other hand, the game plays like BattleBlock Theater, but with added RPG leveling elements. This 2D action-platformer plays well but is unapologetic in its trite style and tone.

The weird settles in quickly, as the tutorial tells you all about the world and how you're platforming to reach your father because it's your birthday. As he gives you a present (the fun game mechanic and giraffe, Sparkles), he is abducted by the notorious Mr. B as ransom, or else he will be turned into a hot dog with the rest of the old people. Your quest is settled: Gather five red crystals to barter for your dad. From here, you progress on a Castle Crashers-like, open-world map to different zones to gather red gems, meeting many odd friends and foes alike, ranging from mailmen looking for the largest stamp in the world and a man who has a pig for a wife to bloodthirsty hotdogs willing to kick your butt.

The world-building in this game is quick and effective. The petty details are swept away with the idea that this is a child's game, and quite frankly, that's enough. One could even say that the simple but endearing art and concept feel like a fleshed-out Flash game. Another could say that's the case because it is based on a Flash game. The original by jayarmostronggames is darn good, but this version really polishes what the original already had. What's damning about this is how similar the tone and art are to Adventure Time. It feels lazy, especially for a style that's so welcoming of one's own weird interpretations with an audience that's dazzled by it as well. The main character is simply an expy for Adventure Time's main character Jake, with a general sense of good and acceptance of the peculiar.

Furthermore, for a game made with kids in mind, it really toes the line with risqué topics. For example, some guitar-playing deer around a campfire ask you to go around and collect some berries for a magic potion with the thinnest drug allegory that I've ever been exposed to. On top of that, you can kill small, harmless animals for coins to redeem at the in-game shop! It feels out of line when compared to the doe-eyed perspective of the rest of the game. While this is a children's game, we should still demand quality original content from the creators, not recycled ideas and incohesive content that make it successful and seemingly edgy.

The gameplay in Adventure Pals is standard and understandable. You progress through platforming stages and collect coins, cupcakes, and stickers while avoiding spikes, falling down holes, or being beat up by sentient hotdogs. You know, standard video game fare. As mentioned before, the platforming looks and feels like BattleBlock Theater, which, interestingly enough, is also made by former Flash game developers at The Behemoth. That being said, the game feels incredibly tight with its key elements;  jumping, running, and wall-jumping are crisp, and in a game as simple as this, that's all one can ask for. The brawling aspect (using a sword to beat up orc-like beasts, hot dogs, and … adorable squirrels) is rudimentary, however, and leaves something to be desired. There is a dodge mechanic, but at the beginning, you basically smash the punch button until everyone around you is dead. This is fixed as the player progresses into the fourth or fifth level, but it could be dissuading to those dismissing this as too easy because it's a children's game.

Another caveat to the game is the mixed message given with platforming and exploration. This game actively celebrates the player's curiosity by incorporating a mixture of auxiliary collectibles, such as cupcakes and stickers, while simultaneously including out-of-sight spikes and holes, leading to the player's loss of health and time. Perhaps some like this game of chance, but if exploration continues to work against the player, then they could get burned out and become distrustful to the idea, leading to a lot of the game being missed. Minor gameplay grievances aside, Adventure Pals plays and controls like a dream, combining relatively basic level design with well-executed controls — a gaming must-have to a younger crowd.

Speaking of the progeny, something I believe Adventure Pals introduces incredibly well is the idea that it's a primer to full-fledged games for younger ones. The first time I was exposed to Dark Souls, I was floored by the mechanics and taken aback that a pedestrian enemy dare deal as much damage to me as I did to it. One element of that game I had never seen before was the idea of a mimic — a creature that disguises itself as a treasure chest, only to chomp you up as soon as you try to open it. What impressed me was the inclusion of this kind of enemy in one of earlier stages — albeit in a much less gruesome, more cartoony way.

In conjunction with the dodge mechanic listed before, the game introduces the idea of counterattacks once you level up a certain way. Also included is a combo meter, which hearken back to different beat-'em-ups and fighting games, with your character gaining more abilities as the combo meter builds. There's even a rating at the end of each level, taking the number of enemies defeated, collectibles gathered, and time all into consideration — a feature in games like Sonic the Hedgehog, among others. Adventure Pals may look like a walk in the park, but rest assured that it's not. The later levels in the first world feature larger enemies, larger hordes of enemies, and both of those combined, with some single attacks taking 20-30% health. All of this builds up to kids being more familiar with gameplay elements as they graduate into higher-skill games, something laudable in a world where gaming becomes more of an everyday element.

As far as sound design goes, Adventure Pals lands squarely with the rest of the art in being expertly crafted, but still rather derivative. The music, done by HyperDuck SoundWorks, is incredibly well put together. The theme for the first few levels, dubbed "Among The Grasslands," is both inspiring and driving, laden with cheery, upbeat synthesizers and string parts. The piece sets a wonderful tone (no pun intended) for whimsical exploits and is also emblematic of the rest of the soundtrack in design, instrumentation, and expert craft.

My concern comes with the World Map theme, a more pensive groove that plays as you travel between levels Super Mario-style, sans the locked-in path. It's a good piece, but it's uncannily close enough to the world map music in Castle Crashersto get easily confused between the two if you're not paying enough attention (with both their considerable use of flutes and F chords). This, bolstered by not only the similar Flash game background, similarity in play style to another game created by The Behemoth, and nigh-identical art style to an incredibly popular children's program today, creates a stale taste in one's mouth.

Heck, the name of the studio is even Massive Monster instead of The Behemoth.

Adventure Pals seeks to be the weird alternative game that your kids will love, and it looks attractive because it's reminiscent of a mix of different games and familiar shows. Unfortunately, its unashamed emulation of other works is both glaring and disappointing. What isn't disappointing, though, are the game mechanics, which may be similar to others, but can be framed as a teaching mechanism for game experiences to come. Combined with punchy controls, this makes for a wonderful skeleton of a game, although it's regrettably tightly draped in the likes of superstar media from yesteryear.

Score: 7.0/10

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