Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion (PS4)

The quality of Adventure Time games is generally hit or miss, with Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! serving as the lowest point from my experience. However, when Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion was announced, it sounded like the Adventure Time game I always wanted and that alone piqued my interest, though it took a while for me to actually snag a copy and actually play it, eventually receiving one as a gift. For the most part the game delivers on these expectations, though it is somewhat held back by a number of bugs and glitches.

In the time between episodes S9E5 “Seventeen” and S9E12 “Gumbaldia”, Finn and Jake are outside stargazing in their treehouse. The next morning, the two of them wake up to see the entirety of Ooo has flooded overnight. When they investigate, it turns out the Ice King somehow melted the Ice Kingdom due to his crown acting up, leading them to look for a way to fix it.

The story is fairly minimal, though that works in the game’s favor since that helps make it easier to follow. It’s also written in such a way that it feels like an Adventure Time episode, one that, despite being non-canon, could easily fit into the show without disrupting the status quo of the window of time it takes place in. I will note, however, that, since the game takes place within the span of Season 9, it assumes the player is already familiar with the show’s setting and characters in order to fully grasp what’s going on, especially during the endgame.

As the Land of Ooo has been flooded, you travel between lands (now islands) via boat, during which Finn and Jake make occasional commentary on the environment and sometimes try their hand at singing original sea shanties. While traveling on land and sea, there is a compass pointing you towards the next main story destination, though there is no way to set your own waypoints or track sidequests on the compass. Additionally, there is a map, viewable by pressing the touch pad on PS4, to help you figure out where you are in relation to everything, however you cannot freely scroll through the map using the right stick, which I instinctively attempted. Instead, you can only use the left stick and you cannot control how much the map scrolls when you reach the edge of the screen.

Each of the four playable characters (Finn, Jake, Marceline and BMO) also has their own unique abilities they can use in the overworld. At sea, Jake can pick up floating objects that give Dosh (the game’s currency) or other useful items, Marceline gets to fire the ship’s cannon at other floating objects, and BMO's sonar can find treasure or the best route to the next destination. On land, where you can switch between characters at will with the shoulder buttons, Jake can turn into a moped for faster travel, Marceline can use her guitar to break open treasure chests and BMO can hack some electronic devices. At designated spots, Jake and Marceline can also respectively traverse high walls and long gaps or turn invisible.

During normal story progression, Finn and Jake may also interrogate key characters in a “good cop, bad cop” type scenario. Finn and Jake themselves conversationally give clues on the best way to approach these, however the action you take is determined by a spinning wheel in the corner that you have to manually stop. What complicates things is that the wheel gradually spins faster, making it much easier to make a mistake and bunk the interrogation. You can replay interrogations until you get them right, but failure can get a little frustrating since interrogation dialogue is unskippable.

What naval navigation looks like.

Combat itself, both on land and sea, takes cues from turn-based RPGs. Once during each of their turns, a character can optionally use items that have various properties, including healing items and temporary stat buffs or cures for various negative status effects like dizziness and rage, before attacking or blocking, which ends their turn. A cumulative energy meter at the top of the screen fills up during each of your turns, with BMO even having an upgradeable ability that boosts the meter in place of blocking. This meter is consumed when a character uses any of their special abilities, with more powerful ones consuming more energy; completing sidequests can unlock additional special abilities. On top of this, each character has their own Ultimate meter that builds up when certain conditions are met (ex. Jake’s fills up when he takes damage and Marceline’s fills up when she deals the final blow to an enemy), which, once full, they can activate by clicking the left stick.

Stocking up on items, whether by finding random drops or purchasing them from Choose Goose, and knowing when to use the ones in your inventory can be very important depending on the situation, especially against higher-leveled enemies. Though a number of them didn’t come up that much for my playstyle, I bought them anyway just in case. Dosh is also used to upgrade your character’s stats, so figuring out when to upgrade rather than purchasing items, or even when to grind for more Dosh, is equally important.

As mentioned above, the game includes a small number of sidequests that help to otherwise prevent the game from ending too quickly. Some are fairly simple to complete while others involve a fetch quest of some kind. Two of them involve finding the Ice King’s penguins and a handful of missing candy children and bringing them back to designated locations. These two sidequests aren’t bad on their own, but what makes them annoying is that, excluding the main characters, the boat has a maximum capacity of six passengers, necessitating multiple trips. As such, this limitation generally comes off as a needless way to artificially pad out the playtime.

I will note that I’ve experienced a handful of technical issues during my experience, some more severe than others. Also, while I am aware that the Nintendo Switch version is even worse off with bugs, my experience is based entirely on the PS4 version. One of the most severe issues is when I’ve had the game crash on me twice, once during the early game and once during the late/post-game, both times coincidentally happening to occur within the Candy Kingdom while using Jake for different tasks.

One particularly major bug I came across was during the late-game “Return to Flame Princess” story quest. After reaching the Fire Kingdom and following the in-game compass to where I needed to go, the doors I was supposed to walk through were locked. As it turns out, this is not an uncommon issue with the game, as I found evidence of complaints about it even back in 2018, as well as workarounds for this, at least one of which that involves exploiting another, separate glitch. Your experience may vary, but this is what worked for me: While standing against the door, I turned to face the camera, after which the AI companions glitched through the door behind me. Then, I switched over to one of the other characters that slipped through and could freely reach the intended location. Once I finished the quest, I found the doors were inexplicably still locked, so I performed that same exploit again to exit the room and continue the story. Given that it’s been two years and developer Climax Studios is still active as of this writing, I’m a little surprised they haven't addressed this particular glitch by now.

While the gameplay may be a bit rough, I will commend the game for perfectly capturing the Adventure Time art style, translating the characters and locations to 3D with little issue. The original designs also look like they would fit within the show, displaying a level of passion behind the project. However, adding onto to above-mentioned glitches, there were some occasional loading and framerate issues, the former happening all too often when loading up combat. There were also places, especially in the Fire Kingdom, where I could see through the seams in some of the level geometry, which can easily ruin the immersion for a moment.

What combat looks like. I legit thought the Battle Cube enemies
were placeholder designs until BMO's Analyze.exe ability
confirmed to me that they were, indeed, an actual enemy type.

Despite a number of technical issues and its short length, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is an enjoyable experience for Adventure Time fans. The look and feel of the show are intact, plus the rhythm of the combat is easy to get into. However, while the story is easy to follow, and despite its non-canon status, it is highly recommended you actually watch at least a majority of the show first before playing it, if you are the type that cares about continuity.

Additional praise goes to the audio department, as they got the original cast from the show to reprise their respective roles to deliver a more authentic experience. The music is generally okay, including some of the battle music and at least one Pirates of the Caribbean-like piece, though not much really stuck with me for too long after I was away from the game. What bugged me a little though was that the game has a very small pool of incidental audio (or “barks”) to work with, with characters often having only a single line for when they fall into water and respawn, and the loudspeaker in the Candy Kingdom having what seemed like five different announcements at best. Additionally, there were times where the audio would become out of synch and cut itself off, a blow softened only by the subtitles being active by default.

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