Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion Review -- The Fun Will Stop and Start
I love Adventure Time. It is a cartoon unparalleled in its creativity and style, unrivaled in its storytelling and quality. It's a bizarre, sometimes uneven mash-up of ideas with flaws, to be sure, but at the end of the day, it's a truly special work of art much unlike anything else.
In that same vein, Adventure Time's wild fantasy characters and zany settings have lent the series well to expansion, especially in the realm of video games. Over the past eight years we've seen a swath of different Adventure Time games from all kinds of genres, ranging from platformer to dungeon-crawler.
For the most part, they've been pretty solid, enjoyable titles.
Now we have a turn-based RPG to add to the pile: Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. In the hands of UK developer Climax Studios, who made some enticing promises leading up to the game's release, Pirates of the Enchiridion is perhaps Adventure Time's final hurrah in the realm of video games.
Early trailers and gameplay footage showed off the game's turn-based RPG combat, colorful graphics, and full voice acting, all of which looked very promising. But the question is this: has Climax Studios delivered a solid game for fans of the show? Will Pirates of the Enchiridion be the (potential) final installment the video game world deserves?
We'll Go To Very Distant Lands...
Pirates of the Enchiridion starts with Finn and Jake waking up to discover that the Land of Ooo has been stricken by a massive flood. An overnight outbreak of piracy is plaguing it's residents, so they set off to discover how and why this disaster has occurred.
Being the major conceit of the game, I wouldn't fault you for feeling as it was a major event. However, the actual explanation behind the mystery is, honestly, pretty underwhelming.
Without spoiling the specific details, nothing that happens during the game's runtime has any bearing on the show's plot. It doesn't add anything meaty or expansive to any character's personality or history.
Despite the weak plot, the writing is pretty solid throughout, containing plenty of self-referential gags and clever dialogue form the show's wide cast of characters. While the overall plot is really just a throwaway, the game really does feel like an episode of the show whenever all the pieces fall into place, especially during cutscenes.
Candyland on the Surface, Dark Underneath
The rest of Pirates of the Enchiridion's presentation is a mixed bag. Much like the show it represents, the game's surface has a pleasant and charming appearance at first glance, but there's an seedy side and heavy melancholy that lurks beneath it all. In other words, it all seems great at first -- until it all begins to fall apart.
Pirates of the Enchiridion's gameplay is fairly standard as far as turn-based RPGs go. The majority of the gameplay revolves around fighting enemies you encounter in the overworld, and using standard and special attacks to take them out, taking into account specific enemy weaknesses and seeing that each character fulfills their optimal roles
Your (full) party consists of Finn, Jake, Marceline, and BMO, all of whom have different special attacks and strengths, just like you'd see in pretty much any other RPG. Between fights, you'll explore the overworld either on foot or in your boat, walking or sailing from location to location in the newly flooded Ooo.
For the most part, the game is functional, and it can be (some) fun when you get a chance to employ some degree of varied strategy, but most fights tend to play out the same way -- even against bosses. You run down your list of special attacks and their elemental types until you find a major weakness or don't, then your strategy either becomes about focus-firing on one stronger enemy or taking out a group of weaker ones as quickly as possible.
There are a few interesting ideas implemented in the game's combat, such as Finn's special unlocks being relegated to magic swords found by exploring the world; being able to use one item per turn without using up an entire turn; and even linking stat upgrades to upgrades you can purchase based on your level. These things do help make the combat feel a bit engaging, and the desire for new moves and the constant need for money does encourage exploration, but that doesn't fully rectify things as even that can be tedious.
Sailing and exploration in Pirates of the Enchiridion feels like a commute, and there isn't a lot to find if you go off the beaten path. Most islands you visit are extremely similar in most regards, and usually the most you'll find on them is some money or quest/battle items. And these are behind the same enemies you've already fought a thousand times.
The only element of gameplay that remained consistently entertaining for me were the few "Interrogation Time" segments that sparingly happened throughout the story. Every now and then, Finn and Jake will have to play Good Cop/Bad Cop in order to get important info out of a difficult perp, and the player has to pay attention to their dialogue in order to decide what approach to take.
It isn't a very complicated system, and the dialogue isn't too hard to follow, but it still requires some amount of logical deduction and critical thinking to complete. You even have to time an input on a spinning wheel in order to pick the response you want. When they showed up, these segments were a fun and unique break from the regular gameplay that I really appreciated.
And I only came to appreciate them more and more as the game went on, and the problems I had with just began to snowball bigger and bigger.
It's Probably A Computal Gleetch... In Fact, It Definitely Is
The biggest problem with Pirates of the Enchiridion is that it legitimately feels unfinished.
I understand that licensed game development can be stressful, often with brief development cycles and smaller budgets, and that these facts often hold developers back. I am also well aware that Adventure Time is coming to an end in the not to distant future, so there must have been some pressure to get this game out before then, which is understandable. But even taking these things into account, I seriously can't think of anything to describe this game better than unfinished.
There are clearly layers of polish and technical balancing that haven't been applied to either the presentation or the standard gameplay, and whether it be due to time, money, or talent, some of these problems are just purely unacceptable. I've had basically every conceivable glitch cross my path, and the game as a whole feels like it's barely chugging along at times.
The game crashed on me twice, I've fallen through the floor into areas I wasn't supposed to access (skipping entire quests on accident), I've had to deal with the game freezing up, frequent graphical pop-in, and frame rate drops. And these are just the normal bugs I had the pleasure of tangling with.
At one point, I had to reload my save because I defeated all the enemies in a battle but the fight just didn't end. In another fight, Marceline's face never loaded in and she looked like a lifeless mannequin. And at one point, I jumped at the wrong angle on an NPCs head and fell down a bottomless pit that didn't exist.
I've sat through rush-hour red lights shorter than some of these loading screens, and the sheer number of times that the game has to awkwardly freeze in place and spend tens of seconds waiting for things to load absolutely kills the game's pacing. Just to save the game and quit to the main menu on average took over a minute to do, and many times, I had to wait 20-30 seconds for a fight to actually start after encountering an enemy.
Even putting aside the bigger technical hiccups, there were just tons of little things I kept running into during my time with the game that just destroyed any immersion I might have had in the experience. These issues were so prevalent during my time with the game that they largely overshadow the gameplay.
None of the NPC's that you can encounter throughout the game have dialogue or animation of any kind, which makes them feel like immovable objects plonked down carelessly around the world. The general lack of color or liveliness in most of the environments you explore just makes the imaginative world of the show feel very generic.
Finally, the number of enemies you can encounter is just laughably small, considering the game can last you over eight hours (which for an RPG isn't long, but man, there aren't any enemies).
The Fun Will Stop and Start
I didn't enjoy my time with Pirates of the Enchiridion all that much. Sure, my first few hours were a simple, but enjoyable enough time as the mechanics slowly unfolded before me, and as a huge fan, I was very satisfied with how several key locations looked and how solid the writing was.
But it wasn't long before the few rough edges I was willing to forgive gave way to frequent technical issues that I just couldn't ignore. tTe game just didn't have enough variety or surprises up its sleeve to keep me invested.
If the majority of these technical issues were fixed with patches and the game ran just fine, then I'd be willing to call it a decent game that fans might be able to enjoy. But in its current state, I cannot recommend this game -- whether you're a fan or not. I don't want to be too mean to Climax Studios, because it's clear they tried (and maybe they had a lot more planned for this game), but the end result can't help but feel disappointing to me as both a fan of Adventure Time and RPGs.
If you'd like a cheaper but more refined AT game, I'd try out Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!! or Secret of the Nameless Kingdom. If you'd like to try out a quite good turn-based RPG based on a Cartoon Network property, then try out Steven Universe: Save The Light.
Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. You can watch a trailer for the game below:
[Note: The copy of Pirates of the Enchiridion used in this review was provided by Outright Games.]