There are plenty of shows that apparently only certain groups of people can appreciate. Adventure Time? Scoff! That's a kid's show! Definitely heard that one before.
Adventure Time—created by the lovable and witty Pen Ward—is a cartoon show on Cartoon Network. It features two adventurers, Jake and Finn, who are the best of friends. They get each other's humor and share each other's strength of character and values. They're heroes. They're also super silly and say things like "mathematical!" to proclaim their excitement. It's wonderful.
Not everyone gets the appeal. But if you keep up with the show you can see how hauntingly serious it can get, and how it delves into mature themes that kids wouldn't understand. If you're not a fan of Adventure Time, there's probably some depth you're missing. Or maybe you're just really not a fan, that's fair too.
If you are a fan, though, and have been nervous about the 3DS game—Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!—based on the fantastic show let me, as a fellow fan, tell you not to worry. Well, don't worry too much.
WHY: Adventure Time creator Pen Ward's writing really shines through to make this 3DS title feel like an Adventure Time game.
Platforms: Nintendo DS, 3DS (played)
Released: November 20
Type of game: Action-adventure game
What I played: Roughly 5-6 hours of the entire campaign.
My Two Favorite Things
- The writing that's perfectly Adventure Time to the point that I can hear the characters in my head.
- Meeting new characters that I remember from the show.
My Two Least-Favorite Things
- It's clearly an easy game made accessible for kids.
- It's not the Adventure Time game I dreamed for. Some of the best characters don't get much screen time, and the map only scratches the surface of the depth of the show.
- "Mathematical! Calculus! Hypotenuse! Pi! Slope! Other math terms!" — Tina Amini, Kotaku.com
- "It's not perfect, but it's friggin' Adventure Time. Need I say more?" — Tina Amini, Kotaku.com
You see, I was worried first, too. I figured that the developers WayForward would lean this game too much towards the kids' category. And they did, to a degree.
Hey Ice King! is an adventure game. You explore a map, enter dungeons, kill enemies, pick up items, give those items to other people, go find more items. Everything, of course, fits the theme of Adventure Time. Your main enemy is the sad and lonely Ice King. Your damsel in distress is a princess. Well, a princess made of garbage, but hey, this is Adventure Time so as long as it doesn't make normal people sense it definitely makes Adventure Time sense. But it is a kid's game in the sense that it is supremely easy. The platforming is basic, the enemies aren't too difficult. Progression through the game relies on entering new dungeons to find new Jake abilities that open access to parts of the map that were previously inaccessible. As you wander and unlock access to more of the map with Jake's new ability to turn into a bridge or a boat, you'll meet more characters from the show.
And this is where I knew I'd love the game: the characters and the writing really shine. I'm not surprised, considering Pen Ward himself co-wrote this game. Reading each character's dialogue, I could practically hear their respective voices in my head. I knew exactly how they'd say that one line and what kind of tone they'd use to respond to that other thing, and so I'd give an appreciative smile and a mental thumbs up to the game. Good job, game. I'm convinced! The writing is truly spot on. It helped that occasionally you can hear actual voice overs for small portions of the dialogue. I would have loved if the game was fully voiced, but it's a 3DS game. I didn't expect production to be console-quality.
As basic and easy as the game is, it still has a lot of depth. I marveled at how much you can evolve Jake and Finn's fighting abilities. Jake can turn into an ear to provide shield cover. Or he can slam a fist down to strike with more damage. Finn's sword upgrades, but he can also use items in his backpack full of self-described "stuff" to enhance his skills or even just make him jump higher.
By the end of the game, when you finally reach Ice King's Ice Kingdom and fight him for the rights to your garbage, you'll actually have to use your items intelligently. The boss battle was challenging enough to keep me happy, but not frustrating to where a kid couldn't figure it out (which is a hilarious distinction to make because if playing shooters on Xbox Live has taught me anything it's that some kids game even better than I can). I had to prioritize my items and use them wisely. Even during the game's easier side of facing random map encounters, dungeon-dwelling zombie candy people and fiendish trolls that steal your stuff, I still enjoyed embarking on a journey through the Land of Ooo, fulfilling my favorite characters' NPC requests and kicking butt rhombus-style.
Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?! may not be the ideal Adventure Time game I can dream up. I would love to venture through a fully-realized Land of Ooo rather than the top down view I actually adventured in or the 2D platforming battles I fought through. I would love to hear every voice actor read every line in the game, and play hours worth of adventures dreamt up by Pen Ward all through the many worlds we've seen in the show. We don't get to hear nearly enough from BMO or Marceline or Lady Rainicorn. We never get to explore Lumpy Space or step foot in the Nightosphere. There are so many adventures you just know you're missing out on in Hey Ice King.
But what we currently have is still certainly a pleasurable experience and is committed to the essence of what makes Adventure Time so delightfully silly. And for now, I'm ok to enjoy that.