The team behind Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! certainly had all the pieces in place to make a compelling title. WayForward has a long history of making good-to-great experiences using licensed properties, and the show (especially creator Pendleton Ward) certainly enjoys and reveres the medium. The first collaboration was a riff on Zelda II, an inspired choice that was nostalgic without being overdone. This second title’s inspirations are less clear.
Explore the Dungeon has you, unsurprisingly, delving into the dozens and dozens of floors of a dungeon, fighting enemies and collecting treasure. You can do so by yourself or with up to three friends, choosing from a growing selection of the show’s characters as you progress. Each has its own special abilities, modifying attacks or movement in small ways that can have a large impact on how you play. Marceline, for example, can float over chasms, making it much easier to move around. Finn instead has an extra slot for equipping temporary boosts, letting you further optimize yourself for a given situation.
The game doesn’t have the loot-and-progression-driven nature of a game like Diablo, and it doesn’t have the cutthroat precision of something like Spelunky. Instead, it falls somewhere in the middle. You do collect treasure to use to buy upgrades, but they’re expensive, and enough to buy each upgrade has to be snagged in one run, as remaining treasures are lost the next time you enter. Health is quite low, with only a few hearts apiece, but the combat doesn’t have the sort of pixel-perfect precision you’d want with a setup like that. Fighting most enemies does absolutely nothing for you, as experience points are nowhere to be found, and moving through the floors of the dungeon ends up being slow and tedious more than anything else.
Boss floors come along every so often, allowing for a break in the gameplay for some cooperative monster-slaying. It’s a welcome respite from the monotony of the rest of the game, and it allows for even more references to Adventure Time‘s huge and memorable cast. Major and minor characters alike are voiced by the show’s talent, lending a sense of authenticity to the proceedings.
The aesthetic choices in Explore the Dungeon, though, are peculiar indeed. It sets out to capitalize on the pixel-art trend, but seems to stop halfway through. Characters are pixelated but environments aren’t, and the movement reminds us more of Flash games than any sort of retro titles. The menus use old-school text, but seem to lean toward “garish” and unpolished” otherwise. The music and sound effects of the game are forgettable, when they’re not drowned out by constantly-repeating snippets of characters’ slogans and quips.
The nicely-sized cast of playable characters will be nice for fans of the show, and promises many hours of gameplay for the completionist while you max out everyone’s upgrades. That said, the game doesn’t give you too many reasons to go back. There aren’t branching story paths or wildly-divergent character attack strategies to really change up what you’re doing, and the pacing of the game will ensure you’ll be tired of the formula well before you get through the first playthrough.
Fans of Adventure Time‘s lore and particular brand of humor may be able to squeeze enough out of Explore the Dungeon to enjoy themselves, but it’s hard not to feel like it’s a missed opportunity. Everyone involved is capable of, and indeed has already achieved, better things.
Pros: Faithful to the series, original voice talent, lots of characters
Cons: Slow combat and movement, monotonous encounters, little progression