Adventure Time is an absolutely fantastic series that perfectly lends itself to video game spinoffs. The nature of the world, characters, and even episode format even feel like animated installments of some kind of traditional RPG. Besides, the first Adventure Time game did pretty well, so a follow-up would have to be just as good, right? Wrong.
Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! begins with Princess Bubblegum in desperate need of assistance. She’s discovered that all of the bad people and monsters she’s captured and places in her Secret Royal Dungeon are escaping and assaulting the people of the Candy Kingdom. Given the nature of the contained creeps, the danger is sure to escalate and cover all of Ooo!
How is this happening? Why is this happening? She doesn’t know. Nobody does. It’s a mystery to everyone. All we do know is, the most popular characters in the Adventure Time universe (and Cinnamon Bun) have to get in there and clean things up. Players pick a character, head into a randomized, 100 level dungeon, and fight battles in what can be best described as an homage to the top down Legend of Zelda dungeons of yore.
Each character controls differently. Finn is a basic, all purpose character. Jake can get around certain dungeon obstacles. Marceline can fly over games. Cinnamon Bun can take more hits than anyone else. More eventually join the party, with their own signature special attacks and abilities. The character diversity is clearly designed with multiplayer dungeon crawls in mind. Too bad no one will willingly play the game with you. Let me explain why.
For starters, Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! cements my theory that Princess Bubblegum is a despotic maniac. I mean, she takes all of the worst criminals in the history of the series and tosses them in a dungeon conveniently located right under the Candy Kingdom. That’s safe. Then, when the criminals start getting loose, she doesn’t get involved to clean up her own mess. She makes Finn, Jake, Marceline, Cinnamon Bun, and eventually other rescued characters, handle it instead. Then, to make things even worse, she imposes a ridiculous candy tax on anyone who attempts to enter the dungeon.
I loathe the candy tax. There aren’t enough words in the world to describe my disdain for this "feature." In an attempt to make a relatively easy game more difficult, players have to forfeit all money earned, but not yet spent, from a previous dungeon crawl when they re-enter the dungeons. Why? I DON’T KNOW. Since dungeon layouts are randomly generated, you don’t know how much treasure you’ll find in each runthrough. Since there’s no leveling system in place, you need every coin of that treasure to improve your favorite character and ensure their survival.
That’s when Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! gets even more irritating. While it’s easy enough to get at least 30 treasures initially, to increase your Thumps (number of hearts), it’s a chore to earn even the most basic Rowdiness (attack), Focus (charge attack), and Imagination (power meter) upgrades. What hurts the most is when you have, say, 180 treasures, but have already purchased the 100 treasure Focus and 125 treasure Thump upgrades, don’t need anything from the general store, and can’t afford the 200 treasure Rowdiness upgrade.
It’s as though WayForward knew this was going to be an unbearably bland, and even rather easy game. So, they decided to make Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! artificially difficult just to hurt players. Impose a ridiculous tax, so they’ll have to do extra dungeon grinding to improve their characters! Make it so after the halfway point, it’s ridiculously tedious to go through the game alone! Check out this level, it looks exactly like the last one! By level 57, I’d was sure it was some kind of sadistic test. See if you can play the game for 10 hours and still love the series!
The only salvation comes from tokens, which can be found in the dungeon or purchased from Choose Goose, then equipped. You can have two assigned at a time, and they honestly do help. Especially if you were only 20 treasures away from the stupid attack upgrade you desperately needed and Princess Bubblegum took it all away. All of it. The equippable extra weapons aren’t as much help, since the standard and special attacks are usually more effective.
Though, I think my displeasure with Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! stems from the lack of personality. As anyone who knows and loves the series understands, it succeeds because of its character. It’s absolutely charming and genuinely entertaining. This dungeon slog doesn’t understand that, though it tries. The retro-inspired graphics, characters and comical enemies have the right look, but not the right tone. It’s just going through the motions.
Even bringing in friends and family members doesn’t help, because they will abandon you. If you have them come over and force them to play with you, they will call out Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! for the tedious trial it is.
Food for Thought:
1. The off-screen play option is available, but this banishes Bmo from the GamePad screen. Though his quips are cute and occasionally insightful, I found the offscreen option more helpful, especially when playing with friends.
2. The inclusion of voice acting is appreciated, but characters will utter the same stock phrases throughout battle and it gets really old very fast.
3. Hot Dog Knight familiars are the best thing ever.