By Anthony L. Cuaycong
CLOSE to the turn of the decade, animator Pendleton Ward developed an idea that took root back when he was still enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts and germinated from a short that subsequently aired on Nicktoons. Inspired by his experience working on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, he fine-tuned his concept and steered it to fruition. His creation wound up being an immensely successful Cartoon Network series. Indeed, Adventure Time pulled in a loyal viewership that generated high ratings across all age demographics, with the young ones, the young once, and those in between appreciating its unique blend of cutting-edge humor, hand-drawn visuals, and storyboard-driven narratives that tugged at the heartstrings.
The Adventure Time series lasted nine years, bidding farewell on Cartoon Network early this month. In that period, its influence grew and its reach broadened to include contemporary literature, popular merchandise, and video games. Its licenses in the latter were particularly well-received, with Nintendo DS and 3DS owners the first to see its appeal as a gaming franchise. Three more releases followed, with Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion finding its way to current-generation platforms last July.
Creditably, Outright Games resolved to pull out all the stops in making the first Adventure Time title on the Nintendo Switch not just hew close to its source material, but likewise garner the interest it deserves. From the get-go, it involved fans of the franchise, even running a competition to name the boat that principals Jake, Finn, Marceline, and BMO would be using as a primary means of travel in the game. Meanwhile, it aimed to stick to the look and feel of the Cartoon Network series to the point of engaging all the original voice actors.
The good news is that the effort paid off. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion retains all of the characteristics that made it thrive in the broadcast medium. It’s funny, engaging, unpredictable, and ridiculous without being flippant. It certainly takes itself seriously, never mind the simple premise. The Land of Ooo is flooded and isolated following the melting of the Ice King’s sojourn, and the lead characters need to cross the waters to other kingdoms in the Land to determine the cause and come up with a solution. The uncovering of the mystery sets players on an open-world adventure with fairly deep gameplay.
On the Switch, the controls are simple, and playing Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion undocked may well benefit the younger set. The challenges look even less imposing from the console’s screen instead of on widescreen television. To be sure, the option likewise helps those relatively ahead in age; the game is easy enough to pick up and pack away as allowed and needed on the go. As an aside, combats are beginner-friendly, and investigative forays set off hilarious bits familiar to followers of the series.
That said, there’s a seeming disconnect between the game’s title and its finest elements. While on water, the main characters do remarkably keep the thematic representations of the series; whether in the songs or in the conversations, the flow figures to remind players of the tone and pace of any given episode in the series. For all the promises of encounters against seafaring marauders, however, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is best appreciated with the main characters on dry land, where exploration is fulfilling, where turn-based battles are compelling (if lacking in difficulty), and where gameplay is rewarding.
Admittedly, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is far from perfect. In fact, bugs abound, with random crashes invariably occurring and forcing players to restart from the last checkpoint or their previous save. Long load times, slowdowns, and out-of-sync audio and video during cutscenes are evident. Meanwhile, the role-playing aspect is dampened by the game’s linear progression. The map seems to indicate a vast area open for discovery, only to yield swaths of nothingness. And while side quests do exist, they’re tantamount to savory distractions in the grander scheme of things; the gameplay moves forward once a specific development occurs.
Still and all, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion manages to deliver the goods insofar as earning its name is concerned. True to its origins, it’s long on the very values Ward espoused when he turned his series into an appealing and enjoyable statement of popular culture that literally drew teeming millions in for a whopping 283 episodes. And with its initial price tag of $39.99 already marked down, it becomes even more of a bargain for gamers steeped in the series and on the lookout for lighthearted fare, as well as for parents keen on expanding their Switch library with titles boasting of harmless fun.