Review

Adventure Time

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Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! is a game for those in the know.

By Derrick Sanskrit • November 27, 2012

My parents didn’t let us watch The Simpsons for its first few seasons. Overbites, yellow skin, and unseemly hairstyles offended their primetime sensibilities, and network news anchors harped about the demoralization of a generation that had Bart Simpson as a role model. Mom and Dad didn’t have the same concerns about video games, for some reason, so I played the Simpsons arcade game and Bart Vs. The Space Mutants on our NES. The games essentially had nothing to do with the day-to-day adventures in Springfield. There was a shared style and sense of humor, but the games were not affected if you didn’t know about Smithers’ mancrush on Mr. Burns or that Ralph Wiggums had a cat whose breath smells like cat food. Luckily for me, the games and the show could be enjoyed completely independently of each other.

Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! is not like that. Based on the popular Cartoon Network animated series, Adventure Time tells the story of 14-year-old boy Finn and his magical dog, Jake, as they rescue princesses, battle wizards, explore dungeons, and generally engage in wish-fulfillment fantasies for anyone who grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. Plus there are fart jokes because, you know, kids love that stuff. Hey Ice King! is the first retail video game based on the series, and while the largely unchallenging affair clearly targets younger players who are more likely to be watching Cartoon Network than Game Of Thrones, enjoyment of the game largely relies on familiarity with the personalities of the Adventure Time cast.

Adventure Time

You play as Finn—with Jake riding in your backpack Banjo & Kazooie-style—traveling around the five kingdoms of Ooo, going on fetch quests for the colorful villagers, smiting foes, and gathering new skills, all as you hunt down that nefarious Ice King. If any of this sounds a bit like The Legend Of Zelda, that’s because it is, intentionally so. The developers explicitly reference the Nintendo classic: There’s an “It’s dangerous to go alone” joke when Finn needs to find his sword, and the game’s save points are water fountains where nymphs hang out, a take on the rejuvenating pools of Zelda lore. Winks and nods like this give Adventure Time the multi-generational appeal of Willy Wonka or Animaniacs, where the big jokes land for the kids and smaller, subtler references call out to more mature audiences.

The problem is that the game doesn’t seem confident in who its audience is. It walks players through the basic B-to-jump, Y-to-attack, but expects them to either already know or simply figure out that pressing up enters doors, a much more abstract concept to untrained players. Conversations between Finn and the Ice King paint the villain as aloof and non-threatening, seemingly unworthy of pursuit for the majority of the game. Fans of the show will recognize that the Ice King is more lonely than villainous—he goads the heroes into playing with him rather than actually committing evil—but there’s nothing in the game that makes this clear to anyone who doesn’t follow the TV series.

Adventure Time

Without the pretense that the Earl Of Lemongrab lacks even basic social skills or that Marceline The Vampire Queen is more interested in her own fun than discerning between good and evil, these characters come off as nonspecific jerks standing in Finn’s way. If The Legend Of Zelda’s Hyrule were full of characters like this, Link would just as likely stay home and let them be doomed. It becomes clear pretty quickly that, in order to properly enjoy the game, players must have seen more than a couple episodes of the show and have a general familiarity with adventure games.

None of this is inherently bad; it’s just insular. For fans of the animated series, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! could be a pleasant bit of fan service. To wit: There are appearances by Tree Trunks, Cinnamon Bun, Choose Goose, and many other characters (including my favorites, Snow Gollum and his pet Fire Wolf Pup). The game is stuffed with personality, scripted in part by the show’s creator Pendleton Ward. Finn shouts “Word to your mother!” upon defeating a bear with a chainsaw duct-taped to its back. Collecting Wizard Stars to increase Finn’s strength cues ’80s rock guitars and a chorus singing “You just leveled up…like the Manticore!” I couldn’t help grinning at these charming asides.

Adventure Time

The world map is small but diverse, and the variety of locations are rendered in the show’s characteristic style, which makes them memorable enough that backtracking feels less like a chore and more like exploring a neighborhood. From the bubbly heights of the Cloud Kingdom to the cavernous valleys of the Fire Kingdom, the countryside is jovial and inviting. One exception: the Candy Kingdom, which looks and feels more like a desert wasteland. With nothing on the map that says “I’m made of candy!” this whole quarter of the landscape feels unresolved.

There are plenty of players out there for whom this game will be their first contact with the Adventure Time mythos, but Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! presumes otherwise. The game positions itself as an accessory to the TV show rather than an Adventure Time work unto itself. As a result, Hey Ice King! just doesn’t explain itself properly for that hypothetical first-timer, and that’s a missed opportunity.

Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: D3
Platforms: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $30
Rating: E

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  • rvb1023

    I guess most of AT is lost on me, I have seen a decent number of episodes and it was fine but don’t quite understand the huge following it has. Apparently this game won’t be doing me any favors in that regard.  I really only knew this was a thing because just about every friend I have has picked up a copy.

    • Kevin_The_Beast_King

      Being an Adventure Time fan is a lot like being into prog. On the surface it seems hopelessly goofy, but then one day you catch a glimpse of a dragon on a mountain doing something crazy and you think ‘This seems like harmless fun, I might as well give it a try’. 
      Before you know it you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and you end up checking all the animator’s tumblrs for unused sketches and spend hours discussing what it all means, man.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         This is why, despite not being an AT super-fan (I like it well enough), I can certainly sympathize with that condition.

        Now if you’ll excuse me, Tom Sawyer isn’t going to air-guitar itself…

        • George_Liquor

          It always bugged me that Rush pronounced ‘Barchetta’ wrong.

          I should really learn to let things go.

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

          @George_Liquor:disqus : That’s just how they say it in Toronto. 

          Well, it is now, since the only place most of us have heard the word is from that song. 

        • nattyish

          Mathematical!

  • caspiancomic

    I’m gonna scoop this up big time, although thanks to this review I think I’ll finish season 4 before I begin, just in case. 

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      Continuity isn’t important, but familiarity with the characters helps a lot. I don’t believe there are any characters more recent in the game than Flame Princess, so season 4 is untouched.

  • WaxTom

    MY PRISON IS SHAME

    • craigward

       wha’s he sayin’?

      • Effigy_Power

        I think he said his prison is shame.

      • Benedicto_Yorma

         The sheriff is near.

        • signsofrain

          Fix the door? What’s goin’ on here? 

  • http://kittysneezes.com/ Rev. Syung Myung Me

    ….someone would buy this game without being into the show?  People do that?

    • Effigy_Power

      I am more shocked by this mention of people not watching Adventure Time. My brain can’t comprehend it.

      • http://kittysneezes.com/ Rev. Syung Myung Me

        One of my close friends doesn’t like the show because it’s “too screamy”.  I’ve informed him several times that he is objectively wrong, but it hasn’t taken.

        • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

           UNACCEPTABLE!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I think the show’s okay, I’m not a big fan or anything, but I might pick up this game for the Paul Robertson spritework, the metacommentary on the medium, and because the sensibility of the show seems like it would lend itself well to a funny game in the vein of, say, Mario & Luigi.

      • http://kittysneezes.com/ Rev. Syung Myung Me

        Ah, fair enough — I tend to think of tie-in games as Fans Only Things anyway… probably because so many tie-in games are bog-standard. (But then again, I’m not a Battlestar fan, and I own the BSG Board Game because it’s AWESOME, so I guess I’m one to talk after all.)

  • His_Space_Holiness

    Hey, it’s that rock that Finn accidentally brought to life in the Wizard Powers episode! Man, this is fan service-y.

    …I should be more troubled than I am that I recognized that.

    • double_hawk

       I thought it was the big dumb rock Dad’s Dungeon was under

      • His_Space_Holiness

        No, I think the big dumb rock was gray and conical.

        Dear GOD do I need to get a job.

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          Both rocks are in the game. A LOT. Plus an evil black rock with red eyes. Not sure if that was a reference to anything specific.

        • Xyvir

          Thanks for mentioning this. If I ever get this game and play through it there will be one less reference that I am lost on, and I will feel smarter  for catching it, even if I cheated a little.

          Hopefully by then I will have forgotten that I  was previously made privy to the rocks, so the illusion will be complete.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      Since you bring it up, several of the power-up items are references to the Wizard episode as well. Vorpal Hand, Tiger Claw, such and such. Plus you level up by collecting Wizard Stars, just like they did on their cloaks in the same episode.

  • http://twitter.com/JDrimmer5000 Josh Drimmer

    Wait a minute, false premise alarm: who actually enjoyed those first Simpsons games? (Arcade game exempted.)

    • nattyish

      But… the arcade game! Throwing those mailboxes! Hitting lots of rabbity creatures with a vacuum! Pumping in quarter after quarter after quarter after quarter after quarter!

    • signsofrain

      I enjoyed Bartman meets Radioactive man, even though it was punishingly difficult. Also Bart’s Nightmare is pretty cool. Simpsons Hit and Run? Great game.

  • Benedicto_Yorma

    I just bought a 3DS a couple of days ago and I was looking for the best games to buy. I saw this and thought it looked interesting, but I’d never heard of the show before. Now I’m several episodes into the first season, and I love the shit out of it!