If sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something, this is a first step.
The land of Ooo has flooded and out there be pirates. It’s up to Finn and Jake to find out how things got so whack and bust up a few dinguses while they’re at it. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion attempts to mix the world and humor of the Cartoon Network series with a competent but simple turn-based RPG, but never manages to be all that great at either. The charm of the TV show is never fully realised and the action is a bit too basic to offer any real depth. Younger fans will probably find this an accessible adventure with characters they love but for older, more experienced players it’s missing both challenge and interesting exploration.
Finn and Jake start out on the never-before-seen Ocean of Ooo after their home mysteriously floods overnight. The map gives the illusion of vastness, presenting itself as open with islands dotted here and there, almost akin to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. In practice, it feels more like an overworld map, or a hub for smaller levels. Instead of letting you freely explore the islands, each one has a set path with linear puzzles to complete. Worse, it takes so long to get from one island to another across the almost barren waters that it becomes less of an open world and more of an empty-feeling one.
Once combat is introduced, the turn-based party system offers a very standard line up. There are your typical tank, support, and DPS characters, and once you’ve figured out how you prefer to take down your enemies battles can give the simple satisfaction of all your abilities working together to more be more efficient. But they’re rarely much of a challenge – and there’s no higher difficulty setting to increase it. That became tedious towards the later fights.
For general upgrades to your stats and abilities, you’ll need to arduously collect currency (which can also be spent on items) from chests or destroying regenerating items. What’s good about this system is it’s quite simple and you can see a real difference in how effective you are based on how you spend your money.
The balance really breaks down after unlocking BMO as a support character.
If you want brand-new abilities for your characters that can change the way you play you’ll need to do specific tasks throughout the world. I accidentally unlocked a blocking ability for Jake which turned him into a full tank class character and opened up more strategies in battles. Unfortunately, there weren’t any fights difficult enough for me to be motivated to go out and completing sidequests to unlock the things I didn’t already have, especially once I had a full party. The ones I did complete were only ever generic fetch-style quests offering nothing to the story.
The balance really breaks down after unlocking BMO as a support character about six hours in. Everything became far too easy. He has the ability to increase a shared power bar for the party that allows more special moves to be performed, which combined with Jake’s blocking ability to make battles trivial. Once I’d found my groove for how to take down one enemy that same four-move recipe worked on all of them. Bosses might take more time to whittle down, but I was never worried about losing, even on the final challenges. It’s true that it took a short period of trial-and-error experimentation to sort out a routine for each party lineup, but for more than half of the encounters I felt like I was on autopilot and not making any actual decisions.
You’re given more tools and abilities as the story progresses but enemies don’t rise to meet your new skills. They may have resistances or weaknesses to different things but finding them is often unimportant as the standard moves will still defeat them handily. You’re never given a reason to think about one encounter differently from any other.
Pirates of the Enchiridion never ramps up the challenge once you’ve learned the basics.
This simplicity – at least in the beginning – makes Pirates of the Enchiridion a good entry point for people not too familiar with this kind of game. So many RPGs have complex and overwhelming systems that could easily be too much for younger fans. This simplified and relatively slow approach allows people to dip their toes in without much chance of drowning, even if you want to. The problem is that Pirates of the Enchiridion never ramps up the challenge once you’ve learned the basics, which is where it falls down and becomes boring and repetitive.
Your characters do more than just fight – they also solve puzzles – but they, too, are mindlessly easy. The standard switch-based and torch-lighting puzzles make a brief appearance but they don’t require much thought. Mostly, levels ask you to use new party members to unlock new areas and chests with their inherent abilities (much like South Park: The Fractured but Whole did for more mature audiences last year). Some areas will call for Marceline to use her invisibility to sneak past the guards and others will have gaps to be crossed using Jake’s ability to grow and ferry everyone across. This isn’t really fun after the novelty of first few times, so it just feels like an extra step of padding in getting from A to B, and there isn’t much cause to unlock chests because they only contain more currency which you can already get unlimited amounts of from destroying items. The only ability that’s fun to use is Jake turning into a scooter for your whole party to ride, which is a far more charming way to get around than simply walking.
I was delighted by how much this world looks like the TV show. The art style reflects the cartoon nicely and everything – including locations like the Candy and Ice Kingdoms – is faithfully recreated. And while the voice actors all show up to lend authenticity to their characters, the writing just seemed a bit off. It’s amusing enough, but it never quite recaptures the charm and I don’t remember laughing out loud at anything during Pirates of the Enchiridion like I do during the show. There are cool nods and cute smiles to the source material, but most of the time it just lacks some of the magic.
Where it almost shines is when you need to get some answers and fighting just won’t do the job. That’s when it’s Interrogation Time! These small bouts where Finn and Jake take turns to good cop-bad cop a character into fessing up the goods are some of the truest Adventure Time moments. It’s still simplistic and unchallenging, in that you can only choose between aggressive or friendly actions and there’s a chance to retry if you fail, but the characters in these sequences felt the most like what I’d expect out of an Adventure Time game.
Oddly short for a game in this style, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion took me about 10 hours to complete, though I only briefly touched on sidequests due to the lack of need for upgrades. PSA: once you make it to the conclusion there’s no going back to mop up unfinished business (it does warn you first), so you will want to be well and truly done before you head into the final event. The lack of complexity means that 10 hours isn’t a terrible time to end it, as the battle system just doesn’t have enough depth and had already worn out its welcome. If you wanted more you can probably squeeze an extra couple of hours out by exploring a bit more and trying for 100% completion, but from the sidequests I did complete I don’t see there being a whole lot of game beyond the main quest.