This is a tough one to review. The Adventure Pals has excellent polish, a pretty art style, and genuinely good game design. But all these elements of what would make a great game mix together into something that outstays its welcome with bad pacing. It’s a repetitive adventure with few hooks to keep you going.
In The Adventure Pals, you play as a kid who is trying to save his abducted parents (and tries to make them into hot dogs) and explores the world, in order to defeat the evil Mr. B. Along the way, you have your pet giraffe named Sparkles, and a pet rock to help you jump through platforms, defeat many enemies, and solve puzzles.
Massive Monster has all the elements of what makes a great platforming game. The platforming feels smooth and satisfying, there is a lot of enemy variety, and the levels sneak in new elements that continue to challenge the player. However, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by the game, and I believe it’s the pacing. With each level, there are five parts that generally increase in difficulty until the last section. Think of it as the Acts in Sonic the Hedgehog. And with each level, there is a cupcake (and sticker in every zone) to collect from each area and a well to find at the end of the section. The platforming feels fast as you jump on enemies, use your giraffe’s neck to propel yourself to higher spots, and solve fun puzzles to proceed with Mr. Rock. It’s fun, but at the same time, Mr. Tedium arrives.
The battles are really simple. You have only one attack and you can dodge out of the way from bigger enemies by tapping a direction. When there is a big group of enemies with different attacks and abilities, however, it becomes hectic and you have to have a bit of luck to be able to keep your health high enough to move along. You have items like bombs but those come few and far between. Imagine you die from these battles. You have to start from the beginning of the level again, which have the same tedious battles and platforming challenges to get through. Sometimes the levels themselves can be confusing to navigate without a map, and the idea of finding new areas and going through the same game loop again and again and again, can get, I’ll say it again, tedious.
Imagine this for around an 8-10 hour play time, and you can see why it was difficult to get through this game. It’s well designed in nature with interesting platforming design, but the pacing and the battles wear thin, pretty quickly, especially as you run through 5 levels in a row to progress. When you finish these five levels in a row, you get a gem and when you have five gems from getting missions from people in the game world, you progress. Rinse and repeat. What doesn’t help is that the have the same music playing over and over again in each of these levels for the whole land segment. It’s pleasant at first but it makes you want to turn it off after a few levels.
There is the occasional boss battle once you manage to gain five gems for the land you are in. They are interesting, design-wise, but they aren’t very challenging and the player doesn’t utilize the skills they learned from the land’s levels to defeat the monster. It’s just hack n’ slash at a weak point or run away as fast as you can until you can defeat the monster.
I wish I could say the story dragged me in as much as the art style, but unfortunately, it isn’t interesting enough to keep me engaged. Just like the generally good game design, there is witty writing in this game. The jokes, the third wall humor, and the Saturday Morning Cartoon-esque characters, all add personality to the game. They even make fun of themselves for the derivative design of how the game is laid out. But the game lacks any kind of stakes. Mr. B isn’t a threatening villain, and the world doesn’t make a lot of sense as the writing doesn’t explain it very well. What makes a great villain in a game (or a cartoon, in this manner) is one who believes what they’re doing is right, but in The Adventure Pals, Mr. B. just wants to destroy the world because he can.
The conflict between dinosaurs and toast (yeah, this game goes to weird places) brings an interesting sub-plot, but without that engagement or an interesting hook to keep me playing, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing if I wasn’t writing this review. There is a twist in the end with Mr. B. and it does play towards the silly side, so it does work. But, you won’t find a deep involved story here. It’s more like Phineas and Ferb than Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it does have some subtle themes that sneak into the plot.
What makes up for its bad pacing is its cool animated art style. It stands out among the crowd of indie platformers out there, and it has so much personality. The animations of the main character, his friends, and the people in the world, are so ridiculously charming and cute, and the world itself is brimming with color. You really get that cartoon like you get from a Cartoon Network or a Nickelodeon cartoon.
There isn’t a lot of variety within the levels themselves; there is simple background art that is repeated for the land you are in and then generic platforms that you stand on. Structurally, it doesn’t make sense with the surroundings of the world, and the placement of the traps and enemies feel really ‘gamey’.
The Adventure Pals, despite my complaints, is a solid platformer with heaps of charm. With sword, Mr. Rock, and a giraffe named Sparkles, in hand, the platforming itself is really fun as Massive Monster have added twists and turns that progressively increase the difficulty. The problem arises from its repetitive format, dull (and sometimes frustrating) combat, and slow pacing.
Disclaimer: A review code of The Adventure Pals was provided by Armor Games