Review: Adventure Time: Finn and Jake’s Epic Quest

Adventure Time has a surprisingly good track record when it comes to licensed games. Card Wars on the iPad is a surprisingly on-point sendup of TCGs (not unlike the episode it’s based on) and an addicting strategy game in its own right. WayForward’s Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage? offers a really fun take on the Zelda 2 formula (even if it is a little on the short and easy side), with gorgeous graphics and a light, funny story by series creator Pendleton Ward. The show plays around with video game tropes on a regular basis, so perhaps it’s only natural that it lends itself so well to interactive adaptation.

What I’m trying to get across here is that Finn and Jake’s Epic Quest had the potential to be totally ridonkulous, especially as it seems to take cues from Toejam and Earl. Unfortunately, it just ended up being plain-ol’ donk, having more in common with the reviled Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! than anything else. In fact by comparison, WayForward’s disappointing follow-up to Hey Ice King! comes off looking good. Perhaps this should be expected from a port of a free web game, but it’s still a drag. A more apt name might have been “Finn and Jake’s Endless Grind.”

2014-04-14_00007

Epic Quest is as generic as beat-em-ups get. You have two attacks – light and heavy – and the ability to block or dodge depending on if you’re playing as Jake or Finn. In a half-hearted effort to shake things up, you’re allowed swap between the titular heroes on the fly, but outside some slight differences in attack strength and mobility there’s little meaningful difference. Jake can only block some damage from a single direction, while Finn can dodge it entirely, so there’s never much cause to switch to the stretchy yellow dog.

Combat is a chore. The enemy models vary from world to world, but most all of them use the same basic attack patterns. It’s a little disappointing, to say the least, that Gunter is identical to the evil baby pigs in the grasslands. They would all be entirely too easy to beat if not for the game’s noticeable input latency, which leads to a lot of cheap hits. Most enemies telegraph their attacks to make up for this, but frequent animation bugs can cause them to skip this and land instant strikes without warning. You can only heal by picking up food at set locations around the world or by leveling up (which takes forever and confers no other benefits), so expect to die fairly frequently and lose a lot of gold in the process.

2014-04-13_00008

Death isn’t the most frustrating thing that can happen, though. At least when you die you spawn right where you fell. Epic Quest is drawing comparisons to Toejam and Earl because of the way its world fits together, with each level stacked on top of the last. When you fall off the edge of a floating island, you land on the previous one and have to make your way back. This is usually easy enough to avoid, but there are certain enemies that can only be attacked from behind who love firing ranged attacks at you with their backs to the edge. This can be, to put it lightly, infuriating.

Scattered throughout the game worlds are pages of the Enchiridion, which summon random effects like the cards and pills in The Binding of Isaac. These are where the game makes most of its references to the show, allowing you to summon Marceline or Neptr, make Finn don the Jake Suit, or fly around on Lady Rainicorn. One of the big selling points for this 10 dollar web game port is the ability to play as Fiona and Cake, distaff counterparts to Finn and Jake from in-universe fan fiction written by the Ice King. So far as I could tell though, they’re only available as a temporary powerup through use of the pages. This seems to me like egregious false advertising.

Though the writing in Adventure Time is some of the best in modern television, it’s not difficult to plot an episode. Part of the show’s charm is how inane and seemingly pointless it can be. Wayforward’s games really got that right – Ice King’s sinister machinations with Finn and Jake’s garbage turned out to be a cry for attention, while diving into a dungeon for no apparent reason lead to the reveal of Princess Bubblegum’s origins. The biggest disappointment with epic quest might be how badly it drops the ball there. With all the potential setups they could go for, the story boils down to “because we’re in a video game now.”

2014-04-14_00002

Visually the steam version of Epic Quest is an upgrade, though I’m not sure it’s an improvement. The browser game looked like… well, a browser game, with simple models and flat, basic textures. Thing is, that’s a pretty good match for the flat, simple style of the show, and while high-res textures and more detailed models are nice, they ultimately feel less authentic. A full release gives them a higher poly count and more detailed shaders to work with, which basically makes the game look more “gamey.” There are also some serious draw distance issues with the higher-quality models that become apparent thanks to the rolling camera effect. Personally, I’d have preferred a style similar to season 5’s experimental CG episode “A Glitch is a Glitch.”

At the very least, the developers have really nailed the animations for the characters. Finn flails his sword with just the right noodly-armed arc, and Jake’s morphing is seamless. Unfortunately while the animations are nice and detailed, that also happens to make them slow, which contributes to the feeling of input latency. On top of that, some of the animations for enchiridion effects loop a little poorly, and certain enemies look wooden compared to the heroes. On the bright side, everything sounds very true to the show, from the enemy grunts to the background music and, of course, the excellent voiceover work by Jeremy Shada and John DiMagio. Even without a solid script, their delivery is solid enough to make you crack a smile.

2014-04-14_00008

Closing Comments:

Finn and Jake’s Epic Quest feels like what it is: an above-average browser game punching well outside its weight class. The repetitive, oversimplified gameplay works as a temporary (and, importantly, free) diversion from your regular browsing, but there’s not enough here to make it a worthwhile purchase.  The paid version features graphics and added fan service, but none of the depth it so desperately needs.  Boring at best, annoying at worst, do yourself a favor and give this game a pass.
score2
Platform: PC