Adventure Time is one of the best modern cartoons currently on the air. It’s nearing the end of its long run with its ninth and final season, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a show that’s so consistently funny for viewers of all ages while mixing in emotionally mature themes and content in one accessible package. The gaming references, catchy tunes, and lovable characters certainly help as well.
Despite that success and familiarity, there just haven’t been a lot of good Adventure Time games. This might have something to do with their often bizarre and wordy subtitles (presenting Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!! as Exhibit A) but they’re also usually based on derivative interpretations of gaming’s most basic concepts. Unfortunately, to that end, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is no different.
In Pirates of the Enchiridion, Jake and Finn wake up to see that the entire Ice Kingdom has melted, which has transformed the entire kingdom of Ooo into a giant ocean. So you set sail on a makeshift boat to find out what’s happened and try to restore things to how they once were. It’s a great setup that feels like it would have fit right in as an episode on the show, which is a great testament to how well it respects the source material.
Make no mistake: fans of Adventure Time will likely have trouble not smiling while playing Pirates of the Enchiridion. All of the show’s original cast have reprised their roles as Finn, Jake, BMO, and company to deliver a well-written, silly, and often hilarious adventure full of shenanigans. While you’re sailing around the open world, Jake and Finn will often burst out into song about your next objective because, well, pirates + Adventure Time = lots of singing. It just fits.
At its core, Pirates of the Enchiridion is a turn-based RPG with light exploration elements sprinkled on top. Combat is extremely basic with each of your party members having access to basic attacks, items, and some special attacks. Your entire party shares an energy pool for special attacks and each character has their own Limit Break-style meter below their avatar that slowly builds across fights. If you save that up, you can unleash a massively devastating attack to deal lots of damage.
Other than being able to use items on the same turn that you attack, and characters going into an uncontrollable “Flipping Out” mood if hit too many times in a row, the team at Climax Studios has done very little to iterate or innovate on standard turn-based RPG mechanics. For example, you can’t even see the turn order - a mechanic that’s essentially become standard ever since the PS2 days of JRPGs. Perhaps the laid-back and simplistic design will at least serve as a good entry point to the genre for younger fans of the show that may not have experience with many games of the genre.
Despite the opening moments, very little of the game actually takes place on your boat. Generally speaking, it’s more like a vehicle that gets you from one objective to the next, sort of like the King of Red Lions in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, except flooded Ooo is a far less interesting setting than the Great Sea.
While the target audiences are admittedly very different, there is one key difference between Pirates of the Enchiridion and other licenced RPGs such as the two South Park titles. What those games did well - that this game seems to miss the mark on - is that, if you remove all of the South Park brand and content, stripping them bare to their core ideas, both games are still solid and fun RPGs. The combat systems, progression, and general flow and pacing are so good in and of themselves, that the South Park setting just enhances it to make them great games. Pirates of the Enchiridion, on the other hand, feels like it’d be entirely lifeless if it couldn’t ride on the coattails of its licensing.
Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion feels like a return to the old days of licensed video games. The developers took a classic genre in the turn-based RPG, boiled it down to its core mechanics, and plastered the Adventure Time setting and characters onto it with far too few original ideas. Even though it feels like a faithful recreation of the show’s personality and charm thanks to the original cast and solid writing, the uninspired gameplay drags down any goodwill it builds between encounters.