Nintendo Switch is already home to some pretty impressive platforming goodness; you may have heard of a certain little game called Super Mario Odyssey, and the eShop offers up an entire feast of delights with the likes of Shovel Knight, Sonic Mania, and Celeste to name just a few. Standing out from this stellar crowd is, therefore, no easy task, but by reminding us of why we fell in love with video games in the first place, The Adventure Pals developer Massive Monster has managed to do just that.
The game sees you and your best friends (Sparkles the giraffe and a rock called Mr. Rock) trying to save the world. You’re not saving the day in any fashion you’ve likely become accustomed to, though, as this time a super villain is threatening a weird kind of domination by turning old people into hot dogs. You’ll be travelling through five platforming worlds, fighting your way through enemies and boss fights, all while soaking in the game’s beautifully bonkers – and absolutely adorable - approach to script writing and character design.
The controls are simple: you jump with a quick press of the ‘B’ button; hold that button down to glide, using your giraffe’s tongue like a helicopter (which is as utterly glorious as it sounds); use your sword with ‘Y’, allowing you to rack up combos as you hack and slash your way through enemies; and make use of special items like bombs or health potions with ‘A’. You’ll also be interacting with scenery dotted around each stage with the ‘R’ button, usually to blow up targets or open gates to progress through the level, or sometimes to open treasure chests containing life-saving items.
Every jump and scenery interaction feels great to perform, with precise platforming and a satisfying control scheme allowing you to swing around each stage with ease. The difficulty level rarely reaches anything higher than being just a tad troublesome, with any slightly harder stuff saved for boss fights and levels near the end of the story, but this works well here, allowing you to focus on finding the hidden collectibles and enjoying a stress-free adventure.
The combat is a similar affair, although you will have to learn the behaviours of the different enemy types unless you’re happy to take some damage. Beating enemies provides you with experience points, making you level up and learn new abilities along the way, and these abilities will aid you in your fighting. This system is part of the game’s light-RPG side, which also offers shops with purchasable items (such as bombs, special bombs, and a variety of potions) to see you through even the toughest of enemy clusters.
While all of this is great, and feels like a perfectly good platformer in its own right, the game is undoubtedly enhanced by the world around it. Everything is colourful and cutesy, with numerous characters making us melt with adoration throughout the story, and a script that is full of breaking-the-fourth-wall jokes and shameful puns that had us sniggering from start to finish.
The whole presentation is obviously very child-friendly, but in a way that also allows light-hearted adults to get just as much – if not more – enjoyment from it; not many games have us jumping out of a friendly toaster, gliding in the air with our giraffe’s tongue-helicopter, before picking up a sleepy kitten and throwing our rock friend at explosive mines that have just been pooped out by a walking hot dog. It’s hilariously brilliant and full of imagination and, for that, Massive Monster, we salute you.
The soundtrack is a similarly delightful experience, with one particular overworld theme sticking with us whenever we took some time out to find any missing collectible cupcakes, talked to town folk, or looked for any missing stickers to complete our in-game sticker album. You can enjoy the adventure with a friend if you like, as co-op play is supported throughout, but we opted to play through the majority of the campaign solo – mostly down to personal preference. Joining up with a buddy allows the two of you to tackle enemies from both sides and figure out the way together so, if you’re up for some teamwork, that option is always available.
Sadly, there are just a couple of little niggles that stop The Adventure Pals from being a true masterpiece. On a couple of occasions, usually thanks to turning back and re-exploring a level for any missed collectibles, we ended up getting stuck and having to restart that particular level. The interactive scenery in each level will change positions depending on your actions, and sometimes (perhaps because the game doesn’t expect you to go back through to the start of the level) the switches to open a gate, for example, can become inaccessible. As mentioned, though, this only happened once or twice during our adventure.
The bigger issue comes in the five arena levels that appear once in each world. The premise is great; instead of completing five levels of platforming, you’re placed inside a small arena and have to fend off five waves of enemies, using up your supply of potions to stay alive whenever possible. The problem here is that whenever too many enemies come flying on to the screen at any one time, the game suffers from some pretty nasty slow-down; as you try to fight off your opponents, you’ll actually end up fighting the stuttering framerate to guess when each button press should be performed.
Despite these niggles, though, which we’d love to see fixed in a future patch if possible, we couldn’t help but fall in love with the game as a whole. There’s an undeniable charm present throughout and, for the most part, the game runs really smoothly and offers some very enjoyable platforming fun that deserves to be played.
The Adventure Pals is a truly wonderful experience that had us grinning from the moment we launched the game, right up until the credits. The platforming is tight and precise, yet relatively relaxed and easy-going on the whole, and the game’s perfect cast of bonkers characters provides humour, wit, and a genuinely loveable world to explore. A couple of little niggles stop the game from hitting the true heights that it deserves to reach, but we’d urge you to look past these and dive into the fun. If you’re a fan of platformers and cute things, you need to play this game.