Have you ever read a book on parenting? Libraries full of instruction manuals exist on how to raise a child properly, ranging from topics such as bathing to teething to using the potty for the first time. Imagine, if you will, that there was a video game version of those books. A video game designed entirely to teach children and adults how to play other video games. You won't have to strain your imagination too hard to come up with this idea as Phineas and Ferb: Quest for Cool Stuff manages to do most of that heavy lifting for you. While most players will see this game as a relatively straightforward platformer, it wouldn't be out of the question to refer to this one as "Baby's First Metroidvania."
For those of you unfamiliar with the source material, Phineas and Ferb is an animated Disney television series that stars the two titular lads. The genius stepbrothers spend their summer dreaming up ways to have the best day ever and inventing crazy contraptions to aid them on their adventures. It's a children's show on the surface, but it manages to contain enough subtle humour to keep adults entertained as well.
Much of the show’s charm is retained in this game, but that is unfortunately one of the only things holding it together and preventing it from being just another bland and played-out adventure. Without the wit of the show writers, Quest for Cool Stuff would be nothing more than a too-easy platformer that can be completed in around four hours.
As the title suggests, your mission here is to seek out cool treasures that are scattered throughout various locales. The plot never gets much thicker than that, but much like the television show, the simplicity is what draws you in. Rather than focusing on a deep story, this game is instead about engaging its young audience and creating a light-hearted experience that they can enjoy. While Quest for Cool Stuff succeeds at doing exactly that, it doesn’t leave much room for itself to create a lasting impression on the annals of the medium. Again, while the game itself is going to appeal to many players, mostly of a younger audience, the gameplay doesn’t have its own legs to stand on.
Gameplay is broken up into 18 stages spread across four worlds which are unlocked as you progress through the campaign. The majority are referred to as “exploration” stages, and are played as Phineas and Ferb inside their A.T.T. or All-Terrain Transformatron Vehicle. The A.T.T. is a weaponized vehicle with a removable drill that allows them to explore previously untouched lands; these are the stages that call for revisiting, thus the exploration moniker. Coloured barriers that can only be broken through by upgrading your equipment block off some areas in the stages.
Returning back to the idea of this being a Metroidvania game for younger players, it'll point out to you exactly what equipment you need in order to further explore a particularly unreachable area. Once you’ve upgraded your equipment, however, it is impossible to downgrade. Thus, if you need a certain coloured drill to break through a corresponding block, once you’ve upgraded to the strongest equipment then you never have to worry about switching it out for a different coloured bit. What could be considered problem solving is dumbed down here to simply allow players to pass through any area once the equipment is in your possession, rather than allowing players to figure out the paths for themselves.
Beyond the exploration missions, there are also a small handful of stages dubbed “action.” In these outings you take control of Perry, Phineas and Ferb’s anthropomorphic pet platypus that moonlights as a secret agent. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. In all honesty, these stages play identically to the exploration stages, except they are more linear. There is no equipment to upgrade on Perry, so all of his stages feel like a much more traditional platformer.
Just like in the TV show, Perry’s storyline differs from the boys’ and instead involves his attempting to foil the evil plot of his arch nemesis, Dr. Doofenshmirtz, but it is just more fluff to pad an otherwise uninspired game. It’s also worth noting that all stages are single player only. Not allowing players to control each brother separately in a co-op capacity feels like a glaringly obvious missed opportunity, but it’s also understandable as this game is more about their machine than it is about the children themselves.
Being a 2D game, the controls are kept relatively simple. Either the GamePad's left stick or D-Pad will control your character, with B, Y, and A allowing you to jump, attack, and switch weapons respectively. With simple controls one would usually assume that accuracy accompanies them, but this, unfortunately, is not the case. There are some collision detection issues in both jumping on platforms and hitting enemies that are sure to cause some problems leading to too many unwarranted deaths. Thankfully it's very forgiving in that you have no limit to your lives, and checkpoints within stages are abundant; yet that by no means makes up for the frustrating gameplay. There are also several stages that take place underwater where the already imprecise controls are at their absolute worst.
Despite all of its misgivings and areas in which it is significantly let down, Quest for Cool Stuff absolutely shines in its presentation. The platforms themselves are nothing to be impressed by, but the background images in each stage are all lush images that bring the environments alive. All of the characters look great as well, represented as 3D rendered versions of their typically flat cartoon selves. The game is also fully voice acted, featuring talent from the show’s cast, and some of the now classic tracks from the show's soundtrack make an appearance as well.
Playing Phineas and Ferb: Quest for Cool Stuff is a great way to introduce young gamers to the decidedly difficult Metroidvania sub-genre of platformers, but anyone looking for a challenging or fulfilling experience will be sorely disappointed. There are some significant issues in the controls that negatively affect gameplay, but the biggest letdowns here are that it’s too easy, too short, and frankly uninteresting. Without the television characters and plot ideas backing it up, this game would be nothing more than a profoundly average platformer, and it isn’t much more than that regardless. Young players and fans of the television series are sure to get a kick out of this game, but the feeling is fleeting, and the experience is over almost as soon as it begins.