We’re hitting a new age of great platforming experiences. While the AAA devs have mostly moved away from the genre, the indie scene has grabbed the baton and run with it, creating some wildly diverse and challenging games. In fact, these can often be some of the most difficult, brain-bending games on the planet.
Game developer Massive Monster has opted to go a slightly different route with their latest project. Adventure Pals provides plenty of puzzle-based platforming, but does so with a more stress-free approach that lets us play at a leisurely, enjoyable pace.
The game begins with our pop getting kidnapped by the evil Mr B. It’s up to us (and our giraffe and rock pals) to rescue him and all of the other old folks that he’s been nabbing. The game is divided between an overworld (with “towns”) and sidescrolling levels, all hand-drawn and reminding us of 90’s Nickelodeon cartoons. The presentation is great, with tons of color that pops off of the screen like a comic. It looks great on a 4K TV and just as bright on the Switch’s handheld mode, where I spend most of my time with it. It’s accentuated by the absolutely bizarre character designs. From giant hot dogs and talking vegetables to a toast princess and mopey dinosaur, the characters are always funny thanks to some great dialog — if you can read the tiny text. Sitting a few feet away from the TV makes it a bit difficult to see exactly what a sad, yet educated blue whale is saying, and even more so when playing the game in the Switch’s handheld mode. The music is fantastic, too, with poppy beats that lend to some good finger-snapping and sound effects right out of The Loud House.
The art direction only adds to the recreational vibe of the game. Adventure Pals is presented like the Legend of Zelda II, divided into overworlds from which we jump into side-scrolling levels. The choice is purposeful, as the game wants us to enjoy and complete it rather than be forced to “beat” anything. The levels start fairly easy, relying on barely anything beyond some straight platforming. They evolve throughout the game, adding more puzzle-based elements until they become mini Metroidvanias, but are never all that difficult or frustrating. It’s an easy pace, filled with prompts rather than “tear-your-hair-out” problem solving. The puzzles are nicely designed and with decent variety, sometimes asking us to just find a key or to collect a specific amount of flying cats to unlock a door. I feel like I know too much when I play it but I still enjoy that leniency, lending to the theory that perhaps the game is geared more towards kids with a wink and a nod to adults. I’m fine with that.
Weapons make us feel equally overpowered. The variety of bombs we can throw always leads to several enemies exploding at once, and invincibility is found in an extremely affordable potion of which we can carry a bunch of. We can get out of almost every situation by bashing the attack button, so battle results rely on how quickly we can hit enemies or how we step back to dodge and attack or two (of which I rarely do, since I’ve become a human turbo mode on the Y button). We start off with all of our moves (including hovering and our giraffe’s tongue attack) so that any of the lite RPG elements that we unlock when we gain levels only apply augments to extend our health or let us grab more loot.
Designing the game this way, with so many things unlocked from the start, let Massive Monster focus on and perfect the puzzles and collectibles, of which there are a respectable number of. Most of the hidden cupcakes and stickers can be picked up while going through the motions of completing the levels, but if we miss anything the game lets us go back in and try from the sub-section that houses the item. It always feels like we’re successful, even if we just move from point A to point B.
The only real issues that hamper and overall fun experience are the slowdowns that occur when a mass of enemies hits the screen all at once, and the relative lack of depth. The former can be fixed in a patch, but the latter requires just a bit more content added to the game. For a kid, though the amount is perfect Parents, take note: this is the kind of nostalgia we grew up with in the NES days, but prettier and funnier.
Adventure Pals is a fun little adventure platformer. It’s certainly worth the relatively short amount of time that it takes to complete, and it goes by fast only because the puzzles are fresh and enjoyable. It’s family-friendly level of grossness, and it’s easy to fall in love with its charming characters. For those of us who flip around from aggressive FPS to giant RPG to tense platforming, Adventure Pals may add the perfect amount of stress: Zero. It’s a joy ride from start to finish, and one that will leave us with the crack of a smile.
This review is based on an eShop copy of the game for the Nintendo Switch sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.