Written by Ewan Moore.
The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom is the third Adventure Time game from developer WayForward and is also undoubtedly their best effort so far. After an average side scrolling adventure and a dire dungeon crawler, Nameless Kingdom wholly embraces its roots and wears its Zelda inspired trappings on its sleeve.
Item based progression, puzzling boss battles, and an overworld riddled with secrets will instantly appeal to those looking for their next fix of adventuring before Link and the gang show up again, but a couple of irritating niggles will constantly remind you that you’re playing a pale imitation. Only the zany dialogue, brilliant voice acting from the cast of the Adventure Time series, and humorous twists on a well established genre makes this title stand out at all, and that’s provided you’re already a fan of the cartoon as well.
Nameless Kingdom brings Finn and Jake to an unexplored region of Ooo, in a bid to rescue three princesses from dungeons in opposite corners of the world, so that they can then decide who gets to rule. It’s not exactly Breaking Bad, but then neither Zelda nor Adventure Time have ever really been known for their ability to tell a gripping yarn. They both craft worlds that are about the characters that inhabit those worlds, and one of the biggest pulls of this game is discovering various fan favourites from the series, including the perpetually lonely sociopath Ice King, and the not so glamorous Lumpy Space Princess.
If you’re a fan, there are genuine moments of delight in store for you when you come across these characters and if you’re not then hopefully you’ll still get a kick out of the dialogue and voice acting. It doesn’t always hit the highs of the TV series, but should still offer a chuckle or two if you enjoy outright ridiculous fantasy humour and tasks such as delivering a fart in a bag to a talking cinnamon bun. Which genuinely happens.
After a pretty funny intro that expertly parodies A Link to the Past whilst talking you through the basics, you’re dropped into the world and expected to work things out for yourself. In many ways this is both Nameless Kingdom’s biggest strength and worst weakness. While a lot of games these days are increasingly bent on holding your hand to make sure you get to where you need to be, having a world to explore with no guidance can feel pretty refreshing, and when you do work out where to go or what to do, it’s always rewarding. Then again, the structure of the overworld can often cause a great deal of endless wandering around, leading to unnecessary pacing problems which really take the fun out of exploration – one of the biggest pulls of a game of this nature.
Some kind of map marking feature would also have been greatly appreciated. The overworld isn’t exactly huge, but there were more than a few times where I came across a cave or area that required an item or skill I didn’t have yet, and upon finally obtaining said item or skill I then had to spend ages wandering around until I found the right cave again. A task made even trickier given very few distinguishing landmarks. If I could have marked these areas on the map for later use, the whole thing would have been much more painless, and made the overall gameplay experience a lot more enjoyable. The lack of this feature is especially unforgivable on the 3DS version of the game where the touchscreen is perfect for making notes.
The majority of gameplay sees you take control of Finn, with combat mainly consisting of simple one button sword attacks. As with Zelda, Finn can increase his health capacity by destroying bosses, and locating hearts hidden through the world and dungeons. By the final dungeon you’ll have amassed an arsenal fit for Link himself, as you wield a bananarang, bombs, a fire spell, and more. With a tighter selection of items than some Zelda games, you can be sure that every tool in your inventory is needed at multiple points in your adventure, rather than relegated to one use and then forgotten about.
Jake the Dog is demoted to more of an item status here, with his weird stretching abilities making him useful as a shield, hammer, and projectile deflecting catchers’ mitt. Eventually Jake takes a bigger role when you discover an item that allows you to swap between the two characters, which then leads to some genuinely intriguing puzzle designs, and at least one very clever moment in a later boss battle.
The dungeons themselves provide the real meat of Nameless Kingdom, offering up some serious challenges both in the enemies presented, and the environments themselves. With only four main dungeons, each has a unique aesthetic and feel so you’ll never feel like the game’s repeating itself. Again, anyone familiar with Zelda will know what to expect; bomb suspicious looking walls, find keys in chests, and push blocks from point A to point B. The dungeons mercifully offer a more logical structure than the overworld, and any backtracking or wandering about that you do in these sections will more than likely be because you missed something.
Of course every dungeon ends in a boss fight, each testing your puzzle solving abilities, and the understanding of your items in a high pressure combat environment. For the most part the bosses’ weakness won’t be immediately obvious, but at the same time it won’t be so vague that you feel cheated, and it’s up to you to scan through your arsenal to see what might work.
With only four main dungeons, a relatively small overworld, and a handful of sidequests and mini dungeons, Secret of the Nameless Kingdom can feel disappointingly short once you take away the time you spent aimlessly wandering about for your next objective. The odd bug can also frustrate, such as throwing your last bomb at a cracked wall only for it to clip through and do nothing, which happened on more than a few occasions. However, if you’re a fan of Adventure Time or The Legend of Zelda, you’re sure to find a lot to love about this game in spite of its shortcomings, and the game’s length is reflected in the price. If you happen to be a fan of both Adventure Time and Zelda then you’re unlikely to find another game that combines the world of Ooo and the gameplay of Hyrule in such an enjoyable way.
Version tested: 3DS