I don’t know what Massive Monster were on whilst developing The Adventure Pals but – whatever it was – I know I want to try some. This is a game filled with such unadulterated joy that it has happiness leaking from its digital pores. It’s so sugary that is may as well be coated in marzipan. But does The Adventure Pals provide its player with their just desserts or is it too sickly sweet?
That plot is like the stand-up routine of Eddie Izzard brought to life. Evil bee-flying megalomaniac Mr B is turning people into hotdogs. He just kidnapped Wilton’s father, and now the abandoned boy is on a mission to get daddy back. On the way he’ll meet pant wearing whales, lead an uprising of sentient bread against their dinosaur overlords, and fight a boss made entirely from bits of cooked breakfast. It’s as supremely bonkers as it sounds and yet the script is tight enough – and funny enough – to bring this disparate game world together.
Gameplay wise this is your standard 2D platforming experience. There’s little novelty or anything that will surprise but what is here is confidently delivered. The game world’s aesthetics are vivid and lush even if the structure of the levels themselves are repetitive. Enemies are varied and offer an interesting challenge, while the environment sees the gradual introduction of the standard platforming tropes; moving platforms, zip lines, buzz saws, switches et al. Controls are precise, and your character responds efficiently to player input.
Combat meanwhile is simple but satisfying, Walter has a small weapon, but he knows how to use it. Each sweep of his blade is accompanied by a screen shaking ‘THWACK’ as enemies are sent bouncing away. Once Wilton is levelled up – thanks to some RPG lite elements – the dance of destruction that he and his pet giraffe make is something to behold.
Oh, didn’t I mention, Wilton has some ‘pals’ in the form of a giraffe and a rock. The giraffe enables him to hover by spinning its tongue like a helicopter and using its long neck to grasp hold of distant ledges. Whilst the small rock, appropriately named ‘Mr Rock’, can be hurled at both enemies and switches to great effect. These pals are visually delightful to behold, each containing an immense amount of character and their utilisation is extremely well implemented throughout the game.
The structure of The Adventure Pals revolves around visiting different levels from a central map hub. Different characters can be met in a variety of small villages who give the player simple quests. Most of these revolve around collecting rubies in each area. This cliché of both platformers and RPGs, ‘the fetch quest’, is teased by the developers in character dialogue. However, just because the developers are aware of the tradition and poke fun at it, doesn’t mean they don’t fall into the same trap. I found myself wishing that there was more purpose to my visit to each level and variety in what I was asked to achieve. Collecting rubies certainly becomes tedious long before the game reaches its conclusion.
It’s the two player drop in co-op play that differentiates The Adventure Pals from both its contemporaries and its retro brethren. At any point during the adventure a second player can instantly join the fun, which, as with most games, enhances the experience immensely. Rather than relying on a split screen, The Adventure Pals instead follows the character heading in the ‘correct’ direction. The other player left behind is instantly warped to the other avatar’s location to catch up. This lead to moderate problems, such as the wrong player sometimes being warped, to rather more serious ones, such as the warping causing both players to end up being trapped, unable to access a switch to open the next area in a level and thus forcing a restart.
There were other curious issues in co-op play that I found during the game. Both character models are virtually the same with a simple palette swap, making it very easy to lose track of who is controlling who, usually ending in one or both players inadvertently landing on some spikes. While characters can be customised by collecting cupcakes and feeding them to a cat who lays eggs with different hats inside – yes, you read that right – these slight visual changes do little to help mitigate the problem.
There’s also the intermittent issue of the second player losing all the items they have collected – such as health potions and bombs – when travelling between levels. Finally, the second character cannot initiate conversation with NPCs and is never acknowledged or referenced by any other character or the narrative itself at any point. It would have been nice to see the implementation of the second character better implemented into the story.
The inclusion of battle arenas is a nice touch but needed a little more developer time spent on them for an extra polish. The frame rate inexplicably drops on some of these arenas, even when only a few enemies are on screen at once. There were also examples of the game forgetting to spawn any more enemies, resulting in my having to quit out of the arena and starting again.
There are several issues marring The Adventure Pals that prevent it receiving my whole-hearted recommendation. Yet, despite these problems, I very much enjoyed my time in its zany embrace. Its quirky characters, breezy story and colourful game world proved to be enchanting, while its solid platforming and combat mechanics, in conjunction with local co-op play, kept me on my couch till the end of the story. If you have a pal to go adventuring with, then The Adventure Pals is well worth a look.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available on Xbox One, Switch & Steam