Earlier this year, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany suggested that PAW Patrol had been cancelled. “We saw a few weeks ago,” Kayleigh said during a press conference, “that ‘PAW Patrol’, a cartoon show about cops, was cancelled.” Concern was such that it prompted Nick Jnr, the creators of PAW Patrol, to respond with the following tweet “No need to worry. PAW Patrol is not cancelled”. That tweet ratcheted up a stonking two hundred and eight thousand likes.
Is there a better example for the enduring popularity of PAW Patrol than that? Is there any another kids animated cartoon that would evoke such a frenzied level of concern about its possible cancellation? I don’t think so. Stands to reason then, that publishers Outright Games would want to follow up 2018’s PAW Patrol: On a Roll as soon as possible. And they have, this time with added super heroics, in PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay.
Approaching this review sparked quite a conundrum: How was I, a jaded and nearly forty-year-old gamer, going to review a game so heavily aimed at young children? My opinion matters little at the best of times, even less so when critiquing a game that isn’t remotely intended for someone of my age. I’ve been playing games since they came on cassette tapes, I am not going to have what it takes to approach a PAW Patrol game with an open mind and a fresh perspective. Then I had a eureka moment: why not play the game with my 4-year old son? I’ll let him decide on the qualities of the game simply by how much he enjoys playing it. Let’s hope I’m not inadvertently breaking any child labour laws.
PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay is a game of two parts. One side is played from a top-down perspective and is effectively a simplified collectathon platformer. Playable via local co-op, you must guide your pup around the level to reach the end where you’ll then have to do a spot of rescuing. There are no fail states and the only challenge comes from locating and collecting doggy biscuits and the occasional PAW Patrol badge.
At certain points, when a pup needs to use their abilities, a mini-game will be activated. These are basic and simple affairs with the player having to time a response; you’ll wiggle a thumb stick or spam a button press to ensure Rubble drills through rocks, Marshall waters flowers or Everest scales a wall. Despite the promise of super hero shenanigans, the Mighty Pups actually have a disappointingly minimal role in proceedings. Changing costumes doesn’t make them play any differently. Rocky may look like a budget-priced Green Lantern, but that doesn’t mean he can fly around and create green things at will. Instead, he’ll do all the exact same things he did before, just with slightly different mini-games.
The first thing that impressed we with PPMPSAB is that it’s a fun acronym, the second is how this game has been extremely well calibrated for a young player. Ryder, the pups human leader, clearly and concisely explains all the gameplay at several points throughout a level. My son required very little assistance from me in order to navigate the environment and figure out how to solve the mini-games. He also found the game “very funny and silly”, laughing hysterically every time he made Everest and her snow mobile crash into a rock or log during one snow mountain themed mini-game.
To an experienced player these mini-games can be seen as laughably simple and very cliched, but to a four year old they offered a decent challenge. There’s definitely a gentle learning curve and a nice challenge to be had, but as my son’s confidence confidence grew he even started skipping Ryder’s briefings to get straight to the action, figuring out how to solve the mini-games on the fly.
Paw Patrol also delivers with its bright, bold visuals and the pups have plenty of character. My son was delighted by the inclusion of all their respective vehicles, as well as both the Paw Patroller and Air Patroller making an appearance. He did notice that the song “sounds weird”, and despite this being a licensed title, it seems the developers decided not to go with the official music that plays when the pups slide down from the top of their base to reach their vehicles. This over-the-top track is one of the best bits of the TV show, so not featuring it in the game feels like it should be a crime.
PPMPSAB has a host of other problems as well, to the point that they are even obvious to a younger player. Invisible walls are everywhere. “Why can’t I go this way Daddy?” my son asked as Chase once more bounced off a whole lot of nothing, “The game says no” I replied. “The game says no” became something of a mantra during our time with the pups. Why can’t Skye jump up here? Why can’t I walk this way? Perhaps most unforgivably, why can’t I jump into the sea when at the beach? Developers Drakhar Studio haven’t even bothered to hide these invisible walls, they’re so plentiful and obvious that they’d have been better off surrounding a level with brick walls instead. A game that encourages you to explore and find all the pup treats whilst also preventing you from exploring is a frustrating contradiction for players of all ages.
Then there’s the lack of a separate screens during local co-op. All too often one of the players can get stuck behind an item of scenery whilst the other is trying to move through the level. The screen ends up locked in place, trapping an innocent pup and forcing them to spend the rest of their days behind a big rock. Quite why the screen doesn’t split or zoom out in these situations is beyond me. Loading times between levels are also butt-numbingly long on PS4, to the point that my son frequently declaring “It’s broken” as the animation on the loading screen froze for the umpteenth time before gradually, painfully, lumbering back to life.