Adventure Time is a surreally funny cartoon, but its various attempts to cash in on its popularity with games have always left me underwhelmed. Unfortunately, Adventure Time Puzzle Quest does nothing to change this trend – providing, as it does, a well-designed but uninspired reinterpretation of Puzzle Quest.
C’mon grab your friends
For me, the match-3 RPG series Puzzle Quest hit gold with its first release and since then has slowly been watering itself down with squeals and licenses. Adventure Time Puzzle Quest is just the latest of these, taking the squad based formula seen in the Marvel Puzzle Quest, and transferring it to the Adventure Time mythos.
My belief that the original is still the best, does nothing reduce the core gameplay's appeal. Despite the match-3 puzzles being fairly standard (with you able to switch gems one space horizontally or vertically to make chains of three or more), the combat element mixes things up significantly.
You have a team of three heroes who battle another team of three characters - controlled by the AI or another player. Each member takes it in turns to attack, with their damage dictated by the characters level, abilities, and the number of gems matched.
The most important factor in this is careful use of characters special abilities. These charge during each round as you create combos, but once ready picking the right time to unleash them can make the difference between success and failure. Princess Bubblegum, for example, can heal herself and also add a healing potion to the board to be used by other characters, while a character like Jake will perform a dance to damage opponents and attract their attention.
Within only a few rounds, not using these skills properly will see you dying prematurely – because, despite its childlike aesthetic Adventure Time Puzzle Quest, is far from easy. It’s not overly complicated, but these special abilities add tactics that keep you engaged as you thinking about which of your opponents squad to attack next and when to use your skills.
A very distant land
Where Adventure Time Puzzle Quest struggles against the original Puzzle Quest is the focus on squads. In the original game you had one character, but were able to slowly develop them and their abilities by expanding their castle and capturing creatures to ride into battle. These deeper RPG trappings were mirrored by an expansive story, but both are lost in Adventure Time.
While most of the same abilities are available, they are now attached to specific characters. This is clearly to place an emphasis on the cartoon's familiar cast, but it waters down the progression and means that you can’t pick your squad based on the characters you like and instead must select by abilities and level.
On the plus side, this character focus does lead to some lovely presentation. Each round has squads square-off in animated battles above the field of gems, pummeling each other with magic, swords, and over-sized boots on extending legs. Cut scenes retain a similar level of (all be it static) presentation as they layout their comical quest lines. Unfortunately, there is none of the show's fantastic voice work, but the writing is sharp and in keeping with the series.
The other notable change to the formula since the original is that there is a definite focus on free-to-play. As previously stated, the game gets hard fast, but it also has a tendency to use the road blocks this creates to drive purchases. You can unlock better characters, items to improve squad members, and consumable items (like potions) to help you through individual rounds. Of course all of this is available through standard play, but the time it takes unlock them can be a grind.
The fun will never end
Adventure Time Puzzle Quest keeps the tight gameplay the series is known for, but in a state that makes it feel significantly less involved than the original. But, while this may put off the limited number of Puzzle Quest fans, it makes a more accessible character driven experience for the legions of Adventure Time fans – and if that means more people will experience this series that can only be a good thing.