Publisher: Little Orbit
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS
Release Date: November 18, 2014
ESRB: E 10+
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game
Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom is the third WayForward-developed video game in the series in three years, but the first with newer publisher Little Orbit at the helm. It also represents yet another genre spin on the series; whereas Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?! was inspired by Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, and last year's Explore the Dungeon BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW was a riff on Gauntlet and dungeon-crawlers in general, Nameless Kingdom turns once again to Zelda for inspiration in its design—this time, the classic, top-down formula. What results is possibly the best Adventure Time game to date, even if it doesn't reach the Zelda series' lofty heights.
Let's get one thing straight—The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom isn't just inspired by Zelda; it could rightly be called a re-skinned Zelda game. There are many glaring similarities to the series in general, but even more so to one specific title—The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I won't list every similarity in this review, but WayForward definitely walks a thin line between paying homage to the source material and producing a very close reproduction of it. All that said, this isn't necessarily a terrible thing as far as gameplay goes; not at all, especially given the Zelda series' high pedigree. And given Adventure Time's general outlandish and spoofy nature, much of the game's design could be seen largely as an affectionate parody.
Nameless Kingdom's plot sees Finn and Jake traveling to the eponymous land at the bequest of Princess Bubblegum. It turns out the kingdom's three princesses have gone missing right before the coronation ceremony to determine which of them will be the ruler, and it's up to Finn and Jake to find them and make things right. Cliche story aside, I actually enjoyed the three princesses and their differing personalities a lot, especially the hippy dippy Slumber Princess, and the Lullaby Princess, who sings all of her words. Outside of the three new princesses and the Peppermint Butler (who acts as a sort of royal officiary), all other characters are basically familiar faces from the TV show that you'll encounter around the Nameless Kingdom.
The whole overworld is laid out in a somewhat similar fashion to Hyrule in A Link to the Past, where the main castle is dead center in the middle of the map; only three different areas surround it here, though. And much like the aforementioned game, only part of the overworld is available to explore at first as Nameless Kingdom follows the same system of gradual progression and unlocking areas through the use of new abilities and tools that the Zelda series is known for. In this aspect, the game succeeds extraordinarily well; there are enough characters, hidden areas, and sidequests (usually fetch quests) to keep things relatively interesting for the most part. The only issue is that I regularly found it difficult to figure out what the game wanted me to do in order to proceed to the next area or dungeon; it was only after scouring the entire available area and seeing much of everything that I was able to determine exactly what to do. There are few hints available and such, which the game definitely needed at times.
Dungeons themselves (of which there are four altogether) play out exactly in the same formula as Zelda dungeons do. You'll explore different rooms to find keys that unlock doors elsewhere, fight and defeat all of the enemies in certain rooms so that the door unlocks (or so that a chest appears), push boxes onto switches that deactivate spikes or barriers, and more. There's even a unique skill that Jake will learn in each that will help Finn get past an obstacle that he might not have been able to pass by before. And, of course, there is a map, compass, and boss door key to be found too. That said, the dungeons themselves aren't half-bad; they don't quite have the same memorable quality that some Zelda dungeons do, but Wayforward could have done a lot worse.
While the game does a competent job of imitating Zelda's gameplay, the best aspect of it is its representation of the Adventure Time world. There's much more interaction with different characters from the show than in previous titles and they're all fully voiced by the show's voice actors, which really helps to sell the experience of being in that world. It also nails the humor and attitude of the show as well; there are a number of great moments in the game that are pretty hilarious, from a teddy bear rave cave to many of the inane things Lullaby Princess and Slumber Princess say, riffs on classic Zelda tropes, Marceline's interesting cameo, and much more. The whole game feels like it could be an episode of Adventure Time, and that's a great thing to see.
On the downside, some assets are re-used from last year's less-than-stellar Explore The Dungeon BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW, including most character sprites, enemy sprites, and items, though the environments are all-new. Character sprites in particular still have a somewhat pixelated look to them, even in the console version, which makes me think that the lead version being developed was the 3DS version. In fact, the game looks to be built on the same exact engine as Explore the Dungeon's, which is understandable given the short amount of development time between games, but somewhat disappointing as the two do look extremely similar because of this.
In the end, Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom is easily the best of the three Adventure Time titles that have come out on major consoles and handhelds thus far, even if its gameplay and design doesn't reach the Zelda series' level of greatness. It's entertaining, humorous, and there's a surprising amount of secret areas to explore and sidequests to take on in the overworld, which makes uncovering all of The Nameless Kingdom's secrets a lot of fun. In fact, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it by the time the credits rolled. That said, if you're merely looking for a great Zelda experience, you may want to hold out for the next Zelda title in development for Wii U to release, but if you're a fan of Adventure Time itself and want a fairly good game that represents the show well, you may find a lot to like here.
+ Great voice-acting and presentation
+ Great use of Adventure Time characters and gags
+ There are a number of secret areas and sidequests to undertake, which help give the game more depth and exploration.
- Some reused assets from the last game
- Game doesn't always make it obvious what you should do or where you should go.
Overall Score: 7 (out of 10)
Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom is the best Adventure Time game so far, and a competent, if uninspired, Zelda clone. But what it lacks in unique gameplay design, it makes up for with its great presentation, humor, and interaction with different Adventure Time characters.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.