A few weeks ago a new Adventure Time video game was released, based on Pendleton Ward's award-winning series. I realize that the show has a rabid fan base, eager to buy up every last bit of Adventure Time paraphernalia they can get their paws on, but I would advise gamers and casual fans alike to leave this one on the shelf. It's not that Finn & Jake Investigations is the most hideous crock of licensed shit you can force yourself to sit down in front of—and to begin listing the worst offenders here would take us well into next week—it's just that it gets so dull, so fast. Which, for a game based on one of the brightest, most colorful and fantastically imaginative animated productions the 21st century has seen, is absolutely criminal.
But there's precedent to appreciate, which in turn tempers expectations. Investigations is the fourth major video game based on Adventure Time, and not one of them has come close to representing a worthy companion game to the show. The best game of the four is probably the first, Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!, which mixed top-down map wandering with 2D sequences of jumping and fighting. The other two are better tossed into the Sea of Sure Death than slipped into a games console. Investigations avoids a dropkicking into the wet stuff, but at times it sure comes close to receiving a swift yet firm boot to the ass.
Firstly, it's worth noting this isn't a full-price, "premium" title that's going to show off the capabilities of your console of choice. There, said it, disclaimer-ed. But all the same, Investigations is for the most part an ugly game that likely wouldn't push the PS2's emotion engine. It adopts a 3D approach for its visuals and comes up short in almost every respect, save for the palette, which is as retina stinging as the cartoon. The models never look right, lip synching is non existent, environments are limited and at times downright bland, characters just disappear off the screen once their role is at an end, and it's sometimes incredibly difficult to notice important items or locations on the screen, and interact with them once they're spotted, thanks to janky detection—a problem given the nature of this game.
Which I should probably explain, really. Investigations is essentially a point-and-click puzzle game where clues are found around the game world and used in conjunction with other characters and/or objects to progress each of the game's five stories, or cases. Sometimes these pick-ups need to be combined, so as to make one useful tool—you won't be able to paint a friendly NPC the colors of a penguin before you combine brushes with paint cans in your inventory. Solutions are occasionally incredibly unintuitive, leading to the random mashing together of items in fussy menus until something sticks. Need to clear a fire wolf from a basement? You're going to need some handlebars. If that all sounds fairly Monkey Island-y to you, bingo, you've gone and got it—fist-bump yourself, algebraically. It's just a shame that the show's humor isn't transferred to elevate Investigations' rudimentary gameplay.
There are smiles to be had across Investigations' ten-hour duration (you may finish it quicker, but I spent a lot of time missing obvious items, revisiting areas to scour for clues that weren't there, either because I'm an idiot or because the game really doesn't make itself clear), but no proper laughs. I'd not seen South Park in years before playing 2014's RPG based on the show, The Stick of Truth, but I howled hard in the face of its scatological humor. That's an adaptation that nailed its source lateral perfectly. For me, the funniest moment of Investigations was probably when I used Ice King's stinky pants as a stretchy catapult, to launch a slice of mushy pizza found under an easy chair into the beak of an errant penguin. I smirked, I guess, just as I did every time a penguin went "wenk" (because I'm British and it's almost rude). So there is fun here, just a little, but it's so cack-handedly conveyed. The show's original voice actors naturally struggle with a stunted script, while the player constantly has to overlook lazy stuff, like characters not facing each other when in conversation, in order to visualize what this game could have been. A little more love, a little longer in testing, and who knows.
When you're not pushing Finn (the human), always followed by Jake (the dog) although you never directly control him, into every extremity of every new area, so as to maximize your chances of picking up a vital clue, you're engaging in button-mashing combat sequences that rarely feel necessary, outside of lightly puzzle-based boss battles. I understand that fighting almost needs to be an element of any Adventure Time game—the show is at least partially inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, which I believe has its share of stabbing and the like—but here it's uncomfortably shoehorned into place. There are some cool powers that Finn can call upon, depending on which sword he's using (it's swapped for newer, better blades as you progress), and stringing enough hits together sees the pair team up for some special attacks; but it's all so risk free that every new "combat time" becomes more chore than challenge, however much loot you come away with.
There are some story beats in Investigations that link to season six of the show, most obviously a case involving Lumpy Space Princess, which is nice; and all of the characters you'd ever want to appear in an Adventure Time game duly show up, even the massive jerk that is Magic Man. But it's box-ticking stuff, really: familiar faces deployed to play hollow roles upon stages made of popping candy. Younger gamers and air-headed adults might enjoy the "random" side to certain situations, and chuckle lightly every time somebody says "dog buns," but unless you really are entirely too far gone in your Adventure Time obsession, and couldn't give a crap whether a video game's good or just does enough to not make you want to punch a hole through your TV, you don't need this. It's more mediocre than mathematical, sorry.
Adventure Time: Finn & Jake Investigations is out now for pretty much every contemporary platform on the face of the planet, but was tested for this feature on Wii U. Because it's nice to play something new on the Wii U, isn't it?
Follow Mike Diver on Twitter.