Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW is one of those games that had the potential be crazy amounts of fun. Good source material with the Adventure Time license, a nice visual throwback to the 16-bit era, and what seemed like the perfect genre selection. Despite all of this, Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon is a slow, repetitive, mundane mess of a game with ho-hum items and uninspired gameplay. What went wrong? Pretty much everything.
The story in Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW goes something like this: Princess Bubblegum keeps prisoners in a Secret Royal Dungeon far below the surface. Unfortunately, it looks like some of those ne'er-do-wells are escaping. Who does she call in to help? Finn the human and Jake the dog! Oh, and Cinnamon Bun and Marceline want to help, too. Because... I don't know.
Starting on the surface, talk to the princess to get your first quest. Next, dive into the dungeon, fight some enemies, pick up some loot, emerge victorious, spend your treasure, then do it all again, this time fighting a few floors deeper. This is the premise behind many old school dungeon crawlers, but the difference is they actually do interesting things with the genre instead of just skim the surface.
Adventuring requires attacking, and Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon gives you a few ways to fend for yourself. You have a standard attack, which varies in power and speed between characters. You can pick up sub-weapons that range from useless bamboo sticks to almost-as-useless kitty cannons, with a few purposeful items thrown in from time to time just to make sure you're paying attention. Each character has a special ability, but those skills are so lackluster they don't even matter. Jake can stretch across gaps. Marceline can float across gaps. Cinnamon Bun can shove enemies while blocking. Finn can equip extra items. Crazy fun-sounding, right? Bet you can't wait to float across a gap.
Up to four local players take control of the characters and engage in repeated dives into the dungeon's seemingly identical levels. You start on Floor 1 and work your way down to Floor 100, encountering more dangerous foes the deeper you go. Boss battles happen at regular intervals, and you can take your loot and run every five levels, returning to the surface to cash everything in before doing it all over again.
One of the major design issues Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon suffers from is failing to give players motivation. Maybe it's commentary on the game's title we weren't clever enough to get, but a player should always know why they're playing. Maybe it's to see what happens next in the story. Maybe it's to upgrade a weapon, gain a level, discover a new environment, or tackle some beast that has been pestering you for ages. Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon has none of that, leaving you to fight the same enemies in the same levels for the same dull pieces of loot. Having collectible sub-weapons and upgradeable stats is an attempt to add meaning to each dive, but nothing about them is compelling in the least. Why are you exploring the dungeon? The honest answer is "I don't know". An even more honest answer is "I don't care".
That loot you picked up? Spend it before you go out on an adventure again, otherwise the Princess takes it all for "taxes". You can't build any sort of treasure cache to upgrade things, forcing you to fight just long enough to buy a better skill, then losing the leftovers and getting very little for your trouble. It's a failed attempt at making Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW seem "hardcore", but in practice it just makes you feel like everything you do is pointless. Attacking enemies has even been rendered moot, as you don't gain anything from smacking them around. Just fewer monsters.
Adding co-op to Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW doesn't really change much. Instead of one person exploring the dungeon and not knowing why, two, three or four people are exploring and not knowing why. You can tackle enemies together, not that you'd need to, but you can. Loot is gathered individually but can be shared on the surface, which is actually a thoughtful way to handle things because you get to physically hand things over, proving you're all just a big bunch of friendly friends. Some fun might accidentally be had while everyone teases the game, but when you watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 and laugh so hard your appendix hurts, you don't thank the bad movie they were riffing. You thank your silhouetted buddies.
It's sad to say, but Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW just doesn't manage to pull itself together to be worth your time. If it lacked the Adventure Time license it wouldn't make the tiniest of splashes in the big wide video game pool. Another six months in development and it could have turned out all right, as the core ideas look great on paper. As it stands, most of the basic mechanics would have to undergo a major overhaul to extract any sort of fun out of this one. Sorry Finn, Jake. Maybe next time.
The Co-Optimus review of Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW is based on the Wii U version of the game. A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for review purposes.