You’ve got a pal in me.
Whether they enact power fantasies through gritty wars or entail saving the world from the brink of destruction, some games could be said to take themselves a little too seriously. For The Adventure Pals, on the other hand, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
This antidote to austerity features a young boy, his pet rock, and his best friend Sparkles the giraffe on their quest to stop a cliched villain called Mr B. from kidnapping old people – your dear ol’ Dad included – and turning them into hot dogs. Why hot dogs? I haven’t the faintest.
If this wasn’t zany enough, their mission takes them across worlds from toxic sewage dumps to the lost city of Crablantis and even the moon. As a classic platformer, however, the Adventure Pals feels decidedly retro. Oddly enough, I had flashbacks of playing Superfrog on the Amiga.
Yet to say that there are no original twists to the genre’s formula would be doing it a disservice. Level mechanics range from arcade machine-controlled bumblebee platforming to flying cats you need to rescue and put safely back to bed, to popping yourself out of toasters to reach higher platforms.
Level design is iterative, gradually adding in more of these bits and bobs rather than truly mixing it up. This gives them the tendency to lean towards repetition. On the plus side, each level is split into bitesize, five-minute-long stages which avoids them ever feeling like a slog. It also makes them the perfect format for tackling portably on the Switch.
Traversal through these levels is blessed with a diversity of movement, from helicoptering to wall jumps and rope sliding, and even lassoing hook points with Sparkles the giraffe. There’s also rudimentary combat. You’ll battle adversaries such as anthropomorphic hot dogs (which turn back into OAPs upon defeat), spear-wielding dinosaurs and slime monsters that pelt you with their gunge minions. Dispatching them is usually a simple affair of mashing the attack button, though, save for a few tougher baddies which necessitate dodging now and then.
This is endemic of a persistent issue with The Adventure Pals: it’s a little too easy. Levels are straightforward despite their smorgasbord of bizarre trappings. The platforming itself demands very little finesse. An unfair comparison, perhaps, but I felt this all too keenly after Celeste.
Whilst enemies and traps are plentiful, so too are health potions. In a needlessly generous concession, these revive you automatically when your life meter drains to zero. I think I died just once throughout my adventure with the pals – and only due to outright carelessness on my part.
Collectable cupcakes and sticker packs are a welcome diversion but are almost always hidden in plain sight. Upgrades add neat little bonuses like passive attacks from your pet rock, magnetism towards coins and XP orbs and a bigger item bag. These are fun to earn but the upshot is, of course, that you become ever more powerful.
There’s the option of two-player co-op, which is fitting for a game about pals going on adventures. In practice this is serviceable but the platforming format isn’t significantly enhanced by drafting in a second player. Worse, my real-life pal and I managed to break the game within five minutes. As he progressed through the level a wall closed behind him, but because I was exploring elsewhere he was teleported out to my location – leaving us both stuck twiddling our thumbs outside. Needless to say, this cut our session short.
The odd technical niggle aside, The Adventure Pals is endlessly endearing. Everything is wonderfully animated, from the tongue waggle of Sparkles leaning out of your backpack to the rainbow confetti that rains down as you leap around. Enemies puff themselves up for a fight with bravado; particularly amusing when said enemy is a giant hot dog. This soon deteriorates into comical fear when you pummel them into submission, their eyes bulging out of their sockets as if straight out of a Looney Tunes episode.
The characters you meet throughout your quest are loveable. Just one example is a whale suffering from low self-esteem. As soon as you find her a hilariously undersized bikini to wear, she beams with confidence. Dialogue sports a light-hearted and self-aware sense of humour that’s deeply infectious. Between this and the chirpy – and at times uplifting – soundtrack, you’d be hard-pressed to play without a smile on your face.
The Adventure Pals is a solid throwback to classic platformers that’s elevated by bags of personality. I just can’t help but think that more challenging puzzles and platforming feats would have given it a stronger impact.