The Adventure Pals begins by introducing players to the plucky hero, Wilton, who finds his beloved Papa has been dad-napped by the dastardly Mr. B. All on Wilton’s birthday, no less. Mr. B has plans to turn all of the old people of Treevale into hot dogs, and it is up to Wilton to stop him. But Wilton isn’t alone. He has the help of his trusty giraffe, Sparkles, and his best friend Mr. Rock. Armed with the birthday sticker book from Mama, Wilton sets off across the world to track down Mr. B. As is to be expected in an adventure game, quirky antics ensue and Wilton easily finds himself traversing a variety of interesting environments. His journeys will lead the player across lush forests to sandy beaches, and even further destinations that are out of this world.
The art style for all of these worlds, and the motley crew of characters that live in them, are notably inspired by the Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear with a dash of kawaii thrown in for good measure. The worlds are brightly colored and well lit, even when they’re pulling players into the depths of the underwater city of Crablantis. The overworld is presented as a classic adventure game map, with various destinations becoming available as the NPCs scattered across the world offer up clues and quests as to where Wilton and his ragtag team of sidekicks should go in their effort to save Papa. Once a new level becomes available on the map, players can ride Sparkles the Giraffe to that level’s access point. Pressing A allows the player to see at a glance how their previous attempts at the level have panned out, what collectibles may be missing, and what their letter grade for the level is.
Each level plays as a platformer with smatterings of hack and slash action as well as the occasional puzzle to keep players on their toes. While Wilton does earn experience and gradually levels up over the course of a player’s time with the game, he and his pals are all perfectly capable of taking on every level sans upgrades. The mechanics that players learn early in the game, such as using Sparkles as a helicopter or a monkey wrench, are gradually built upon over time instead. Using Sparkles to turn a switch leads to solving puzzles where switches must be turned in order. Likewise using her long neck to reach for nodes in the air to propel yourself higher later evolves into the skill of using her neck as a zipline to glide over large gaps. This extends to the game’s combat, where you can manage to take on small mobs of enemies with simple button mashing or take your time to more carefully plan out your attacks and item usage. This ability to play the game naturally rather than having to grind for experience and upgrades increases The Adventure Pals’ accessibility. As a game that is geared toward kids and families, this is a huge selling point. Even younger children can master the platforming obstacles and occasional combat as it is presented with enough time, practice or help from a parent/older sibling courtesy of Co-Op mode.
While The Adventure Pals wears its kid-friendly persona with pride, it does a plenty fine job presenting a challenge to players of all age groups. Each of the aforementioned levels breaks down into five sections, with each section containing a hidden cupcake. One section will also contain a hidden sticker, of which there are forty-four in the world. Collectoraholics can rejoice and taking their time combing through each level to fully acquire all five cupcakes which they can exchange for costumes at the shop. Unlike many games that would require a player to replay every section in order to acquire a missing collectible, The Adventure Pals actually allows players to see which section of a level has cupcakes that have been acquired, and if a section’s cupcake is still missing they can choose to start the level at that specific section. For those that prefer speedrunning a game to collecting cupcakes, The Adventure Pals does cater to their liking, as well. Upon completing a full level (all five sections in order), players are given a letter grade for their performance. This breaks down as the time it took to complete the level, how many monsters were killed during that time, how many collectibles were retrieved, and how many times the player died.
For all of its quirky humor, super kawaii characters, and kid friendly accessibility, The Adventure Pals is not without its flaws. At one point the game featured a grievous bug where dying left the player with a blank screen and no choice but to force quit and restart – losing all progress that had been made in the level up to that point. That particular glitch has since been patched, but there were still quite a few others lurking in the later stages of the game. Some of the end stages for the Crablantis area were plagued with low framerates and screen tearing, making it incredibly difficult to push through puzzles that were very dependant on good timing. If a player were attempting to speedrun one of these later levels they might find themself just shutting down the game out of utter frustration. Every thing that works perfectly in the remainder of the game somehow managed to go out the window for 3 straight levels in Crablantis.
Most of the combat in The Adventure Pals is pretty straight forward hack and slash. Players can choose upgrades for Mr Rock through leveling up which allows him to block incoming arrows or to go on quests to bring back useful items, but ultimately taking on enemies is a matter of dodging when necessary and pressing X as fast as possible. For most of the game I felt as if the combat was fairly simple, with kids in mind, and generally fair and that my decision to tackle The Adventure Pals as a solo player had not affected that. That is until I reached the final boss. The first time, I felt as if the game was punishing me for making it to the end alone. The difficulty was ramped up exponentially and I legitimately felt as if I was disadvantaged by not having a second player to help me out.