There is perhaps no property on television more deserving of a good video game adaptation than Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time. After all, the tweens, adult nerds, and stoners of all ages who enjoy Adventure Time are constantly peppered with references to video games of yesteryear, an era Ward clearly has a great deal of affection for. So when presented with Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!, you'd be right to be excited. An Adventure Time video game co-written by Ward himself, developed by noted retro game enthusiasts WayForward, and featuring a design modeled after a classic Zelda game? It practically sounds like a dream project for fans, which is why the end result of Hey, Ice King! is perhaps more of a disappointment than it would be were it simply another unremarkable licensed game destined for the bargain bin.
Please do not mistake my meaning. In nearly every facet of its design, Hey, Ice King! is a completely competent action adventure game that seemingly has its designs most squarely focused on younger players. It's a lightweight adventure that sees the series' two main protagonists--confirmed human Finn, and the unnervingly elastic dog Jake--setting out on a quest to find out why vile series antagonist Ice King has stolen their garbage. "It's just garbage!" you might be shouting, if you're not a regular watcher of the show. But fans know that Ice King's obsession with princesses and the kidnapping of them is usually at the root of anything he does, which means that Jake and Finn must spring into action...even if it just means they're rescuing a princess constructed out of their own refuse.
Over the course of the adventure, you'll travel to a few different places on the map of Ooo, including the Candy Kingdom, Jake and Finn's bad ass tree house, and of course the icy mountains in which Ice King dwells. You'll also run into dozens upon dozens of familiar characters, ranging from the obvious to the obscure. No, not everyone's there, but considering this show introduces about six new characters per episode, that might be a bit much to expect.
The script for Hey Ice King! was co-written by Pendleton Ward, so it's no surprise that the show's distinct flavor of stream-of-consciousness weirdness is prevalent throughout. And yet, I often found myself missing...something. I found myself more often just mildly chuckling at the jokes in the game, versus the more laugh-out-loud quality of the show. I think it might have something to do with the lack of voice work. Adventure Time is a show that features tremendous voice actors like Tom Kenny and John DiMaggio saying tremendously silly things, and while you get snippets of their voices during specific conversation sections, most of the dialogue is just written. So much of what makes Adventure Time funny is the hyperactive goofiness of the characters and their interactions. You lose some of that in just reading the jokes.
Which isn't to say I'd expect a 3DS game to feature a full suite of spoken dialogue, mostly due to the obvious hardware limitations. But in lieu of an adventure that captures the full essence of the show, I'd at least hope the gameplay would pick up the slack. It doesn't.
It's not that Hey Ice King! plays particularly poorly. In fact, it's a relatively polished little game, fully functional in its design and cleverly laid out across wonderfully diverse looking worlds. The problem is what you end up doing over the course of the adventure, which ultimately amounts to very little. Again, this is a game that was designed with younger players in mind. Unfortunately, that translates to combat that borders on mindless, and quests that tend to involve a good bit of fetching.
I can handle a few fetch quests, but Hey Ice King!'s overworld design does it no favors. Taking more than a few cues from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, you'll be traveling around Ooo on a larger map full of dungeons, towns, and other landmarks. Often times you'll have to descend into a dungeon to get to other areas, meaning you'll be entering the same areas again and again. That would be fine, except that you have to fight the same enemies every single time you do this. Which, again, could be fine, except that the combat is so simplistic that it just becomes a bothersome chore to have to avoid/kill all these same bad guys again.
It's worth noting that things do pick up toward the second half of the game, as you discover new items and earn new abilities for Jake, whose elastic nature becomes progressively of more use. The trouble is, the game more or less ends right around the time you finally start feeling good about things. By the time the combat becomes more interesting and the dungeons finally become suitably challenging, you're pretty much at the last boss fight. This is a game you could pretty easily complete in about four or five hours, if you're not being super meticulous in your hunt for secrets and other obscure items.
All of this said, I can hardly bring myself to outright dismiss Hey Ice King!, especially for the more die-hard fans of the show. Whatever lackluster components it has almost lose out to the smiles one tends to get when seeing the sheer amount of visual detail poured into this game. Ooo is lovingly rendered here, and the character art and animation is really sharp. Unfortunately, visuals aren't everything, and the actual act of playing Hey Ice King! is something that cannot be ignored. Tempering your expectations, you may find Hey Ice King! to be an entertaining little diversion, especially if you're a younger player or just looking for an excuse to spend some time with your favorite characters from the show. Regrettably, those hoping for something a bit more involving from a gameplay perspective just aren't going to find it here.