Dog: a man’s best catapult
What time is it!? If your answer to that question is not immediately and resoundingly, “Adventure Time!” then I have some good news and some bad news. On one hand, Jumping Finn Turbo‘s menagerie of in-jokes and references is likely to fly haphazardly over your head. On the other, flying haphazardly overhead as the titular Finn still makes for a vibrant pick-up-and play experience.
As it so often does in the surreal Land of Ooo, trouble has struck. And yet again, it’s the dastardly Ice King at the center of it all, having just absconded with the fair Princess Bubblegum. Naturally, it’s up to the Finn the human and Jake the (talking) dog to spring into action and get her back. It’s the prototypical plot of Cartoon Network’s hit series, and one which has been trotted out before in a less than stellar mobile offering. In returning to the well, does the company give their interactive tie-in content a kick in the pants?
Where gameplay is concerned, absolutely. I mean, Jumping Finn Turbo is all about pants-kicking. Or shorts-kicking, at the very least. Try after try, you’ll launch Finn into the air with a swift canine boot to the behind from Jake, attempting to keep him up there as long as possible as he soars towards the Ice King’s mountain keep. Allies in the good fight come in the form of offbeat references from the Adventure Time universe, including Princess Bubblegum’s wispy, flying “rainicorn,” futuristic “Robonauts, and plenty more. Dotted randomly across the sky, each one gives Finn some extra height to stave off his free fall. Meanwhile, Jake’s there for more than moral support with a recharging air kick, and a last-ditch bounce before Finn hits the ground, which can be activated once per round.
At its best, the game bottles the same energy as its clear inspiration, Burrito Bison. There’s a wonderful core tension at work between the fact that your overall goal is to fly as far as possible, and the truth that you’re hurtling toward the ground with quickening inevitability. The result is a constant sense of desperation to stay afloat; desperation which turns incrementally to hope as you careen randomly into bouncy clouds or hop a brief ride on a passing meteor.
While some may criticize the limited interactivity, I feel like that’s part of the point. When you only have control enough to give a brief lift, or make one clutch save, the choice of when to intervene becomes its own deceptively strategic metagame. Jumping Finn Turbo nails that quintessential mobile game feeling of “one more try” precisely because it creates these feelings. If only I had waited until…Maybe next time I’ll get a better mix of…
The issue is that this is the game at its best. After every round, your distance, height, enemies destroyed, and length travelled all convert to spendable stars. Far from feeling like an option, however, it quickly becomes apparent that upgrading all of the game’s floating allies is necessary to boost their appearances on screen and abilities to a level that isn’t pitiful. The result is a bizarre, unnecessary chunk of grinding that ultimately stands in between you and a substantial play experience. It feels something akin to helping Cartoon Network craft the playing field with your sweat equity.Arguably, it would have been much smarter to offer a full field of allies from the get-go, and devise a creative stable of power-ups and items on which stars could be spent. What I think was intended to be a new approach to the upgrade system feels in practice like an attempt to fix something that isn’t broken.
The same rings true of the achievement system, which is inexplicably sequestered off one achievement at a time. Miss the chance to pop five penguins as you play? You’ll have to wait until that achievement cycles back if you want to focus on it again. Meanwhile, nothing shows up in any discernible order, so you could easily find yourself staring down a request to travel 210 miles per hour before you’ve snagged the achievement for travelling 140. Combined with the rough goings early on, these would-be clever gauntlets sometimes feel like unfair chores. It’s particularly odd, too, in that the game has an endless mode once you’ve reached the Ice King’s castle; there was no need to split achievements up like this to pad for length.
Despite the missteps, though, Jumping Finn Turbo still has me itching to pick up my iPad and go another five or ten rounds with it. The concept may not be entirely original, but the world wrapped around it most definitely is, delivering laughs for fans and newcomers alike in the ceaselessly optimistic way only Adventure Time can. How rhombus! (Seriously, watch this show.)