Platforms: XBLA | PSN
Developer: Borne Games
The Fancy Pants Adventures is an excellent series of free-to-play flash platformers designed by Brad Borne - and noticing his flair for quirky art design and slick mechanics, EA Partners snapped him up and charged him with producing a full downloadable title. We've been excited about it ever since we had a go at a recent EA showcase - and on the whole, it's a successful transition from browsers to consoles.
Players control a stick figure who sports some seriously snazzy trousers, and engage in a short and sweet campaign that's underpinned by a wicked sense of humour. In the vein of N+ and similar indie platformers, The Fancy Pants Adventure boasts floaty and slick mechanics that allow for chains of wall jumps, powerful slides and vertigo-inducing sprints up convex ramps. Momentum is key, and getting up enough speed to run up and leap from curving walls results in some fist-pumpingly awesome feats of physics-defying athleticism.
The level design is the standout part of the package. Each stage is packed with ramps, jumps and crazy geometry to take full advantage of the fluid and floaty mechanics, and linking these moves together is an absolute joy. However, rather than just consisting of linear corridors, each stage is full of hidden content such as life-giving squiggles, challenge rooms that award new items for your customisable character and stars that unlock new content (such as the downloadble flash games in their entirety). Hunting for these items is the main objective of the game and provides massive replayability beyond your initial two hour run... but be aware that it can become a crushing grind after trawling through each level a couple of times.
There's a case to be made that some of the levels are a little too complex, especially two thirds of the way through when you need to grab a melee weapon and backtrack through a watery labyrinth. A clunky autosave system does the large levels little favours, as it only kicks in at the end of each major level (not each stage) and means that you can lose huge amounts of progress if you need to stop playing mid-game. For a collect-em-up, I found this a bit surprising.
This melee weapon - a pencil, candy cane or hilariously random item - is also a bit of a curse once you've managed to find it, as using it in battle is clunky and boring to say the least. Standing still to charge attacks and finicky aerial aiming doesn't gel with the fluid platforming mechanics, and you'll find yourself ignoring it in favour of the slides and jumps whenever possible.
But you won't care once you get a few mates involved. The multiplayer is truly exceptional, as two or more players can cooperate to reach higher platforms, kick each other to new heights and generally mess around to their hearts' content. There's also an element of competition, though, as the player who collects the most squiggles gets first pick of a selection of items at the end of each level... which encourages everyone to occasionally put the boot in, steal the leader's squiggles and occasionally descend into no-holds-barred brawls in the middle of a stage. A competitive King Of The Hill mode also provides raucous old-school thrills that's fun for minutes or hours at a time.
Put simply: it's some of the best platforming multiplayer we've ever seen. You won't want to go back to the singleplayer once you've tried it.
Visually, The Fancy Pants Adventures is nothing short of beautiful. The minimalist art design harks back to Borne's flash roots, but it's colourful, eye-catching and genuinely charming. Naturally the sprites also look crisp on a big HD screen, and put his previous work to shame in terms of how fluid everything looks in motion.
Unfortunately this is where my praise has to come to a crashing halt, because sometimes we have to review a game that we deeply wish was still in beta. Games that are nearly great, but that with a little user feedback from players, could have been absolutely astounding. The Fancy Pants Adventure is one such title.
The cooperative story mode could - and should - have been the main focus of the experience, but a bizarre lack of drop-in mechanics make getting to it much more irksome than it ought to be. We can understand an indie platformer not opting to implement the terrifyingly complex netcode required for online drop-in multiplayer, but even local 'couch co-op' doesn't support it. To this end, if you want to play with a friend or two, you'll need to exit back to the main menu - and lose any unsaved progress thanks to the aforementioned limited autosaves. The camera is also not quite fit for task.
Online multiplayer is fairly pointless, I'm afraid. The whole objective of FPA is to collect and explore the gargantuan levels, but the camera unfortunately encourages us to sprint through the stages by killing off the slower players who take the time to stray from the beaten path. The major problem, however, is that only the host gets to keep any of his hard-earned accessories, squiggles and stars - and everyone else comes away with nothing to show for it. Expect a major case of squiggle envy and resentment after long sessions.
You also can't quit back to the house to choose a new level - or even change your costumes in online multiplayer. You'll have to quit all the way back to the main menu, end the game and start from scratch, which is a shockingly inconsiderate design decision.
Don't get me wrong: The Fancy Pants Adventures is still fantastic fun that's an absolute blast with three friends along for the ride. Just make sure that they're in the same room.
- Slick floaty platforming mechanics and intricate level design
- Charming art design and anarchic sense of fun
- Fantastic multiplayer...
- ...poorly implemented
- Melee combat is rubbish
- Eventually becomes a grind rather than a joy
The Short Version: The Fancy Pants Adventures is a great start to Brad Borne's console career, and provides some of the best couch co-op we've ever played. Sadly, its inescapable grind and multiple niggling flaws stop me from recommending it to anyone who doesn't regularly engage in local multiplayer sessions.