If you’re a big mobile gamer, you’ve probably played more running games than you can shake a sneaker at. Whether it’s side-scrolling or behind the back, the App Store is full of unimaginative examples of the genre. Because of this crowded market, there are quite a few games in the genre that depend on a gimmick, particularly if they don’t have a popular character or license to lean on. Adventure Land (Free), in most respects, is a pretty by-the-numbers side-scrolling infinite runner. You run towards the right, shooting or jumping over obstacles, collect coins, and pick up the occasional health pick-up. Things go faster and get more hectic the longer you play, seeing how far you can get. Adventure Land has a gimmick, though, and it’s a truly cool one. In fact, it’s probably the most interesting gimmick I’ve seen in a runner in quite a long time.
When you first start the game, three cards are laid out in front of you, with the game encouraging you to tap the cards to reveal your fate. When you do, you’ll see that the cards all have an adjective or noun on them, such as ‘parachute’, ‘ninja’, or ‘vegetarian’. The cards are randomly pulled from a pool that increases in selection the more you play. Whichever cards you draw determines the traits of your character for that run, and those traits have a real effect on how you play the game. For example, our parachuting vegetarian ninja up there will be able to fire powerful shuriken, open up a parachute to glide after jumping, and will take damage if he or she eats a meat-based health pick-up. Some of the effects are advantageous, some are flat-out detrimental, and others can be both, depending on the situation. You don’t get to choose what you’re dealt, you only get to deal with it.
The controls are pretty simple, with a touch on the left side of the screen causing you to jump and a tap on the right causing you to shoot, with a few other optional controls based on specific cards, such as tapping the jump area to flap your wings in mid-air if you have them. Your runs will earn you two things: coins and experience. Coins can be used to add up to two more traits to your hero before you start or to reroll any cards you don’t want. Experience goes towards level-ups which unlock new cards for your collection. There is a premium currency in the game that allows you to skip to your next level-up and save one combination of traits that you really like. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to earn that currency in-game, so you’ll have to go the IAP route if you want access to the ability to save your character’s traits. On the positive side, buying any IAPs at all removes the ads from the game, so you could probably justify a one dollar bag of gems as your purchase price for the game if you enjoy it.
Adventure Land has a bright and cartoony look to it, with plenty of absurd-looking enemies to keep the mood light, as if there were any danger of a game potentially starring a leafy hopping diabetic mobster getting too heavy. The frame rate gets a bit dicey when there’s too much on screen, even on an iPhone 5S, which really shouldn’t be happening in a game that looks this simple. Most of the time, things ran smoothly enough, though, and the slowdown didn’t necessarily ruin any of my runs, even if it wasn’t that pleasant to look at. Overall, I really enjoy the charming atmosphere that runs through this game, with the graphics being just one part of that.
You can take a few hits before you die, depending on your traits of course, but when you do, you’ll be presented with a goofy-looking headstone inscribed with an epitaph describing your character and their manner of death. My favorite one so far is when you’re playing a vegatarian and lose your last heart by collecting a meat health pick-up. Your headstone will read that you died from vegetarian guilt, which actually made me laugh out loud when I read it. The music is, to tell the truth, kind of annoying. I can see what they were going for with it, but it’s just kind of loud and obnoxious. Luckily, you can turn it off in the options menu.
Aside from sound options, though, the rest of the bells and whistles are slim pickings. No Game Center achievement support, which is a shame because I could imagine some pretty amazing achievements to go with this game. As far as I can tell, you just run through the same area every time, too, though as you get farther, obstacles and enemies change. Make no bones about it, the game is squarely hanging its hat on its chief gimmick. Still, that gimmick is so interesting and thoughtfully implemented that even with everything else riding the line of mediocrity, Adventure Land is well worth your time to check out.