It speaks volumes that Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure is a short game that took me a week to complete. Not necessarily because it’s difficult (which it can be), but because it’s hot garbage. It was hard to spend more than a few levels at a time with it, mainly because the irradiating awfulness of it just made us itchy.
Let’s put some bread on a crap sandwich. Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure actually presents itself reasonably well, in a ‘lost NES game’ kind of way. It gets bonus points for using the same half-and-half dialogue screens that Megaman used, and the 640×480 resolution does a decent job of making it look authentic.
It also has a character-swapping thing going on, where you can hop into an igloo and become a different dude with new abilities. There’s one that pogos on enemies, while another can stride into enemies without getting a mark. Knowing which character is needed can be a momentary head-scratcher. But we don’t want to go too overboard here, as levels are no more than a few screens in size, and you only get one character-change per level, so it’s not exactly Portal-like in intricacy.
There you go. Those are all the positives we’re giving it. Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure is getting a thin slice of bread on its sandwich and a wodge of filling.
Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure sets its stall out to be a ‘platform-puzzle game’. That means you’re chucked into a small 2D level, and you’re given the task of finding twenty dead fish. Why dead fish? Presumably to hide the stink. Once you’ve collected the twenty fish (with an optional ‘gold, dead fish’ as a hidden collectible), you’re whisked to a Super Mario 3-style game map, where you pick the next level. And so on and so on and so on until the burning wick of your patience reaches the barrel marked ‘rage quit’.
The moment that you pick up the pad and watch how Alfonzo responds, you’ll see why we’re at the end of our tether with him. It’s a mud cocktail of terrible collision detection, limp jumping, slippery platforms (because ice, duh), slow movement and pathetic attacks. That last one is a particular killer for any kind of enjoyment, as your three-pixel dagger requires you to get personal with your enemies. You often feel out of control and fragile, and the result is that you’ll be making mistakes without once believing it was your fault. Each mistake equals death, and each death sends you to the start of the level.
In almost every instance, the puzzles are mindless. There’s no unravelling of what you need to do here; it’s all obvious. But you’re hitting your head against pulling it off. You’re strolling into enemies, accidentally breaking blocks that you needed as a staircase, or just diving to your doom like a sad Tom Daley.
Level 2-8 is a fudging-great emblem of this. You have to push a walrus onto some spikes, and then pogo on it to nudge it further across the spikes. With the walrus as a (presumably screeching, terrified) platform, you can grab the floating, dead fish, while dodging a seagull that chucks its eggs nihilistically as you pass by. Sounds macabre but makes a dour kind of sense, right? Well, it’s borderline impossible. Pogo-ing on the walrus randomly sends it left or right, so you’re hoping for enough coin-flips in your favour to get it far-enough right to reach the end of the spikes. How could this possibly have got a tick from the person with the clipboard?
On the uneasy foundations of poor controls and wet puzzles, Alfonzo is a little piggie who decides to build his house out of questionable design decisions. More and more weird ideas are chucked on top, and they almost all fizzle and sputter. Let’s give you some examples.
The Super Mario 3 world map doesn’t let you return to previous levels to play them. You can only play the next level on your path. If you missed a gold fish on a level, then – screw you – you can’t go back to find it. It’s forever left behind: a rotting totem of your complacency. You might wonder what the point of adding the map was in the first place, since there are no divergent paths or backtracking, and you’d be correct to wonder.
One of your characters is ‘The Girl’. She’s called ‘The Girl’ because she’s the only character that the developers have bothered to make female, and they’ve cheekily, winkily acknowledged the fact by calling her ‘The Girl’. What’s her ability? She can jump high. Bfffrrrpppt.
Go on, let us have one more. On the title screen, you have the option for a two-player battle mode. It’s the shoddiest of shoddy Smash Bros. games, with points scored for knocking a mate off a platform with your inadequate dagger, or catching the dead, gold fish that slop to the ground. It’s obviously awful, but it’s amplified by the inability to actually be able to quit. Set a high time limit or point score, and the only way to stop is to hit the Home button and restart the game. Or play it out to the end of that wretched time limit.
These examples are scattershot, but they give you an idea of what it’s like to play Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure. At its centre, it’s a horribly stiff, limp yet slippery platformer. Some reasonable puzzles are added around it, sure, but Alfonzo has so few moves, and there’s only one character change per level, so the solution can only be simple. With the answer presenting itself so readily, all that’s left is executing on it, but your shoelaces are tied together and your hands are covered in bubble wrap.
At the start of Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure, it’s not quite clear where Bob, the ‘damsel in distress’, went. We can imagine him walking away sheepishly, looking back at the puzzle-platformer he was leaving behind and sighing, sadly. That’s because this arctic adventure is a dismal, weary one, and Bob’s only option was to never think about it again.
You can buy Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure for £4.19 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S