If you’re a parent of a young PAW Patrol fan, you will know that PAW Patrol: The Movie (rather than the game) is a bit of a glow-up. Previous PAW Patrol movies have been TV episodes, stretched to thirty minutes or so, and – man – were they a struggle to watch at the cinema. In an attempt to make the trip worthwhile, they were padded with episodes for other shows, so you were effectively handing over cash to watch a series of adverts. But PAW Patrol: The Movie is a proper movie with actual money spent on things like visual effects, a new look for the pups, and voice actors you might recognise.
With all the extra money chucked in the movie’s direction, you’d expect the game to follow suit. The games themselves have been ‘on a roll’. Last year’s PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay felt like a leap on from PAW Patrol: On a Roll, with explorable 3D environments and the ability to play cooperatively with one other player. So, the clumsily named PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls makes further improvements, right?
Let’s just say that the pandemic has not been kind to the development of PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls. It’s either that, or it being tied to a proper theatrical release, with a proper theatrical release date, has meant some cost-cutting, as this is – by some distance – the worst PAW Patrol game on the Xbox. If your child wants a PAW Patrol game, any PAW Patrol game, make it Mighty Pups.
Owners of the PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups game will recognise, well, pretty much everything really. The intro screens, the menus, the music and the structure of the levels are all the same, and the only difference is the character models. These models are in line with the movie, which adds some definition and fuzzy fur to the main characters. Keeping the toybox backgrounds but making the characters higher fidelity is an odd contrast and does jar, but we suspect fans of the movie will prefer that the pups were updated rather than not.
PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls is eight levels long, and each level starts with Ryder pitching a problem that two pups need to solve. You don’t get to choose your two pups, but every pup gets at least one level, so even the newbie, Liberty, gets a couple of runs out. Everest and Tracker are no-shows, though, and the pups don’t actually have any voice acting, as only Ryder gets voiced here. We’re racking our brains to remember whether this was the case in the previous games, but having no pup-voices robs the game of some personality. We want Marshall, damn it!
Then you’re chucked into a 3D level, with a crane’s-eye view of proceedings. As with previous PAW Patrol games, PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls knows its audience, and makes everything frictionless. There’s no combat or threat, so you don’t have to worry about panicked kids. There’s only one button, outside of moving, which is to jump, and the occasional ‘event’ can be completed without pressing a button (in the case of some driving games), or include patient, well-described tutorials that repeat every time you come across them. In comparison to the other PAW Patrol games, this iteration is even simpler, if that were possible.
It’s the PAW Patrol video game series’ greatest virtue, and it’s true here: they are rare in that they understand the limits of a younger player. Reading, multiple button presses and complicated objectives just don’t exist here. We’re not going over the top by saying they are probably the best platformers on the Xbox for the 3-6 age group, at least in terms of being able to leave your kids alone to play. LEGO games may be better, but they’re more stop-start and violent than the PAW Patrol games.
Since you have two pups in play at any time, PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls can be completely co-op. A second player can press Start and join in whenever they want, and that freedom – as a parent – is appreciated. While you can’t help out with the events, which are completely solo, you can still nudge and guide a younger player around the arenas as a second character.
The problem lies in the execution of the co-op. We played the campaign almost exclusively in co-op, and we were constantly finding ourselves getting left behind on the screen, as the game screen often won’t let you catch up. There are oddnesses here: once we left the screen, we found ourselves stuck in platforms and blocks, often sinking through the floor, and the other player couldn’t progress without us. Bugging out of co-op often helps, but not always, and we regularly had to quit the level to make any kind of progress.
That second character is similarly problematic on one-player. The AI of the second pup often can’t keep up, and it gets stuck behind scenery. But you’ll come across minigame sections that need the other pup, so you’re switching to them, only to find they’ve given up and have disappeared into cement. So the reset button gets pressed again.
Bugs run through PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls like a stick of rock. It doesn’t track your collectibles correctly, or show how many you have per level. Also, we found that, whenever something new was unlocked, the game would crash. Occasionally, we were able to back out to the main menu to resolve it, but often we had to restart the whole game. On a couple of occasions, we had to reinstall the game to bypass the issue. Towards the end of our time with it, we unlocked two characters at once, and locked ourselves out of the game completely: no reinstalls would resolve it. Luckily we had played enough to review it, but these hanging bugs absolutely dominated our time with PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls.
Loading times are a pain, too. For kids who hunger for instant gratification, the fifteen second-long waits for a level were enough to start fidgeting and play with something else. We played on Series X|S, so we can only imagine what those times are like on an Xbox One. The technical hiccups are inexcusable, mostly because PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls is near-identical to Mighty Pups. And this isn’t a game that pushes your system to the limits. It’s a game that repeats its ideas over the course of its eight levels.
And oh, the repetition. We found that our kids were less damning of how similar the levels are (although they did notice it), but me and my wife were dumbfounded by how lazy it all was. In the last two PAW Patrol games, you got to visit different terrains, like beach levels, canyons, jungles and ice levels. Some levels were sandboxes, while others were tight and more linear.
In PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls, the levels all smoosh into one. They are all set in Adventure City, which we perhaps should have expected, but that’s no excuse for every level having the same city backdrop, the same police cone ropes to jump over, awnings to bounce on, and crates to use as platforms. You wouldn’t be able to tell one level apart from the other, and the same is true of the layouts. They are all linear, so there’s no room for variation in where you are going. Whether through a lack of ambition, or learnings from the more open Mighty Pups levels, the levels have become numbingly simple and repetitive. It feels utterly rushed.
We’d at least give a few pup treats to the minigames, which provide something to do, and some depth beyond the one-hour long campaign. Pup Pup Boogie, a rhythm action game where the beats don’t match the music, is awful, but the other games are worth your time. Gone is the rubbish skipping rope game from Mighty Pups, and in comes a Time Trial game, where you jump through hoops within a time limit. The levels in the Obstacle Course minigame are miles better than in the previous game, too.
Step back and consider what PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls is offering, and there’s only one conclusion: it’s just not good enough. You will be consistently apologising to your kid that, yes, you will have to reset the whole level and start again, as it’s a festering bin of bugs. The levels are identikit, all set against the same city backdrop, which might be fine for an undiscerning four-year old, but it’s numbing as the co-op adult.
For a £34.99 release, it’s inexcusable. It manages the feat of being near-identical to 2020’s PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups release, while also breaking it, and making it less fun in every conceivable way. Where the movie feels like an evolution of the franchise, this feels like a step back into the primordial swamp. Play the other PAW Patrol games instead, please.
You can buy PAW Patrol The Movie: Adventure City Calls for £34.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S