There are remarkably few games made for the under 7s. Plenty of games say they are, but they aren’t – they rely on reading, perhaps, or complex button presses. Bringing up a pair of goblins, I’ve come to realise that making games for kids is an art-form, and only a few games have truly managed it: Mario Kart, Just Dance and PAW Patrol: On A Roll. Credit to Outright Games, as PAW Patrol’s first outing might have seemed pedestrian to the average player, but it was the holy grail of parenting: you could leave a kid with it and then run away to do things that normal people do.
PAW Patrol Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay is from the same team, but with an expanded vision. Instead of the extremely simple, one-way platforming of the first game, it attempts to bring 3D platforming to the younger crowd. That’s ballsy, as 3D platforming means plenty of new ways to get lost, fall off things, or generally not progress.
It’s a minor miracle, then, that PAW Patrol Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay absolutely nails the ‘daaaaaad, help me’ test. It’s a pretty confined 3D platformer that gives the illusion of space. While it does feature cliffs, they can’t be fallen from, and platforms are static and easy to jump onto. There are no enemies, camera controls or time limits, and collectibles give a mighty ‘bloop’ to indicate that they’re nearby. Play a level multiple times, and the collectibles you’ve gained are a translucent blue, nudging you to the ones you haven’t grabbed yet. It really is a lesson in what kids can or cannot achieve, and it’s clearly been playtested by swarms of brats.
Better still, PAW Patrol Mighty Pups is co-op. The first game was more of a pass-the-pad affair, so adding the ability for a parent or schoolmate to tag along is invaluable. The first player is always at the centre of the camera, so it can get a little awkward staying in their sphere of influence, but you soon learn to keep close. Both pups can do (almost) everything in the game, so you rarely feel like a second-class player as you explore. It’s just a nice, warm, bonding experience to be told what to do and where to go by your progeny.
There are some hiccups with the co-op, but they are minor. The platforming will occasionally switch to QTE-style sections for Mighty Pup abilities, and there are also Temple Run bits, where Sky or Everest switch between three lanes in an effort to collect pup treats. These sections are all forced single-player, yet there’s absolutely no reason why they couldn’t have been co-op. Lego The Incredibles managed two-player QTEs for example, and two pups could have done the endless runner bits. It’s a shame, as it always means someone has to sit out.
In PAW Patrol terms, the characters and world are reasonably well-portrayed and satisfying for a young’un. Everything looks spot on, and – although simple – it’s got a chunky, colourful, toy-look that’s unmistakable for the series. It sidesteps the original’s issues of over-using Rider (he doesn’t bark repeated instructions and grind your gears), and under-using pups like Tracker and Everest. They all get their screen time.
It is just as personality-less as the first game, though, presumably because voice acting is expensive and there are multiple regions to sell the game in. If you’ve watched the series, you will know that Marshall is the clumsy one, Rubble’s got a penchant for superheroes, Chase is nervous about being a leader, etc. None of that comes through, and the plots of the series are all boiled down to ‘X is lost, go find them’. It’s unsurprising, but it’s such a shame that the characters of the series don’t get to say anything. Favourites like Mayor Goodway and Captain Turbot turn up, but are mute.
Perhaps more surprising (and more noticeable to PAW Patrol fans) is the lack of the titular Mighty Pups. My daughter was all-in for being a superhero, yet 90% of the game is spent as the original, normal-powered pups. When you DO flick the switch and get powers, it’s almost always in scripted QTEs, so you never get the chance to unleash the Mighty Pup powers in a free environment. That’s absolutely crazy and a big omission, and it was something that got a pouty face from our children.
More for the parents than the kids is the lack of content on display. PAW Patrol: On a Roll had double the levels that Mighty Pups has, and On a Roll already felt quite slight. It should be said that the levels here are longer and more varied than in the original, but it still means a sub-two hour experience, even when collecting gubbins. Our kids don’t have a problem with that kind of repetition – we’ve watched Frozen 2 more times than any human should – but WE do. Playing co-op on the same seven levels, over and over, gets to be a chore. It’s an extremely light package, yet the price of the game is still at the upper end for a kid’s game.
There are minigames, more than the original offered, and they are a mixed bag. Some are ripped from the main game, so you’re just duplicating what you’ve already done with some extra difficulties. Other minigames are genuinely good but confusingly brief. A lot of work has gone into a Guitar Hero system yet there’s only one song to play, while an underwater exploration-thing is fun, but – again – there’s a solitary level to swim around. A jump-rope minigame is throwaway, while an obstacle course is the closest thing to replayable. They’re nice, but we didn’t come back to them much.
The ultimate test for Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay is what our kids thought about it. It got two thumbs up (it’s a complex system – two wiggling thumbs up is the top tier, so this sits just below it). While I, as the parent, can gripe about the lack of personality, lack of value and longevity, it’s water off our pups’ backs. Still, we can’t shake the nagging feeling that they won’t be playing it for long.
There’s plenty to commend in PAW Patrol Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It’s that rare example of a game that can be played by under-7s without help, and a strong co-op feature means that you can share Adventure Bay with them. Kids might not care, but it’s indefensibly slight for the price. Kids WILL care that they don’t get to play as the titular Mighty Pups for more than a few moments, though. It’s a long demo that kids will love for a time: if that’s enough for you, then go fetch.