To truly enjoy The Fancy Pants Adventures, you have to shake off whatever methodical and habituated strategies you've built up after years of playing platformers. Maybe you always go left when the path splits. Maybe you collect all the thingies -- squiggles and stars, in this case -- before you sense closure. Most games reward you for abiding by and smartly exploiting the rules, but this one's a little lax on enforcement. It doesn't always expect precision, never mind perfection.
Remember, you're playing as a guy who can't even be bothered to put on a shirt before he goes on a proper, possibly calamitous adventure. And did he jump into that expendable pair of faded jeans he only takes out when it's time to paint the house? NO.
Somewhere in this carefree collusion of unruly hair (don't you dare make him wear a hat!), catchy surfer-dude music and the freeform, multi-level construction of each world, you'll hear a whispered imperative: Play this game in a really half-assed way. Forget about going back for items or sticking to just one route. Blast through it, fall off one road and be caught by another, raise your arms and hurl yourself through loops like you're playing Sonic the Honey Badger That Doesn't Give a Shit. Here's a relaxing, downright breezy bout of sliding, swimming, rolling and jumping, and it busts out of the genre that's more obsessed with mechanical gauntlets than jaunty runs on the beach.
The biggest problem in The Fancy Pants Adventures is that you have to frequently push back against the game itself to enjoy it in the spirit that's being conveyed by the inky, hand-drawn environments. For instance, jumping on walls is weirdly complicated, yielding one of four different arcs depending on which direction you press (or don't press). Why?
Fancy Pants Man is a slippery fellow in the physical sense, which makes it easy to bump into enemies (which become more annoying the smaller they get). Touching them sends you flying backwards -- off ledges, into other enemies, etc. -- and though it rarely spells the end for you, it does inhibit your ability to indulge in that carefree attitude. "Hmm, maybe I should be more careful," you reckon.
When the game starts throwing in tedious bosses and an awkward, unnecessary melee weapon, I start wishing I could take an eraser to the screen and rid it of the elements that just don't seem like they belong. Contrasted with the delightful multiplayer modes, where tomfoolery, racing and unintended head-stomps can somehow produce synchronized movements anyway, the story mode can seem like a party pooper.
It's worth taking the time to unlock and play the bonus levels, which are taken from designer Brad Borne's original Flash version of Fancy Pants. That is, after you collect 20 stars scattered throughout the levels. This is typical stuff for a video game, but an ugly rule in a game with such an atypical vibe. I completed the challenge, and yet I was the one who felt defeated for letting the game cramp my style.
Sometimes you just have to stick it to the man, even when that man is the game's designer.
This review is based on final Xbox 360 code of The Fancy Pants Adventures. It's available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 MS Points and (usually) PSN for $10.