Before I begin, I suppose I should tell you all what my thoughts are about Penny Arcade. I do this mostly because, if I come out and say I’m a fan, you’ll be quick to dismiss me as “another fan boy” and if I say that I hate it, then I’m “just a hater.” The truth is that while I’m a fan, I don’t feel any sort of loyalty or fealty to the brand. I have two of their books, I read the site around once a week, and I appreciate the concepts behind PAX (which I’d love to attend some year) and Child’s Play. That having been said, before I played the game, I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one was Gabe and which one was Tycho.
The game itself stars you (and I must say, it’s nice to have a rough likeness of myself in the Penny Arcade style without paying a fortune at a charity auction, also: The guy who paid to be drawn into this game got gypped), along with Gabe, Tycho, and Tycho’s neice Anne, as they attempt to solve the mysterious appearance of lewd robots terrorizing the city of New Arcadia, having no regard for the sanctity of houses.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the game itself. Imagine, if you would (and if you won’t, just skip this sentence) that Paper Mario got drunk, and, in a fit of passion, plunged the ever living hell out of Final Fantasy VII. Then they got married by Industrial Revolution Elvis in Vegas. The active time battle system actually translates pretty well to Paper Mario’s timed button presses and simplified combat. Combat difficulty is honestly a little up and down. The items you find are pretty useful, but you will probably find yourself not bothering with them most of the time, until the last boss when they become an absolute necessity. Additionally, things always seem a little unbalanced combat-wise, as you’ll always be significantly overmatched when you enter a zone, and overpowered by the time you leave. Not exactly new for RPGs of this type, but a more gradual progression would’ve been nice. It should also be noted that there are a few different summons you earn at various points that…differ somewhat in their usefulness, especially in the endgame.
The game as a whole, however, is remarkably (and, dare I say, refreshingly) easy. There’s not a ton of challenge to most of the fights, the enemies don’t respawn, there’s almost no penalty for dying, and items can be pretty easily refilled just by whacking any of the containers in the game (which do respawn) until you get all that you need. In fact, the challenge of the main boss, while welcome, came as a bit of a shocker when I finally hit it. That said, though, I did beat it on my second try.
The writing is fun and brisk, with the characters taking a laissez-faire attitude toward pretty much everything that goes on from being peed on by robots to eating processed hobo meat, Gabe, Tycho, and…er…you, handle everything with a sort of dignified aplomb. It never becomes laugh out loud funny, however, the game seems content to top itself off at “amusing” and leave it at that, much like the comic. There is one series of battles, in which you fight a roving, evil barbershop quartet that made me laugh, mostly because one of their combos was entitled, “A Shave and a Hair Cut – 2Hits.”
There are some unlockable music tracks, concept art, and a cut scene theatre that you can check out after the game is over, and the X-Box version has some interesting achievements to grab if that’s your bag. The character creator has a few different options if you want to play around with it, but the options end up being awfully limited, and somewhat clumsy on the 360 as opposed to the PC. There are a few mini-games which you must play a number of times, all of which are kind of fun the first time, but much less so the following nine.
Technical: No significant glitches to speak of on either version, and the PC game seems to be patching pretty well for whatever glitches do come. The game has a tendency to chug a little bit during transitions, but never horribly. Both versions suffer from a little clumsiness on controls. The X-Box version makes it harder to navigate the menus, which can really suck when you’re locked in a pretty fast paced combat. The PC version is much easier to navigate, but suffers in that mouse clicks need to be pretty precise, which is difficult with lots of things flying around the screen at once. There are a lot of path finding issues, especially for the NPCs and the PC on…er…”the personal computer,” which rarely matter and are easily solvable, but are still somewhat annoying.
Very good. The graphics engine for a majority of the play is similar to the one we’ve seen on the Sam & Max games the past few months, very cartoony, but still 3D enough for the current generation. The cut scenes and dialog are all animated out in the Penny Arcade drawing style, which translates very well. The animated cut scenes, especially, are very attractive and, like I said earlier, it is kind of fun to see your created character drawn up on the screen. What backgrounds there are well animated and set the tone very well, with a few little jokes here and there if you’re paying attention.
The voice work is very limited, but what is there is very good and fits the tone of the game perfectly. I’m actually rather glad that they declined to do full voice for the major characters. You could’ve had Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik voice their avatars, but I think things work much better allowing the players to supply whatever voice they’d like to the characters. The music is solid and fits the scenes. It does have a tendency to get lost a bit in the background, however, which is probably for the best in this type of game.
A skilled player should blow through this one in around 6 hours, and so long as you’re paying attention, there shouldn’t be much reason to go back through unless you wanted to check out some different character models or collect every last widget. Ultimately, however, the average player probably won’t take any more than around 8 hours to complete the game to their satisfaction, and won’t give a damn about unlocking some piece of concept art, so for that player there’s not really much reason to revisit the Rain-slick Precipice.
Final Score: 8/10
I often force myself to think, when I’m reviewing the TEW and Sam and Max games, “What would I say if I had to pay for this game?” Well, I did have to pay for this game, and for the most part I enjoyed it. I’m still not a huge fan of episodic content, but when it works, it works, and for the most part, it seems like Penny Arcade Adventures is a series that has a chance to work. The $20 price point is probably a little much for what ultimately is a one shot RPG, but I’ve paid a lot more money for games I ended up playing a lot less.
It’s especially challenging, I think, for video game commentators to come out with a game of their own. You kind of keep a running list of how many silly conventions or bad gameplay elements the PA guys have ranted against in the past show up in their own game, sort of like if Roger Ebert came out with his own film (he did, by the way, and: meh) or Simon Cowell cut a pop album. Insofar as they’ve succeeded thus far, they should be applauded.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the Penny Arcade web comics, or enjoy games that will legitimately amuse you, but might not make you laugh as such, then you should at least give the demo a shot. It’s currently available on X-Box live or off the internets. I don’t know what the future holds for the series, but the game itself is worth checking out.