Bargain Gaming – Penny Arcade Adventures

Posted on Mar 17 2011

I have a little bit of an addiction when it comes to web comics. I read several series on a daily basis and am constantly on the lookout for new web comics to add to my ever changing routine.  One of these is the highly popular series Penny Arcade, which in the past decade has easily eclipsed its fellow web comic brethren through a series of successes like the PAX conventions and the Child’s Play charity (amongst other things).  One of these successes has been the release of the episodic game series Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episodes I and II (henceforth referred to as Penny Arcade Adventures).  To be honest I had forgotten about these two titles until Steam prompted me that they were on sale for $3, and upon such provocative news I had little choice but to pick the games up.  So now, after playing through both episodes to completion, do these games stand up on their own merit?  Or is their appeal limited to people who already read and enjoy their comic?

Well, visually the game is a mixed bag at best and lackluster at worst. The high point is definitely the character portraits and comic style cut scenes drawn by Mike Krahulik, which give the games a definite Penny Arcade vibe and help bring life to the game’s setting.  These were a joy to watch and were definitely one of the main highlights to my gaming experience; although non-fans will probably only find them to be decent.  The real problem comes down to the actual in game graphics, which, for lack of a better word, are simply bad.  I know I shouldn’t be nitpicking on the graphical quality of a game like this, but I can’t help but feel like the character models look dated for a late 2000 game.  And unfortunately these are the graphics you’re going to be seeing for about ninety percent of the game, so visually I’ve got to rank the game as sub-par, as least as far as PC titles are concerned.

Music wise the game fares a bit better, as the themes are all rather catchy and all of the different actions have solid sound bites to go with them.  The music at key plot points was always fitting to the situation, and there was never a time where I really felt like the sounds in the game were out of place.  However the one complaint I do have is that the area and battle themes did become a bit aggravating towards the end of the game, especially in episode two, as they just kept repeating to the point where I just ended up tuning them out.  The only other complaint I have is the game’s voice acting, or in this case, lack thereof.  You see, the game’s narrator is voiced and is done well at that, which is great, but no one else in the game is voiced!  And while I can understand this in the case of your character, and perhaps even in the cases of Gabe and Tycho (and other characters from the comic as well), there is no good reason not to voice the remaining characters.  After all, some voice talent could’ve turned the game’s humorous dialogue up another level.

Speaking of the game’s humor, let’s delve into that a bit. For readers of the actual web comic the humor should be highly familiar, as Jerry Holkins’ unique style shines through the game’s script.  If you need a guideline as to whether or not you’d enjoy this game’s sense of humor and have not read the comic then let me ask you this: does the thought of murdering hobos fill you with glee?  Or does the image of a giant fruit fornicating device tickle your fancy?  If so then you’ll probably feel right at home here.  If these concepts upset you or cause you to wrinkle your nose however, then you might want to steer clear of this game, as the cynical humor of this title is quite possibly its strongest aspect and the reason I chose to review it in the first place!

Continuing on with the topic of the game’s writing, the game’s story is actually pretty interesting due to its unorthodox nature, as in order to keep with the sense of humor it takes you all over the place.  Whether it’s fighting an elder god who is also a mime or fighting a giant robot’s junk (yes you read that right) this game will take you in all sorts of unexpected directions before you are through.  My only complaint is that the story is rather linear due to the episodic nature of the games, but other than that the story was certainly intriguing and as deep as a game based around a giant robot that has its way with fruit can be.  It serves its purpose of sending you from crazy scenario to crazy scenario admirably, and for that it deserves, if not your respect, then at least your grudging acceptance.

But the bread and butter of any game is the actual game play that drives it, and Penny Arcade Adventures’ game play mechanics, while not bad, are nothing special either.  It’s an RPG combat system tied in with an adventure style setting, with the standard running into enemies in the exploration segment then you begin a battle with them.  As for the actual combat, it’s your standard timer based action system with a slight twist, as depending on how long you wait you can chose one of three action types.  Using items is the first action you can perform, which is then followed by your standard attack.  And then you can choose, if you’re like me, to stick it out for your characters’ special attacks, which have the dual sided advantages of both being more powerful and, later on, also causing status effects on your opponents.

And these special attacks are one of the few interesting parts of the game play, as each character’s special attack is tied to a little mini game you can perform to max out your attack damage.  Combined with your ability to block or counterattack your enemies attacks by timing your block correctly, and these two aspects serve to keep you involved in the game throughout.  But, to be honest, these mechanics also serve to make the game incredibly easy once you’ve mastered them, as you can negate all damage to your team by counterattacking.  And honestly Sonic Chronicles for the DS did the special attack/block mini game system in a much more interesting way, making even this otherwise positive game play element derivative.

My final verdict for this game would normally be a recommendation to fans of RPGs and Penny Arcade itself. However there are two extenuating circumstances that prevent this.  First is the length of the games: at about six hours a piece, at the regular price you are looking at about $1 per hour of game play, which may turn more hardcore RPG fans off.  The second problem is that the third episode to the game has actually been canceled at this point, meaning that there may never be a true conclusion to these games.  And while it’s true that there is a written conclusion to the story available, it just can’t substitute the experience of playing through the story yourself.  As such I can only really recommend this game to fans of Penny Arcade and people who enjoy light RPGs at its current price.  Though if it goes back on sale I strongly recommend picking this title up, as it’s a fun little RPG with a cynical, yet thoroughly enjoyable sense of humor.

And to think, everything was going fine until Gabe punched the Devil.

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