|System: X360 (XBLA), PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Hothead Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Hothead Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Penny Arcade has long been a bastion of gaming and geek culture. As the popular online comic approaches its 10th year in existence, it seems almost natural to find its creators branching off from merely satirizing video games with their particularly pointed brand of wit to create one of their own. After all, they've dabbled with bound volumes, spawned a gaming-related kids' charity, and put together an extremely successful annual gaming expo. Partnering with developers Hothead Games, Penny Arcade co-conspirators Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik have produced a work of gaming art that will ultimately strike the right chord with their fanbase.
Despite its verbose title, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One is a relatively short premier episode in what is shaping up to be an excellent four-part series. The game is loosely based on the online comic, but it strays from many of the usual shenanigans found on the site and moves into more epic storytelling turf. Of course, you'll still find plenty of references to wangs, perverted robot fruit juicers, and other running gags from the strip sprinkled liberally throughout the game. Episode One is structured to let new players jump in with nominal effort and enjoy the adventure, yet long-time Penny Arcade fans will pick up many subtle nuances and undoubtedly find additional humor in seeing how the elements and characters from the strip tie-in to the game in weird ways.
Set in the 1920s steam punk inspired town of New Arcadia, Penny Arcade Adventures features a hilarious and well-written story penned by Holkins. As the game opens, your custom-designed character is raking leaves when a giant robot - affectionately known to Penny Arcade fans as the Fruit F*cker - crushes your home and storms off into the distance with Gabe and Tycho in hot pursuit. While searching for revenge and a new home, you'll join the duo in an uproarious adventure packed with urinating hobos, golden mullets, satanic mimes, and a veritable cornucopia of other bizarre and often disturbing elements. Holkins manages to cram a surprising amount of crazy twists into the five-to-eight hours it will take players to wade through the first episode.
The visual style of the game is equally impressive. It essentially plays like an interactive comic book, and the epic (wang) err vibe of the story carries over with the art direction impeccably. For the most part, Krahulik's top-notch artistry translates incredibly well into video game form with backgrounds, cutscenes, and comic stills during dialogue. The character models found in the actual gameplay are the weakest area in the graphical department, but they're not outright bad. It's hard to imagine anyone who thoroughly enjoys the comic not loving the general look and feel of Episode One; it's right on the money. Being able to custom design your own character and then watch them animate in the gameplay and comic scenes is also pretty awesome.
As those familiar with the duo's work might expect, the art and writing for the game is a superior package. Interestingly, the gameplay falls somewhere between point-and-click adventure and the classic real-time RPG combat found in early Final Fantasy games. It's not a perfect mix. Using the mouse to move around and check out the environments works great (and yields a lot of humorous little tidbits, depending on what you click on). You'll come across a few interesting puzzles and a fetch quest or two, but far more of your time will inevitably be occupied in combat - a somewhat chaotic and occasionally frustrating experience. Kicking it old-school, everyone will roll for initiative to see who goes first. Then each individual character's meters will slowly build, allowing them to use items, attack, or execute special attacks, depending on how long they wait. This requires clicking once on the specific attack button and then again on its intended target. Meanwhile, enemies will be attacking, and you'll have an opportunity to block their varied assaults using well-timed jabs to the spacebar. All of this happens in real-time, so things can quickly become hectic until you can get accustomed to the chaos.