Penny Arcade fans rejoice...Everyone Else? Move Along.
What kind of madness must come from a Penny Arcade video game? When this game was first announced I, and many others, questioned how a web comic that centers primarily on video game humor would translate to an actual video game. What Hothead Games came up with captures the Penny Arcade style humor perfectly, but is significantly lacking in the gameplay department.
You begin the game creating your own character. Unfortunately the customization options are extremely limited having only a possible 27 combinations for outfits (3 selections for each: shirt, pants, and shoes) and perhaps a dozed different hair styles for either male or female avatars. The story then begins with your house being completely smashed by a giant robot (who will be instantly recognizable to fans of the comic)…while you are raking the leaves in front of it. From there you meet up with Tycho and Gabe and the three of you set off to uncover the secret of the giant robot.
The gameplay is a mix between point and click adventure and oddly enough, Chrono Trigger. What that means is that there are plenty of items in the world to click on to get little comments, jokes, clues, or items yet when you engage in combat the game shifts to an Active Type Battle system similar to the one seen in Chrono Trigger. The puzzles put in front of you are very simple and straight forward (Hothead Games also makes Deathspank, and the complexity level is about the same) but are still entertaining due to the characters you meet along the way.
As for the combat system, I have mixed feelings about it. Instead of filling up a single bar and choosing your move, there is a tier system to the combat. First your item use meter fills up, allowing you to use potions, bandages or bombs. Once the item meter is filled then your basic attack fills up before finally filling up your special attacks. It's an interesting way to handle combat in lieu of using some MP equivalent, but I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have had to worry about another meter than have to wait extended periods of time to use special attacks. When multiple party members have their special attack queued, you can launch a double or triple team attack…but it never really seemed worth the wait. However double and triple team attacks don't require the "mini games" that the single special attacks do. In some weird design decision, in order to gain full damage from a special attack you must complete a button combination mini game requiring either timing, button mashing or arrow selection. If you fail to complete the sequence the move does significantly less damage, again making you question why you waited the extra time. There is also a block mechanic in place that MUST be mastered if you wish to play this game on a harder difficulty. Essentially you have to press the block button at the correct moment to either block or counterattack. It forces the player to remain more active in the combat but still doesn't become anything too challenging.
Where this game really shines is the story telling, with the creators of Penny Arcade so integrated in the making of this game anyone who is a fan of the comic will enjoy the narrative that is weaved through the game. The relationship between Gabe and Tycho creates plenty of humorous moments through, and the NPCs you run across can be the source of some great laughs as well. That said, those not familiar with the comics or those who are not fans of Penny Arcade may not find anything in this game that appeals to them, and may possibly even offend (this game is rated M for a reason). My biggest issue with the story, was how short it was. Playing on normal difficulty and trying to read all the dialogue options possible, the game only took about 3 and a half hours. I understand that this is a typical length for an episodic adventure game, but it still felt short, even if it did make me want to jump right into Episode 2.
There isn't much to do after you beat the game though, so replay value is definitely lacking. There are 12 pieces of concept art to find and a few other collectables but nothing that is going to take more than an hour or two to find. You do unlock "insane" mode which from what I could gather from playing it was simply a harder difficulty setting, most notably making blocking harder by no longer having the word "block" appear and instead forcing you to rely on a flashing of the enemies health bar. This seems like an option that should have been given from the start, or after some light playing…as the changes don't do enough to warrant a second play through.
Overall I felt that Penny Arcade Adventures added a fun twist to the typical adventure games, and this definitely has the humor of a Telltale game so fans of those type of games may want to check it out, but unless you really dig Gabe and Tycho in their webcomic…you are probably better off passing on this game.