Fantastic Name. Fantastic Game?
For many years “Tycho” and “Gabe” over at Penny Arcade have been commentators on all aspects of video games, including game design, marketing styles and the review process and this puts them in a tricky position now they themselves have entered the industry with their debut game, the gloriously titled; Penny Arcade Adventures Episode One: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.
In the past they have been merciless in their attacks on other games, so it was a brave move to make a game. That’s all I’m going to say about Penny Arcade outside the game for the rest of this review, as a lot of reviewers have been preoccupied with “The Penny Arcade Empire” and have not been able to review the game in a fair manner.
Episode One (as I will call it for the sake of volume) feels very much like a classic turn based RPG where you are in control of three characters; Tycho, Gabe and you. Now when I say you I don’t mean it in a Time magazine “You are the Person of the Year!” kind of way, I mean that you actually make an avatar of yourself that interacts with Gabe and Tycho in the game world. One of the brilliant features of the character creation system on Episode One is that whatever character you make gets shown in 3D in the game world, but also in 2D in all the comic book style cut scenes that have been made by Gabe himself. This not only looks great, but it also makes your character fit into the world really nicely in a way that games in the past have failed to do.
The turn based battle system is pretty solid, with “limit break” style attacks triggering a quick mini-game which you need to do well at to deal the most damage. This works quite nicely, and gives the battles a sense of urgency. There are a load of items in the game and your weapons can be upgraded, which coupled with the leveling system gives you a nice feeling of progression.
The writing in the game is great, with the classic crude Penny Arcade humor throughout and a selection of new and old characters to meet up with (and possibly kill).
However the game really loses points when you are not in a battle or a conversation. There is a huge amount of running around the two moderately sized (and one small) areas randomly pressing A and looking for battles or the next story piece and this can get frustrating, giving the impression that the game is longer than it actually is. It took me about 7 hours to complete it with all the enemies killed which is okay for an episodic game, but about 2 hours of that must have been wasted being frustrated running around.
The difficulty feels a little odd, with one battle with normal enemies being hard, and then the next battle with a boss just being long.
Overall the game is pretty fun, and you can certainly find worse on the Live Arcade. However to get the most out of the game, you need to be an existing Penny Arcade fan. I am not sure if I would recommend it to people who had not heard of PA before though, as a lot of this games charm is in its fan service.