Games Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One … The Review
posted by May 23 at 11:43 AMon
The best and worst thing about the first Penny Arcade video game is its humor. Not because it’s an “acquired taste,” though that’s a fair worry—PA, the web comic, prides itself on in-jokes and up-to-the-minute game satires. PA, the video game, eschews much of that, instead taking place in an alternate 1920s America where the Industrial Revolution has loosed an army of cultish mimes and fruit-raping robots. It’s bizarre, but it’s that sort of universal bizarre that’ll leave fans and outsiders cracking up in equal measure. You don’t need to be a fan of the comic to be both amused and confused by this; the first episode of Penny Arcade Adventures mines humorous juxtaposition to great effect, marrying a love for over-literate exposition (and satire of said love) with a rich, creamy gravy of stupid. You know, the kind of giddy stupid that thinks “shit poop!” is a good exclamation.
Trouble is, in game form, the funny tends to whiz by—especially in an “episodic” game that tops out at maybe five hours of play. After clicking through so many funny conversations (no speech, just text), I found myself wanting to rewind and savor the wit again and again. (Tough not to reprint so much oddball material, by the way, but rest assured that bums, mimes, piss-obsessed scientists, early 20th century novelists, and Zoltar all get theirs.)
So how do these Bellevue-based game critics translate as game makers? At first glance, PAA’s central gameplay suffers by bowing down to the dialogue rather than pushing for unique twists. Surely, PA’s hyper-critical leads would notice that, aside from the humor, they’ve played this traditional RPG before: run around towns, click random things on the screen to find items, deliver stuff to people for more items, get into turn-based battles. (Reminds me of a grown-up Earthbound.) If there is a twist, it’s that battles are a weird mix of simple (auto-healing, free items) and complex (no pausing to plan moves, surprisingly deep strategy); by splitting the difference, they wind up being pretty engaging. The devs could’ve made fight menus a lot easier to read, I guess; no deal-breaker. But the game only has three “towns” to run around in, so its already-brief length is padded with things like clicking on zillions of items on the ground and enduring a few too many fights.
PAA’s first episode could’ve distilled its five hours to two or three in terms of actual, hard content, making the $20 price point a bit of a stretch. Could’ve added an extra half-hour to the thing just by giving completists a bonus “read the dialogue again” mode; no such luck this time. Still, the comic’s creators win out by expanding their humorous reach beyond their usual niche (cuz if there’s ever a class of people who’ve been left out of gaming for too long, it’s the “shit poop” crowd). Combine that with solid fights, likeable music and equally funny art direction, and you’ve got a worthwhile first effort for these critical game-makers—along with obvious room for improvement for Episode Two.
Worth buying? You’re possibly overpaying at $20 for the full thing, but the free demo’s a no-brainer. Xbox 360 owners can download that demo by digging through the 360’s “new arrivals” list, and PC/Mac/Linux users can download their own demo here.