Game: Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 1
Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: Hothead Games
Year: 2008
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: RPG Adventure
Game Version: Unpatched
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Penny Arcade is undoubtedly one of the most popular comics on the internet, and while it wasn’t the first gaming webcomic, it’s probably the most well known. It has been producing sharp satire on gaming culture along with a great deal of profanity and random violence since it started in 1998. Although on occasion they do seem to let the violence take over and forget to include anything that actually makes it funny, mostly it’s of a high quality. After spending all these years insulting various games and companies, they’ve gone ahead and teamed up with Hothead Games to create a game of their own. And fortunately, they’ve actually made a good job of it, although as with the comic it is based on, the game isn’t without its flaws.

Penny Arcade Mimes
Argh! Mimes! Run away!

Here Gabe and Tycho, comic alter-egos of artist Mike Krahulik and writer Jerry Holkins respectively, are running the Startling Developments Detective Agency and investigating weird stuff. The game has a 20s depression era setting, and starts with a giant steampunk robot destroying the home of the lead character. Interestingly, you actually get to create your character at the start of the game, choosing from various features. The choices are limited, but there’s enough variety to customise your appearance in an interesting way, creating a brand new character that fits in with the Penny Arcade style. Before the end, the plot has taken a Lovecraftian turn, and you’ll have fought many robots, been attacked by hobos and gone up against the worst evil known to man… mimes. And in a reference that will baffle anyone unaware of the running joke in the comics, the robots are called Fruit Fuckers, the rather aggressive juicing machines in the strips that extract juice in an unpleasant way suggested by their name.

For the gameplay, it’s pretty much an RPG with a few adventure game elements thrown in. The RPG aspects basically comprise a simple battle system reminiscent of Japanese console RPGs. It’s not quite as mind numbingly dull as the combat in those games, but it can still be a bit repetitive, although thankfully the humour and the faster pace helps to remedy this a bit. Each character (basically your own created character plus Gabe and Tycho) has three options during combat, either using items, attacking, or performing a special power attack. Each of these recharges, in that sequence, after a character has made his move. So you can use an item pretty much straight away, but have to wait a while longer before attacking, and you’ll have to wait a nerve wracking amount of time to get to your powerful special attacks. These special attacks can be devastating against most enemies, and each character has his own mini-game which needs to be beaten to cause maximum damage for the attacks, such as copying a sequence of keys or hitting a key at the correct time. When an enemy attacks, you also get a chance to block the attack by hitting the spacebar just before they hit. There is no indication as to when the correct moment is, so you have to find it by experimentation, and it is different for each of the types of enemy you’ll face. It’s a simple battle system, but one that moves at a fairly quick pace and works surprisingly well.

Suggestively Named Mini-games
Penny Arcade Flying Pricks
Flying Pricks: A darts game where you throw darts at targets that advance up the screen. It’s very easy.
Penny Arcade Vandalism
Vandalism: The standard fairground game of throwing balls at stacks of vases to knock down as many as possible. This is also very easy. It also seems to be run by the identical twin of the guy running Flying Pricks.
Penny Arcade Balls and Holes
Balls and Holes: The game where you try to throw balls into holes to score points. You might have guessed by now, but this is easy too. The guy running this wisely stays out of the way.

The humour shows through in these battles as much as in the rest of the game too. The mime attacks in particular are always entertaining, as they come at you with a variety of invisible weapons. And you’ll face some very strange enemies, such as barber shop quartets. The items you can use also include a few that aren’t features in your regular RPG. For instance, mines can be trapped inside invisible boxes, and the Fruit Fuckers can be distracted by a tactically thrown orange, which they’ll instantly pounce on.

Penny Arcade Smart
You come across some really intelligent enemies through the course of the game.

As mentioned, the game is flawed and falls far short of greatness. While the battle system does work well, it becomes quite repetitive at times, especially when fighting the same types of enemies over and over in some of the areas. The pathfinding can also be rather poor; sometimes when clicking on a container to open it, my character walked to it in a straight line and became stuck at an obstacle in the way. The adventure game elements are also rather light. While clicking to examine things in the environment usually gives you a funny response, the puzzles are generally solved automatically as long as you have the correct item in your inventory at the right time. The minigames mentioned above are very simplistic and overly easy making them quite pointless overall. There’s also no voice acting for Gabe and Tycho, although this is probably a good thing. You don’t get voice overs in comic strips, and getting the voices wrong for the game could ruin the whole thing. And the actual graphics are very good, perfectly capturing the look of the comic in 3D. The cutscenes are especially impressive though, done as 2D cartoons, sometimes even taking place within a series of panels that look just like one of the Penny Arcade comics coming to life.

The game itself lasts around 6 – 7 hours, which isn’t bad for an episodic equivalent selling at about a third of the price of a regular game, especially when some modern full length games aren’t even that long themselves. Overall, the game should appeal to Penny Arcade fans or fans of RPGs in general, and anyone who wants a short fun game that doesn’t cost a fortune. It’s far from perfect, but for what it is, it’s well worth a look.

Save System Review: Save anywhere.
Graphics: The graphics are very good, especially in the cutscenes, which look just like the comic. The actual in-game graphics aren’t incredibly detailed, but at the distance they’re viewed from they do a good job of recreating the comic’s style in 3D.
Sound: Sound is reasonable but fairly basic. The sound effects all work well. There’s very little voice acting, but what is there is done well enough.
Bugs: Sometimes the characters get stuck on scenery on their way to where you clicked, and you have to guide them around, but otherwise it seemed quite stable.
Gameplay: The gameplay mostly consists of the combat system, which is quite simple but works well and is fast paced. It does become a bit repetitive though.
Storyline: The storyline isn’t particularly deep, but you wouldn’t expect it with a game based on Penny Arcade. It does start with violent fruit raping steampunk robots and end with evil mimes and a large scary Lovecraft-style creature though, which has to earn it some points. The dialogue between the characters is also funny, although it doesn’t quite reach the quality of some of the better strips.

Arbitrary Final Score: 3.5 stars

Fun RPG, or does the game value itself in its title? Give us your opinion in the forum.