52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 19
Penny Arcade Adventures
Release Date: May 21 / October 29, 2008
Developer: Hothead Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
I have been reading Penny Arcade comics for a few years now. While I have not read the entire archive of comics, I do have a strong understanding of all characters and their particular style of “in your face” humour. I do not find all their jokes funny, but Penny Arcade is part of my daily reading (along with CTRL-ALT-DEL, Dilbert and User Friendly).
My interest in this game grew as I heard that it was being created by Canadian developer Hothead games, and my interest skyrocketed when it was announced that Rob “Monkey Island” Gilbert was collaborating on the game. I was frothing at the mouth at the prospect of a great adventure game finally being released on the Xbox 360. It’s no secret that I love adventure games.
I will cover the first two chapters of the Penny Arcade: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness (the only two released so far). Both episodes differ very little and the following information applies equally to both episodes. I will make note of when differences do appear between both episodes.
As the game starts, the first step is to create a character. The creation options are very limited, but it’s nice that they allowed the player to create a character and not be stuck with a pre-made avatar. Oh and it was nice that they allowed male or female characters (so many games do not). A very cool feature is that the 3D character created, will be included in the 2D animation sequences. At the start of Episode 2, the same character creation screen will appear, but there will also be an option to import the character created in Episode 1. Once the character is ready to go, the game begins.
Both episodes begin with a great narration sequence that really sets the mood for the adventure about to happen. The narrator provides a few instructions the hero to get the game on the way. Episode 1 starts with the destruction of the hero's house by a giant robot known as Fruit Humpper Prime (not the actual name of the robot, but as close as I dare post) who is in turn being chased by Gabe and Tycho. That intro was so perfect, I could not wait to start this epic adventure. The game narrator will then act as a tutorial for the first few battles. Battles?.... Battles??? There are no battles in adventure games. It was at this point that I realized there will be little adventuring in Penny Arcade Adventures.
Battles in this game are fought in real-time with just a hint of turn base to it, similar to later Final Fantasy games. When in battle mode there will be 3 icons besides each party member. These icons match the corresponding Xbox 360 button colours. The purpose of each action is as follows; the green icon fills in the quickest and will allow the player to use an item, the blue icons will fill in slower and will allow the player to perform a basic attack, and finally the yellow icon takes the longest to fill and will allow the player to perform a special attack. These action icons will fill-in as time passes. Only once an icon has been filled-in completely can an action be performed. Each characters icons fill in at a different rate. Gabe’s icons fill in the quickest, followed by the hero characters icons and then finally Tycho’s takes the longest to fill in. It is not a coincidence that this is also the order of who perform the least to most damage. The use of any of the 3 icons will reset them all.
(Click for larger image)
When a battle first begins, the game will determine initiative. If the player wins the initiative, they can use an item or perform a basic attack with one party member. From that point on, the battle continues as normal. Character or enemies can attack as soon as an action icon is filled, they do not stop and wait for the player to choose an action or item. Only one person, party member or enemy, can actually attack at a single time. This helps control the chaos a bit. Also as an enemy attacks, their health bars will flash for a brief moment. If the player press either trigger at the correct time, the character will block the attack or even perform a counterattack. Counterattacks do not count as an action and does not reset the heroes filled up action buttons so learn how to use them. Still the chances of blocking every attach is very slim, and enemies can deliver a lot of damage. To survive all these battles will require proper usage of the various items that are found in crates and garbage bins all over the game world. These items are only available during combat. Depending on the inventory on hand, the player can opt to attack the enemy with an explosive device, weaken their attacks, defenses or reduce the speed in which they refill action icons (for enemies have these also). On the other hand the player may heal a party member, boost attack, defense or speed or possibly distract an opponent using certain items. For example oranges will distract Fruit Humppers, giving the opportunity to concentrate attack efforts on other enemies.
A special attack is performed once the yellow icon if filled and used. It deals a great amount of damage, if the player complete the mini-game correctly. For example Gabe’s special attack requires mashing the A button over and over again to fill up an energy bar in a specific amount of time, and then press the A button once again when the bar passes over a tiny section. The created character's special attack requires pressing the A button at 4 location that revolve around a circle and Tycho’s attack has him pressing a series of buttons in a “Simon Says” mini-game. Failure do complete any mini-game, and the power of the attack is greatly reduced. The mini-games do not apply if a group attack is performed. If an opponent is eliminated during a special attack, the character that delivered the kill will get an overkill bonus and this will add an extra point to that characters damage rating for a maximum of 15 extra damage points per attack. I mentioned previously that only one character can attack at one time. That is true for the most part, but if the player has more than one character ready to use a special attack, these can be combine efforts to deliver an even more powerful attack. Overkill bonuses cannot be achieved using combined attacks. Episode 2 adds a bit more challenges to combat as enemies may retreat from a battle or call in backup. Another new addition to Episode 2 is the hit counter. This counter increases after each successful attack and as the hit counter increase, so does the damage delivered by that character, but any successful hit, basically anything not blocked (partial blocks do not count) by an opponent will reset the hit counter to zero.
The reason I focused so much on the combat is because it's the main focus of the game. There is little to the actual story, just something put together quickly to give you a reason to kill stuff and to use the word Fruit Humpper as often as possible. Sure players will go around at first clicking on items or people to read funny little anecdotes, but this will get old very quickly as they repeat the same anecdotes over and over again. As the story advances, our protagonists will gain new cases to solve (think missions), and each case is solved by killing a set number of enemies. There is actually nothing else to do in the game but kill enemies. Killing enemies is a lot of fun at first, but will start to feel repetitive very quickly. Part of the problem resides in the fact that there are only 3 main weapons that cannot be changed during the entire game. Even in Episode 2, the character start with basic weapons (all upgrades removed), but they are still the same weapons. The only positive change between Episode 1 and 2 is that Ep. 2 has an adjustable difficulty lever including an all new INSANE mode available once the game has been completed once.
Items in the game are plentiful. Once a zone has been cleared of all barrels and crates, players need only exit the zone and return to it to new crates filled with items. Why hold on to that dynamite, just toss a few out towards the bad guys, this will kill everything on the screen except for bosses, then run around again looking for more dynamite. The only items that cannot be obtained via a crate or trash bin in the two first Episodes are clown noses. These explosive items can only be obtained from clowns, and once they are all defeated there will be no more available.
(Click for larger image)
Episode 2 is a refined version of Episode 1, but the similarities do not just end with the visuals as both games will suffer from the same problems such as Gaby and Tycho constantly getting in your way when trying to navigate the game world, not that this task will take a long time as there is very little to actually explore.
I am here to give my opinion of the game and here it is. There is not enough adventuring for the game to be considered a good adventure game, there is to little role playing to be a good RPG, and not enough action to be a good action game either. This game skirts several categories, but really succeeds at none of them. This may not be a problem with a regular Xbox Live Arcade game, but given the price point of 1600 MS points (twice the cost of a regular XLBA title) for Episode 1 and 1200 MS points for Episode 2, I expected much more out of this title. The publisher indicated that each episode has 10 hours of game play. Maybe if the person playing takes a few naps. I finished my first play through on each episode in about 6 hours (each), and that only because I spend so much time trying to findthe bonus items hideen in the game.
I could not help but think that Penny Arcade wasted a great opportunity with this game. Had they created a classic 3D adventure game in the genre of Monkey Island 3 or Grim Fandango, they could have really let loose with an incredible story and delivered a real Penny Arcade experience that the audience would have craved over the duration of the 3 or 4 planned episodes. The sad fact is that Penny Arcade adds very little to the Penny Arcade Adventures game.