Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One Review

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Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One Publisher: Hothead Games
Developer: Hothead Games

Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux,
Reviewed on Xbox 360

As if trapped in the inexorable grasp of a steam and fruit juice-powered contraption of Herculean proportions, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode One (should I call it "Rain Slick"? or "PAAOTRSOD1"? Or perhaps, simply Herbert?) dragged me into an adventure I could not shirk, save for those moments in which I was required to ingest further coffee to fuel my caffeine-addled drive (and the obvious need to occasionally eliminate). Sweeter than treacle to play and more self-indulgent than... well... eating treacle, Rain Slick is like the fulfillment of a prophecy. As if thousands of days ago, a gossamer-clad waifish girl inhaled the fumes of a volcano and proclaimed, "One day there shall be a game, based on the online comic Penny Arcade in which, bearing an anointed rake, you shall battle creatures of metal with a carnal appetite for fresh fruit!" So it came to pass.

Kyle Ackerman

For your sake, I won't try any further to write in the style of Jerry "Tycho" Holkins' regular and erudite rants. I can't do justice to his prose any more than I could scribble a humanoid shape that could be more than a pale echo of Mike "Gabe" Krahulik's art. Together, the pair are the creative force behind the Penny Arcade online comic, a now-massive body of work that is equal parts biting satire, gaming commentary, incoherent ramblings and non-sequitors crystallized into a delicious, gingery candy. With Rain Slick, the two have paired up with Hothead Games to create an episodic adventure steeped in the lore of the online comic but strained and sweetened with the sensibilities of a Lovecraftian atmosphere where out-of-control juicers cavort alongside slumbering, tentacled gods.

There's No Insanity Stat – Events Are Insane Enough

Rain Slick took me to the year 1922 in the anachronism-rich burg of New Arcadia, a town plagued by unexplained phenomena and defended by the Startling Developments Detective Agency – crewed by Gabe and Tycho. Despite the limited choices, I loved the available character creation options and forged a burly looking homeowner with ragged facial hair. (Handlebar moustaches shall once again be the rage!). After a brief moment of pleasantly raking my yard in preparation for a day of windsurfing, my house was demolished by a colossal Fruit F**ker robot. Thus began my encounter with corrupted mimes, amorous juicers and undomesticated hobos.

The game draws heavily on console-style role-playing games, mixing that style of combat with elements of pencil & paper RPGs and conventional adventure game puzzles. Don't take that to mean the quests are conventional. Only in Rain Slick have I been asked to seek out a scale model of a Ferris wheel for a deranged academic to pee upon or strive to capture the soul of a spiritual leader of mimes to bind to a "slightly better rake." It's those elements (alongside more "in"-jokes than you can shake pee-soaked brass-knuckles at) that make Rain Slick hysterically funny at times, gross at others, but always true to its roots in the online comic.

Does Death Harmonize?

Reward screens and character details blushingly nod at their pencil & paper gaming roots, with the game itself glowingly smirking every time a 20-sided-die bounces across the screen to give one lucky combatant an initiative advantage in combat. But combat is primarily classic Japanese console RPG fare. Combat seems like something snatched from the jaws of a Square Enix RPG, with a tinge of Toontown Online to keep it light. The enemies are as outrageous as the quests, but not more so than many Japanese console games brought to North America shores. My favorite enemies were the barbershop quartets (each voice part with different resistances), for when death comes, it comes a cappella.

In the style of such console RPGs, Rain Slick let my adventuring team (my character alongside Tycho and Gabe) perform conventional attacks, team attacks or special attacks gained as characters level up (and each require success at a mini-game to execute). Secondary characters drawn from the panels of Penny Arcade also make cameo appearances in combat to deal devastating damage and defend the Startling Developments investigators.

There are items that can be used in combat, enhancements for the party, de-buffs for enemies, healing items and explosives. There's even ripe fruit and invisible boxes with which to distract enemies (fruit f**ckers and mimes, respectively). Since the containers in which combat enhancements lurk respawned every time I entered an area, there was no reason not to use them liberally in combat. Initially, the selection of items seemed overwhelming, but quickly I found that I wanted a lot more variety. Most of Rain Slick was combat, so more options would have been welcome.

Even A Juicer Gone Mad Won't Mess With The Core

Personally, I'm always a fan of story, and was looking forward to a Penny Arcade-inspired story far more than the combat. Episode One happily weaves gaming tropes into Penny Arcade comic references with a healthy wallop of coherent insanity. My character made me feel part of the action, but the real experience is facing danger and reading the comic-panel cut-scenes as Tycho's verbose ramblings clash with Gabe's ability to heap epithets onto curses. In cut-scenes and interactions with objects, this works well, capturing the humor and feel of the comic.

At other times, the game has problems with its identity. Mostly the game feels like a console-style RPG. But often, it wants to be an adventure game, where every item can be examined, rewarding exploration with humorous quips. But Tycho and Gabe are at their best when playing off one another. Object descriptions range from the uproarious to strained, partially because several areas try to come up with different descriptions for the same art asset, scattered nearly everywhere. There are only so many funny things to say about crabs or apple cores. Also, Jerry Holkins regularly disavows any ties with continuity, and that comes across in a game that requires more than a passing interest in continuity. The story succeeds, but seems more intent on transitioning from one outrageous meta-joke to another than on building tension and an emotional attachment to events.

On Part One of the Precipice

The first episode of Rain Slick offers an excellent afternoon of Penny Arcade-themed fun and is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who loves the comic or enjoys console-RPG battle systems. Anyone playing for the story or jokes alone will find the $20 price tag steep, but not unconscionable. The adventure itself is short – combat is the real meat of this adventure.

The plot of Rain Slick suggests that it will enjoy at least four episodes. Hopefully, future episodes will take a harder look at matching the difficulty curve of enemies to character progression. Rain Slick was rarely difficult, although in the middle of play, enemies briefly seemed overpowered relative to the character advancement. That's going to be particularly important given that this is an RPG – complete with character advancement – being presented episodically. Hopefully future episodes will have enemies as entertaining as those already met, and will be equally satisfying to fans of the characters and comic. Episode One convinced me that future episodes will be worth the price of admission.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 2, 2008 9:26 PM.

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