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Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- Episode One (Xbox 360) artwork

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- Episode One (Xbox 360) review


" For nearly ten years, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have entertained the gaming world with Penny Arcade, the most successful webcomic ever to grace the Internet. Since their comicís humble beginning, theyíve grown to sell a whole line of merchandise, started their own gaming charity, and host a massive annual gaming convention. And on May 21st, they finally got their own game. "



For nearly ten years, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have entertained the gaming world with Penny Arcade, the most successful webcomic ever to grace the Internet. Since their comicís humble beginning, theyíve grown to sell a whole line of merchandise, started their own gaming charity, and host a massive annual gaming convention. And on May 21st, they finally got their own game.

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One is the first in a series of episodic adventure/RPG games developed by HotHead Games. While the comic Penny Arcade takes place in the present, the game takes place in the city of New Arcadia in 1922, where diabolical machines and dark magic permeate every crevice. One morning, as your character is raking leaves in front of their house on suburban Desperation Street, a giant, rampaging robot crushes his or her house, leaving nothing but smoldering wreckage. As your character stares in horror, two men run after the robot: Jonathan Gabriel and Tycho Brahe. After meeting up with them, your character decides to assist them in their investigation, and is quickly pulled into a whirlwind of insanity.

The game begins by letting you create your character. The options are fairly limited, but there is enough to create someone distinct, whether itís meant to be you or someone of your own creation. This character will work alongside Gabe and Tycho throughout the game, and will also appear in the 2D cutscenes, which does a great deal to draw you into the world. The graphics are particularly impressive in these 2D cutscenes, where Krahulikís signature art style really shines, but it manages to retain its charm in 3D, which is what youíll be seeing the most of as you play the game. Objects are distinct and easy to recognize, and the smooth animations are particularly impressive. The game world is broken into four areas, although only two of these are large. All four areas have been given a great deal of attention and polish, though, so itís hardly an issue.

The game is penned by writer Holkins, whose verbose style of writing is sure to please fans of the comic, as well as those who prefer their words to be polysyllabic. The characters are written as they are in the comic; Gabe is an impulsive, impatient, and easily angered brawler. Tycho is a smart, scholarly marksman with a degree in ďApocolypticaĒ. Other Penny Arcade characters also make appearances, and although the setting may be different, their mannerisms are not, which is sure to be a treat for fans. The original characters in the game are also unique and varied, making for many hilarious situations and interactions. In addition to dialogue, the game boasts hundreds of descriptions, from enemy bios to details on the ice cream cone lying on the ground. Theyíre all designed to make you laugh, and they provide great motivation to inspect every sign, poster, and trash can.

Throughout the game youíll fight amorous robots, violent hobos, evil mimes, and a variety of other strange enemies. The gameís combat is unique; each of your three characters has stats such as attack, defense, speed, and hit points, but instead of a traditional turn system, they have three circles that fill up during the battle. The first is for items, the second is a standard attack, and the third is a special attack. In other words, you can use items first, then after that you can use a standard attack, and then finally the special attacks become available. What this means is that youíll have to make quick decisions in battle; should Gabe use a healing item on Tycho, and let Tycho store up power for his special attack? Can your wounded character afford to wait while his attack charges, or should you heal before finishing off your enemies? And while all this is going on, your enemies will take their turns as well. Each of their attacks can be blocked to some degree by quickly hitting the right trigger as they attack. So not only do you have to manage your three characters simultaneously, you have to react to your enemiesí attacks quickly. It can get a bit hectic at times, but itís a lot more interesting than many RPG battle systems.

If it sounds overwhelming, have no fear. The game is actually not that difficult. Once you get used to timing your blocks and managing your team, very few fights will give you much trouble. In addition, helpful items are scattered all over the place, and your health is fully restored after each battle. At times you may find yourself wanting a bit more of a challenge, but the fast-paced action and entertaining battles help make up for it. The animations are great as well; mime attacks in particular are extremely well done, given that they attack you with weapons that arenít actually there. As a final touch, you have a few support characters that can assist you on command, although they take quite some time to charge after each use.

Throughout the game youíll gain abilities, allies, levels, and weapon upgrades in traditional RPG style, but outside the battles, the game is more reminiscent of classic adventure games, where youíll talk to characters, choose what you say in conversations, collect items, and use said items to progress through the story. The story is fascinating; epic and engrossing, yet at the same time silly and bizarre. Holkins has managed to craft a coherent, detailed world without sacrificing Penny Arcadeís unique humor and wit. By the end of the game, youíll barely be aware of the fact that, to anyone who has not been playing the game, itís absolutely ridiculous. And, as all good episodic games should, it wraps up its own story while still leaving a larger mystery to solve in the coming installments.

The game is not without its flaws, though. Although the sound effects are excellent, the gameís music is a bit lacking. It always seems a bit on the quiet side, and many of the battle themes could stand to be a little more exciting. Some text and smaller details can be difficult to see, at least on a standard definition television, although the only time this will make a big difference is in battles. After some practice I adjusted to the view, but it would occasionally made it difficult to see how much my attacks were charged. The gameís achievements are a nice mix of challenges and milestones, none of which are particularly difficult. However, to those who want to get them all, Iíd advise you to be careful. Just before the final boss, the game says that you wonít be able to go back after this point and asks if youíd like to save. This gave me the impression that you could reload from this point after you beat the final boss. What it really means is that once you beat the final boss, you canít use that file to explore the overworld anymore. So if you donít want to play through the game again, donít fight the final boss until you have all the achievements you want.

Clocking in at around five hours, several more if you try to find everything, PAA:OtRSPoD,E1 might seem a bit expensive at 1600 Microsoft Points, which translates to 20 of our United States dollars. However, the game is packed with enough charm, wit, and quality that itís more than worth it, especially if youíre already a Penny Arcade fan. If youíre not, at least give the demo a try; it gives you a good idea of the gameís style, although be advised the battles in that part of the game are essentially tutorials. RPG and Adventure fans are sure to find something to enjoy, and if the unique, often crass comedy of Penny Arcade is your style, this game is sure to please. After making fun of bad games for nearly a decade, Gabe and Tycho have their own game, and thankfully, thereís very little for them to complain about.

Rating: 8/10

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Community review by Muk1000 (June 07, 2008)

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honestgamer posted June 08, 2008:

This was a great review! I hope that it's not the last one we'll be seeing from you, and I hope you don't mind a little bit of feedback.

The first thing I would say is that throughout, the grammar was genuinely excellent. This is a long review and there were only two or three places where odd word choice or omissions snuck into the mix. Here's one example:

After some practice I adjusted to the view, but it would occasionally made it difficult to see how much my attacks were charged.

There, the word 'made' should be 'make' instead. That's the kind of error that I never see myself in my own reviews until someone points them out to me, since the spellchecker will never bring it to your attention.

Speaking of how long the review is, it really did feel a bit on the long side. It's actually only just over 1300 words, only around 300 over my own typical review length, so perhaps the problem comes from the size of some paragraphs. You might want to consider how intimidating large paragraphs can be to the human mind when drafting future reviews, and perhaps one or two of the more beastly ones in this particular review can be divided.

I did like the examples you gave, which really show that you've given the game's finer points some thought and communicated well what it feels like to play the game. That's the sort of information that too many reviewers tend to leave out, so it was nice to see it here.

The only thing I would recommend possibly cutting is some of the introduction. It seems like you went on a little bit longer than necessary about the Penny Arcade folks. I realize that it's pertinent, but your review is long enough that you might want to trim it down to just the essentials. Most people likely to read this review are probably doing so because they already know all about Penny Arcade and just want to see how the game fared.

You do a good job of describing that, of course. Like I said, I hope we'll see more of you around here. This was a polished review and I know I'd be interested in seeing what you think of some other games if you're able to keep writing on this level.
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Muk1000 posted June 08, 2008:

Thanks for the comments! I'm glad you liked it, as I was a bit unsure of it when I uploaded it. I did worry it was getting a bit long, but I wasn't sure what to cut out, so I decided to see what the feedback on it would be. I'll correct the little grammar mistakes but I think I'll leave the content the same otherwise.

Once I have something I want to review I'll send it up. Hopefully soon. I haven't beat many games lately, though, so I'm not sure what to do. I just bought Ikaruga on the 360 arcade... but I don't think I'll be ready to review that any time soon. >_>
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Suskie posted June 08, 2008:

Aye, good review. I really wanted to play this game since I like Penny Arcade, but unfortunately I still don't have Xbox Live. Need to get it soon.
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Muk1000 posted June 09, 2008:

If your computer isn't a relic, there are PC and Mac versions (and Linux) available, with demos just in case you're not sure if you can run it. Game should be the same (I've heard that it's easier to see on a computer but clicking constantly to move can be a pain).
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zippdementia posted November 25, 2008:

I'm glad someone reviewed this, since I've been hearing a lot of mixed opinions, and I'm hesitant to spend my $15 before I have a secure job.

Everyone agrees the style and humour are good, but I've often seen the word "repetitious" come up in relation to almost every aspect of the game. What are your thoughts on that?

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