Sunday, September 12, 2010

penny arcade adventures: episode 1

I'm a big fan of PennyArcade, though that's not saying much about me specifically, as it is the world's premier webcomic, game-based or otherwise. I bought episode 1 of their game 1 or 2 years ago, which was produced by Greenhouse games and developed by Hothead. I'm pretty sure this game is only available via digital download, which is probably a good thing, as it's a pretty small size (in MB) to begin with. When you purchase it, you get a single installer file, like any non-Steam demo you've ever had. It weighs in at just over 200MB, which is small even when compared to a lot of demos you can get now. I've started this game, reformatted my computer and then restarted it several times now, but I think this playthrough is the farthest I've gotten. I'm probably almost done, which I'm going to guess and say is a fair point at which to write a conclusive article about it. Bay-Beh, Break-DOWN! Go-head and give it to me!

(1) Gameplay / Game quality
It would be harsh for me to say the game itself plays second fiddle, so I won't say that. What I will say is that PennyArcade's comedic and artistic styles are what will draw anyone to the game to begin with, and they are the focus in practice, too. The game itself is half point-and-click adventure (no puzzles) and half RPG. Your create-a-character runs around with Gabe and Tycho from the comic, though they are not the characters from the strip proper (more in a sec). You must talk with NPCs and exchange one item for another, go back and forth between these NPCs, perform tasks for them (mostly fighting), etc. It's run-of-the-mill, but not necessarily bad. I didn't experience any boredom-pain during these parts, as there was at least a clear goal at any given time. I always had something to do, knew what it was, and was going somewhere. Fighting enemies is pretty fun, but nothing too special. It's a finger or two above average, and almost never feels like a chore, which you could even say Final Fantasy is guilty of. You have simple physical attacks, team-up attacks, and items and that's it. Where a lotta RPGs have the items set up as something you use in a pinch when your magic runs out, you will use them regularly here. It's a bit........confusing(?) at first because if you play other RPGs, you will habitually ignore using items. Just be prepared to use them more than you'd guess you have to.

2. Do you need to know PA?
 I just realized I'm actually wearing my "20 Million Kids Are Eaten By Bats Every Second" shirt that I bought from their booth at Comic-Con right now. This sets up the next section: You should probably be a fan if you buy this game. Most of the people who buy it are anyway, but if you've never heard of them you will be missing out on a few in-jokes. For example, there is a running character in the strip called the FruitFucker, a horny juicer machine that.........Fucks fruit.

I try not to be profane when I write this (despite cursing IRL), but hey that's what it's called. To a person who's never read the strip, they'll probably be confused as to why they're fighting horny juicers. It probably doesn't make sense to begin with, but a person who is familiar with the strip will at least get a chuckle, a chuckle that an uninformed player won't. It's by no means an experience breaker, but if you are familiar with PA, its so much more enjoyable when character A or B suddenly shows up and you know them. When Gabe or Tycho talk, you already know their characters and that the things they say are in line with the characters as they've been established. Like when you play a Star Wars videogame, it's more enjoyable if you recognize pieces of it as legitimately Star Wars. Newcomers can enjoy it, though, and are encouraged to check out both the game and the strip, time permitting. Try this

(3) Humor / Art
So familiarity helps, but what about the quality of the writing and art style themselves? Top-notch. Yes, I am glad to say that the semi-Douglas Adams writing style of Jerry "Tycho" Holkins as well as Mike "Gabe" Krahulik's cartoon art permeate every corner of this game, and are probably the best part of it. Let me try and get a piece of the writing. Hold on ............................................................................................................................................................................................ Sorry I had to turn the game on. What I wanted to say was that a lot of effort was put into making every. thing. in the game a joke. You get a cat to join your party as a support character, and the cat is introduced as "lazy, even by cat standards." In a dialog about upgrading Tycho's gun, Tycho says "Et tu, Gabriel" when Gabe reveals that he "didn't want to say anything" about it needing an upgrade. The attack from a hobo using a piece of wood is called "Plank you very much", and yet another hobo holds up a sign that says "Will deal damage for food" at which point your party takes damage. It's actually kind of hard to explain. For instance, when acquiring fruit to use as bait for the Fruitfuckers, a narrator's voice introduces the fruits as fresh and seasonal. It's hard to explain why, but I thought it was funny that he used the word seasonal. If you have those kinds sensibilities towards comedy and writing, don't pass this game up. As far as setting, you walk around a 1920s semi-steampunk town, and while the characters are not really the Gabe and Tycho from the strip, they are for all intents and purposes. You know how in Animaniacs or Tiny Toons, whenever they'd do a period episode, all of the characters would have appropriate clothing, facial hair, etc? Or how the Simpsons did "The Raven"? It's like that. The art all appears to have come from Gabe himself, and even the 3D models are contiguous with the PA art. They kind of have the Simpsons syndrome where they don't really translate to 3D that well, but they done-ded a decent job

So there's my take on it. Is it worth the $15 I paid? I dunno. It's actually $5 on steam, and if you're still not sure, there's a demo available. If you buy it, expect the humor to be the primary source of enjoyment, and while it sounds like I'm being negative by saying that, I'm really not. It's like a long interactive comic, complete with fantastic comedic writing in every nook. The game is still good, but it's not going to win any awards. If you love PA, at $5, buy buy buy.

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