It has been a few years since the last Penny Arcade Adventures game was released. And it was a fun, though short, game. There was talk of a third game, though it quickly became accepted that it was stuck in developmental purgatory due to the developer Hot Head Games becoming absorbed in their own personal projects (among other unknown factors). So it was a pleasant surprise to see the third installment, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3, on Steam for $5. So was it worth the wait?
Episode 3 continues the main overarching plot of the original duology: The world is going to be destroyed, and it’s up to Gabe and Tycho to put an end to it in a 1920s Steampunk set universe. They are joined by Jim, who is a skull in a jar, and Tycho’s ex-wife Moira. Ironically, Tycho really wants everything to burn so that there will be no other universe shall exist while he saves the one he lives in.
There are a few problems with the story, and most of them are due to my biases from the past two games. First, the comic book feel has been dropped. So instead of what felt like a lost comic strip is now presented as a traditional RPG. Second, I somehow have the sense that the writing isn’t as good as the previous two games. This is not to say that the writing is bad — far from it. The edgy/off-kilter writing that Penny Arcade is known for isn’t present. It’s like they gave Zeboyd Games free reign and just checked in from time to time to provide artistic direction. And finally, which might be the most important point for some, where in the world is my character from the previous two games?! Now I realize that, technically speaking, this may not be possible hardware and storytelling wise. The thing is, how does my character fit into this series?
As previously mentioned, this is a traditional RPG. The four “friends” wander around the maps, find preplaced enemies (which never respawn except in the coliseum), buy stuff and battle enemies. There are few things added to the mix that make it feel modern.
There are several classes for the group to “equip” (they’re all pins). There’s the dinosorcerer, a class that transforms the person into dinosaurs, the tube samurai, elementist, gentleman, a defensive class that’s focused on healing, a slacker class, a gardener class and a hobo class. No one character can equip the same class so you need to know how your group functions, or at least how you want them to function. Characters do not gain experience, only their classes. At least it’s not a problem if you need to change classes as unused classes gain experience at a slightly lower rate.
Combat is a mixture of turn-based action and real time. You see, there is a combat bar at the top of the screen. Each character/monster has a wait period, followed by a command period, a charge period and then the action. If a special attack like Moira’s double tap hits a monster during a character’s charge time, it’ll send the character’s action back. Furthermore, characters begin battles with no MP (magic points) and gain MP as their turns occur. So figuring out when to defend, use items (you can only use an item so many times per battle) and attack plays a slightly bigger role than the average RPG. It also doesn’t hurt that you never run out of items as the group obtains an item duplicator right from the start.
Sound design is rather solid as well. There are a few catchy tunes as the music imitates the old SNES processor at times. It’s interesting to hear how a synthetic harpsichord (I kid you not) is the main map theme and then mixes in with other instruments to help create a mysterious vibe. The battle music is, thankfully, suitably tense. And I had one tune when they were stuck in “8-bit land” (my name, not theirs) when I was engrossed in the game. This isn’t to say the music is bad. It does its job, nothing more. The one element that angers me quite a bit is the bland sound design. Even worse, combat sounds are missing as there is no gunfire, no punching and no gurgling sounds of a vile liquid burning an enemy.
So what does that mean for Penny Arcade Adventures 3 as a whole? It is a good game, and I really enjoyed my time with it. I love the retro-inspired art style and the mixture of other RPG mechanics into an awesome battle experience. The plot isn’t as easy to follow as the previous installments (the game ends on MASSIVE cliff hanger), though it is still quite funny as it references everything from RPG tropes to Zeboyd’s previous games to 1980s pop culture. The down part is that it is a very short game as I finished the main story in under hours. At least DLC is in the future, though I have no clue how clear it is implemented as I didn’t see it. I digress.
I consider this game be the paramount of the indie community. If you love RPGs, the Penny Arcade Web comic or even retro-inspired games, then you owe it to yourself to at least play the demo of the game. And for five bucks, it’s a steal and the computer monitor will keep the darkness at bay while you play at night.