Penny Arcade: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 1 and Episode 2 were developed by Hothead Games. They originally retailed for 1600 MSP and 1200 MSP respectively. They now both have been permanently reduced to 800 MSP each.

The Penny Arcade games are both fairly traditional RPG’s put together in an episodic format. With the third episode finally having been announced this is the perfect time to revisit these titles. Episode 2 makes some improvements over the first but they are largely similar except as far as story is concerned. With that in mind this will be a joint review for both episodes. The theme of the games is difficult to define. Seemingly set in the past it also contains a great deal of futuristic technology. But those up for an interesting mix of themes will be in for a treat.

Here’s what we liked:

Classic RPG gameplay – RPG’s are a somewhat underrepresented genre on XBLA. Most of what is available is of the action RPG flavor, such as Torchlight. It’s nice to have one available that is more traditional in its gameplay. It is turn based and each character has its own active time gauge that fills based on their speed. There isn’t any magic to speak of but there are plenty of options. Items can be used quickly, and then the regular attack becomes an option. Finally the special attack becomes available and these can also be done as a powerful team attack if timed right. There is a good deal of strategy in timing who will attack when and how. The combat stays fresh by keeping you active. While defending and attacking there is a key time to press a button that will improve either your attack or defense. In certain instances this is crucial to your survival.

Penny Arcade humor – This style of humor isn’t for everyone, but for those who love it this game has it all. The story is truly bizarre. It will have you fighting mimes and bums along with fruit “friends”. The writing is pure Penny Arcade with lots of references to their comics and characters. Fans of the web comic are sure to find something they like here.

Cel shaded look – The familiar art style of Penny Arcade transitions very nicely into a 3D environment. The graphics are cel shaded and look wonderful. The whole look of the game brings across a comedic and yet somehow serious tone. The comic book-esque cut scenes are a nice touch as well. Most of the enemies are hilariously animated with strange attacks as well.

Pacing – Some classic RPG’s force you to grind levels for excessive amounts of time. Fortunately Penny Arcade has no random encounters at all. Rather all enemies that you need to face are clearly on the screen in front of you. By beating these enemies you will be powerful enough to fight where you presently are. This sort of pacing is a welcome feature for almost any RPG. All areas are revisit able as well so there is no chance of putting yourself in an unwinnable situation.

Character creation – There is a fairly robust character creation engine at the beginning of the game. You can make your character look like almost anything you like. The best part is that you can import  your character from the first game into the second for continuity purposes. It’s a nice touch.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Constantly forced to check things – There are a great deal of extras to find throughout the game. Unfortunately to find these extras you are forced to search every trashcan, mailbox, painting, etc. This gets rather tedious and there is no way to know which might hold something. In fairness, there are a lot of funny quotes and other such messages to read while searching, but even that gets old. It’s great that they added extras; we just wish it wasn’t such a pain to find them.

General lack of replay value – There is not a great deal of variability in your party. There is a set group of three and they each have a specific skill set and weapons. There is no option to change classes, so that kills some of the potential replay value. There really aren’t any side quests to speak of either so once you have beaten the game there isn’t much left. This is fairly common for RPG’s but it seems particularly true here.

Penny Arcade: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness is a unique experience. Fans of the comic will easily find enough value here to warrant a purchase. RPG fans will find that this is a very competent game that does what it’s supposed to. Outside of those two fan bases it will likely be a much harder sell. Hopefully these under-appreciated games will get a bit more attention now that a proper third episode has been announced.

Score: Buy It