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If you’ve never heard of Penny Arcade, you should check them out online and see if their particular brand of humor is your cup of tea: their razor wit expletive filled dialogue is a core part of both the web comic, and the game’s sense of humor.

“On the Rain Slick” is played like a traditional, watered down version of Final Fantasy. Read on to find out how it stands up against the legacy of the classic comic strip.

Penny Arcade takes place in a fictional setting called “New Arcadia”. It’s sort of a mixture of 1920s film noir and the steampunk subculture: a perfect reflection of the creator’s favorite genres. When you star the game, you are a normal resident of New Arcadia, and your house is destroyed by a giant robot. The Penny Arcade heroes, Gabe and Tycho, are on the scene investigating, and that’s where your story starts. Immediately, you join the “Starling Developments Detective Agency”, and start….well….investigating!

On the Rain Slick Episode 1 isn’t the best looking game in the world. The graphics are average for a typical Arcade game, but where this title really shines is in both the in-game cutscenes, and the comic book style movie sequences. There is almost no voice acting to be found, other than the main narrator; who is really only in the tutorial sequence. Instead, your conversations with the inhabitants of New Arcadia are carried out in a comic book style narrative.

Often, you are given conversational choices, but nothing really affects the overall story. The animations for the characters will range from dull to outrageously hilarious. The only real complaint with the presentation of the game is that the story takes a while to pick up. In a game that takes around 10 hours to complete, having a slow story can be fatal, but it’s engaging enough to keep you going.

The core battle system is ripped directly from Final Fantasy games (think FF7), and uses an Active Time Battle (ATB) mechanic. Essentially, this means the combat is menu based, and if you sit still without choosing an action, the enemy will attack you until you do. Combat is initiated by being in close proximity to an enemy while roaming around the main map. A standard combat “timer’ is used to determine your turn, and your “speed” statistic allows this timer to complete its revolution quicker.

While it uses old mechanics that many new gamers may find boring at first glance, it’s actually quite fun. Your party consists of Yourself, Gabe, and Tycho, and each character has a special weapon (a Garden rake, Brass Knuckles, and a Tommy gun respectively), that is capable of unleashing either a normal attack, or 1 of 3 special abilities.

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When you engage in battle, you have 4 options: Attack, Special Attack, Item, or Helper. In order to use a special attack, you have to wait until your combat timer is charged twice over. Each special attack has a mini-game that is only slightly altered at higher levels. For instance, when using Tycho’s special gun attacks, the player must press 8-12 buttons before the time runs out, similar to a QTE sequence in God of War. The special attacks keep the combat fresh. Some of the enemies you encounter will be resistant to “fist” attacks, leaving Gabe useless, and be more susceptible to “firearm” attacks, making Tycho key to that battle.

The problem with Penny Arcade’s battle system is it’s too simplistic. While the combat is fun enough, it could have used different mini-games for each tier of character’s special attack. Also, oddly enough, bandages both heal, and revive a friendly player, making combat too easy for the majority of the game. There is also a very odd choice of mechanics for the buff/debuff (raising and lowering of statistics) system found in Episode 1. Any character, enemy or ally, can only have either 1 buff or debuff on you at a time. This means that you could use a “+ defense” elixir on yourself, and the enemy can just cancel it with a “- attack”. This makes no sense, but I suppose Hot Head games just wanted to keep it simple.

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The actual adventure part of the game is engaging. While there are only 4 areas, you periodically will unlock completely new parts, making you feel as if there are more. After almost every major discovery, you will retreat to Tycho’s niece’s home, which functions as a hub. Here you can further the story, and upgrade your weapons. There are 3 exploration areas; your home street, the slums, and the boardwalk. You can roam these areas and collect items found in boxes, or hunt down robots, which are found in curious places like milk cartons, or dead animals. Finding robots is a big part of advancing the game, albeit it optional. Robots yield robot parts, which upgrade your weapons and make later encounters easier to handle. Penny Arcade Episode 1 does a fine job of balancing your main objectives, and the hunt for robot parts, to the point where you will always feel like there is something to do.

The musical style of Penny Arcade Episode 1 sounds mostly “haunting”, and sets the mood. There are no tracks that will reach out and grab you, and you may not even realize there is music in some areas. The narrator, mostly found in the beginning and end of the game, is the only real sliver of voice acting that you get, and he’s not particularly funny. The cut-scene and battle sounds, however, are hilarious. They range from a hobo’s shrill screams to goofy clown laughter.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing available that makes you want to come back to the game, other than the need you’re inevitably going to feel to buy Episode 2. When you fight the last boss, you are warned that you “cannot go back to your game”, and to be frank, this mechanic is perplexing. It’s always a disappointment to complete a game, get attached to your party, max them out, and them have nothing to do afterwards. While you could always save before you fight the boss, and then collect everything you want beforehand, you still feel shortchanged. Also, there isn’t much to bring you back to the game in terms of extra quests. There are only 2 real optional quests, and the 3 mini-games found in the boardwalk area are more of a chore than something you want to come back to.

Penny Arcade Episode 1 is a game that doesn’t quite function properly as a stand alone title, but will feel more like a complete experience with Episode 2. Despite its shortcomings, the game’s story is engaging, and the dialogue is very well written: plus it’s funny! Hardcore RPG fans may not enjoy the simplistic gameplay elements at the price of $15, but overall it’s a solid game that is interesting enough to play.

Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review

Rating Category
8.0 Presentation
The in-game graphics aren’t spectacular, but the cut-scene animations are vibrant, and very well done. Penny Arcade Episode 1 has a good amount of movies, and they’re a perfect rendition of the online comics in motion.
How does our scoring system work?
7.0 Gameplay
Once again, the combat system is very basic. You will reach level 15 (maximum) without realizing it. For a standard RPG, however, the combat does a nice job of keeping itself interesting. The exploration aspect of the game is quite fun.
6.0 Sound
No voice acting, but the sounds are pretty funny at times. The music is not absorbing, but fits the mood of the game quite well.
4.0 Longevity
There’s nothing bringing you back to it again. In fact, the ending only taunts you into buying Episode 2.
7.0 Overall
Penny Arcade Episode 1 is a very basic experience that takes a while to pick up in terms of pace. If you plan on buying it, I would strongly suggest planning to purchase Episode 2, otherwise you may feel shortchanged.

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