When I first booted up the Xbox 360 version of Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness, I have to admit that I did it warily and with a fair bit of caution.
Part of me, I think, was preparing itself for disappointment. After all, this could be one of the best little games of the year in me eyes – it’s designed by a small independent development team, distributed online via a new digital platform focused at providing an outlet for indie games, it’s written by Tycho and Gabe from Penny Arcade and then to cap it all off it’s been co-designed with Ron ‘Monkey Island’ Gilbert. It sounds too good to be true.
I wasn’t just getting ready for disappointment though – I was preparing myself for something much more insidious and sinister. Much as I love the Penny Arcade team, they have been critical of my profession in the past and I believe they’ve passed comment on the futility of games reviewing on more than one occasion.
To put it bluntly, it seemed to me that Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness wasn’t just them trying to put their money where their mouth is in terms of there own gaming opinions – it was them trying to poke fun at games journalists too. I could almost hear Tycho teasing in my head "Rate this, vile Gournalist! Ha!
A Gournalist is what we call a games critic who mistakenly thinks enough of themselves to introduce themselves as a Journalist at parties, just in case you were wondering, though the spelling hasn't yet been standardised since we only came up with the term over lunch and a game of Zombie Fluxx. And yes, I am a Gournalist myself for better or worse.
I mean, why else would you have such a gargantuan title for a game other than to try and make sure it wouldn’t fit in the headline of articles like this one? They must be trying to make some sort of statement, right? For the most part though that doesn’t matter because any statements the writer and artist duo may have been trying to make (if indeed that’s what they were trying to do) have been lost. Completely and utterly lost.
Lost, thankfully, under a witty script, plush visuals and right-at-home gameplay.
The story for Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness (thank God for copy/paste!) is quite simple, mainly because the titular Adventures are to be episodic and so we can look forward to seeing more of this expanding cartoon opus in the future.
It’s the 1920’s in New Arcadia and strange things are afoot. Early on the narrator, between suggestions of going windsurfing, hints in a grim and somehow heart-warming voice of apocalyptic rumblings but is interrupted when a giant robot stomps on the players house.
Who you are exactly is left entirely open – there’s a brief character creator to help you get started, but you are essentially a new and unknown character in the game world. For my part, as testament to my love of all things Thriftweed Threepwood, I called myself Guybrush and donned a blue coat.
At the time I thought that was both hilarious and clever, but when a colossal robot in the shape of Penny Arcade’s Fruit F***er stomped on my house I pretty much forgot about it my witticisms straight away. Darn.
All that was left of poor my house was a pile of rubble on his lawn and the garden rake I held in my hands, but that was a fate I wasn’t going to be consumed by and just minutes later I had become an honorary part of the Startling Developments Detective Agency.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, Starling Developments is an eclectic and old-fashioned detective firm founded by Tycho and Gabe. The origins for each character have been changed – Gabe for example is now a street-brawler who ran away from home because “everyone famous was born an orphan” and who has only ever lost a fist-fight to the devil – but the roles are very much the same. Tycho is the elitist intellectual ‘apocalyptist’, Gabe the loud-mouthed and arrogant proof that maybe computer games do make you more violent.