Over the course of the last couple weeks, I’ve played through the iOS port of the third episode of the Penny Arcade game- officially named “Penny Arcade Adventures: ON the Rain-Slick Precipice OF Darkness 3“, and hereafter referred to as “Rainslick 3″ because holy crap that’s a mouthful. It was decent, but unfortunately I’m not nearly as impressed by it as I hoped to be.
The game, mechanically, is fairly solid. It’ s got an oldscool feel and visual flair that works in its’ favor, while the underpinning ‘systems’ borrow from some of the 16-bit era’s better ideas. Combat mixes the oldschool Final Fantasy turn-based system with a visible ‘initative’ bar and the ability to delay enemy turns or create ‘periodic’ effects, which works fairly well; they’ve put a few interesting twists on a solid foundation. Characters are developed with a class-based system, similar to the Job systems seen in some of the old Final Fantasy games- each of your four main characters has a default ‘class, which grants stat bonuses and abilities, and you’ll eventually gain the ability to equip up to two additional ones. It works pretty well, although I found that once I had a setup down, there was very little reason to ever change it up. I thought the challenge level was decent- I wiped several times through the game, but the penalty for doing so is light, so it didn’t feel terribly onerous to change up my strategy and try again. The other side of that coin, however, is that each area contains a certain set of predefined combats which don’t appear again- although there is one area where respawning enemies appear, on the most part, you don’t have the option of grding levels as a recouse if you get stuck. This didn’t bother me personally, but may be a sticking point for other players.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of smaller issues with the game that bugged me. While the plot is fine for what it is, the writing is florid in a way whch just makes my eyes slide right over it sometimes. The writers- I’m not sure if it’s wrtten by the PA folks themselves or someone from Zeboyd- frequently seem more interested in showing off their vocabulary than actually telling a story in an interesting way. There’s quite a bit of reuse of old PA gags; nearly every one-panel gag character they’ve come up with appears at least briefly, whether as a full character or a random enemy. Rex Ready? Dr. Jacob Crunchner? The Broodax? Karapyss the Crabomancer, and his companion Professor Necro-Dead? You’ll bump into all of them as you go through the game. While there are worse things than having shout-outs to the old strips (and I admit that I was glad to see the criminally-underused Dr. Raven Darktalon Blood), I can’t help but feel that relying so heavily on callouts to Penny Arcade the comic prevents Penny Arcade the game from forming its’ own mythology. I also suspect that non-readers will be a little put off by the onslaught of old injokes and callbacks, but at this point the PA folks may have given up on attracting them to the game in any real numbers. The fact that there are neither repeatable nor random combats gives me the same on-rails feeling that many modern games to; playing Rainslick 3 definitely feels more like a scripted series of minibosses than exploring an open world.
There’s no nice way to say this: the game did not run well on my iPhone 3GS. The graphics are unevenly-scaled in a way which makes the faux-16-bit style that they’re rendered in look tremendously ugly, I had numberous issues with the game crashing, and the interface is incredibly clumsy on an iPhone screen. Maybe it’s better on later-generation phones (or iPads), but if you’re interested at all, I’d strongly recommend the PC/Mac version. I don’t know if it’s better, but frankly I’m not sure it could be worse without being borderline-unplayable.
I don’t mean to be too down on the game. The mechanics are solid, like I said, and none of the issues I’ve mentioned above prevented me from finishing or enjoying the game. That being said, I’m not sure how strongly I’d recommend the game to anyone who wasn’t a fan of the comic. You could certainly do worse if you’re looking for an oldschool-style mobile RPG- but you could probably do better, too.