Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

I never have been huge into Penny Arcade, or comic strips in general for that matter.  I did read it for years, but after a certain point it was done more out of habit.  I suppose it’s the same reason I always check what Garfield is up to every Sunday, even though I don’t think I’ve ever found a single joke in it to be funny.  I’m not sure anyone over the age of six ever has.  I heard a guy somewhere in the South once laughed at one of the endless “he’s a fat cat, get it?” gags, probably something involving lasagna, but that might be an urban legend.  At least Penny Arcade is topical to me, even if it’s really just observational humor with a couple generic stock characters conveying it.  It works, because we notice these things too.  And after going through their recent archives in preparation for this review, I learned that it’s still funny.  I mean come on, who could have watched E3 and not laugh at this?

Having said that, I really didn’t enjoy the first two Penny Arcade games.  And it had nothing to do with developer Hothead Games, who went on to do Deathspank and The Swarm, a couple of my favorite PSN titles.  I have a theory on this, and it goes like so: maybe these characters don’t actually lend themselves well to being in a video game.  Penny Arcade belongs outside the confines of the industry, looking into it and saying “you ever notice how fucked up all this is?”  When you place these characters in a position to drive a complex narrative, it seems like the entire point of their existence has been missed.

The Mario Party series has gotten weird.

I pretty much feel the same way about the latest Penny Arcade game.  Even with a new developer, the insanely talented guys at Zeboyd Games, something about it just doesn’t work.  One of the biggest problems is how married this sequel is to the original two games, the second of which didn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire.  It seemed weird to me that they would do another sequel.  I figured the people had spoken with their wallets and there wasn’t a lot of interest in continuing this particular story any further.  Granted, you don’t need to have played the previous two games to play this.  In fact, they advertise that fact in the game’s blurb on the marketplace.  Again, if we’re going to do that, maybe they should have just started all over with a fresh storyline and new characters.

I actually thought the storyline for On the Oil-Slick Recipe of Blackness Electric Bologna 3 was as dull as a butter knife at times, while downright fucking surreal at others.  The dialog can be sharp and at times very funny, but most of the time I was just like “please stop talking so I can fight something.”  The jokes are hit and miss (emphasis on miss), with the funniest bits not coming until you’re about 75% done with the game.  The best laughs I got were typically from the enemy names, although some of them were pretty damn good.

Ha, Optimus Mime. Classic.

The actual plot of Tycho being some kind of janitor to the universe was confusing and clumsily handled, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a way the ending (the real one, not the bullshit one) could have let me down more.  Maybe if it had advocated the benefits of eating baby seal meat while getting puppies drunk on helium.  I’m still not sure that would be as disturbing as the tone the game took at the end.  It would be like ending a wacky situational comedy by having the lead character suffer a nervous breakdown after watching someone smother a chicken to death.  Only it wasn’t a chicken.  IT WAS A BABY!

(Brian, who actually has watched M*A*S*H*, just told me that the show was supposed to be half-serious, half-comedy.  Yea, fuck that.  It had a laugh track.  It was a comedy.)

I’m not just hating for the sake of hating here, by the way.  If all the stuff you read in the previous 672 words sounded bad, let me reassure you that On the Slick-Dick of District 9 is one seriously amazing RPG.  You can tell Zeboyd spent many of their formative years growing up playing the classics of the genre (which typically included at least one of the following three words: Fantasy, Chrono, or Mana), but knew what could make them better.  So when they were all grown-up, mentally warped, and insane enough to give game production a try themselves, they actually fixed what was wrong with RPGs.  As opposed to most RPG developers who include every antiquated, conventional mechanic, just because that’s how an RPG is supposed to be.  Gone from this game are random encounters, items to juggle, and boring fights that you could win by training a woodpecker to beat on the A button while you go outside for a smoke.

In their place is a simple-yet-deep system involving “pins” that change your character class on the fly.  Each of the four main characters has one default class, but you can equip up to two others, each of which levels up independently as you play the game.  I loved this set-up and was still mixing-and-matching the different pins right up until the last boss.  It never got old, and that is so rare in a role-playing game.  Whenever things threatened to get repetitive, the game will toss out special conditions to change things up, if only for just a fight.  It’s nice that a developer finally recognized the potential for their game to stagnate and put fail safes in to prevent that.

Every mechanic of this game just works.  The combat is fast paced, varied, smart, but complex enough that you have freedom to experiment.  It’s a rare turn-based RPG that feels like more than scrolling through menus.  You truly feel like you are in charge.  Sure, a few stereotypes rear their ugly heads.  The accessory system is more or less the same shit every RPG has, but at least it complements the fighting system well.  Thankfully, you don’t have to stockpile items.  Every item used is replenished between fights, and there’s only six types anyway.  It sure beats dealing with a U-Haul full of potions, mid-potions, high-potions, elixirs, herbs, tents, and bombs.  Instead, you pay to upgrade each item in a shop, or buy the ability to use it more times in every battle.  Having dealt with decades of what RPGs have taught us, that you’re allowed to carry enough health potions that you could practically replace your own blood with the shit, I liked this system.  It kept things clean.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is not perfect.  The dialog can just drone on and on.  When the dialog works, it’s entertaining.  When it doesn’t, that’s usually when it just won’t fucking shut up.  But, as a game?  It’s incredible.  Again, I think most of the problems with it can be tied to the source material.  Penny Arcade is funny.  Penny Arcade as a semi-comedic, semi-dramatic video game is not.  These are characters that make jokes about iPads and E3.  I don’t want to see them dealing with doomsday scenarios and deep introspective soul-searching.  I want to see them taking the piss out of the gaming industry.  Rain-Slick 3 doesn’t do that.  I figure there’s two ways to go around it.  One is to do a straight gaming parody, like Airplane! did for disaster movies.  The other idea is a bit more radical: leave the Penny Arcade characters out of it.  Make Penny Arcade the gaming brand for parody, like National Lampoon or Monty Python do for film.  Oh don’t worry Mike & Jerry.  You guys can still have the ego-inflation you need by inserting yourself into the games, but as cameos.  Hey, some people go very far doing that!  You know that old dude with the sunglasses and the mustache that’s in every single Marvel Comics movie?  Stan something.  Yea, him.  Get this: it turns out THAT GUY actually wrote the original comics those films are based on.  I know, right?  Crazy shit!

Maybe I accidentally didn’t play the right game. Instead, I played a game called “3” that was about the guy from Metal Slug hunting Adam Lambert.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-oh fuck it.

Penny Arcade 3 was developed by Zeboyd Games

400 Microsoft Points thank everyone for an incredible first year.  I love you guys.

Monster King

Monster King is the second RPG that I’ve played this month that’s missing some key ingredients.  When the core mechanics of your game involve scrolling menus, you have to really jazz things with witty dialog, a compelling story, or charismatic characters.  If you have none of that, it’s like serving a customer a bowl of warm water and calling it the Soup of the Day.

Today, I ordered a big bowl of Cream of Void because Monster King has the personality of a mannequin.  You play as a dude who has to, um, do something.  If it was explained, I forgot it.  Probably save the kingdom.  It’s always about one dude saving the kingdom.  Don’t these kingdoms ever have a standing army?  Here’s a thought: since in these classic RPGs, the “kingdom” usually consists of a dozen or so towns, each populated by between 4 and 10 people, why not just gather everyone up and move to a new kingdom?  One with better infrastructure, a standing army, and monsters not camping just outside the border of every town?  Come to think of it, why are there never monsters in the towns?  You’re a lone hero who is attempting to save the entire kingdom, armed to the teeth, and you still have to stock up on potions and regenerative magic.  The towns are populated by five idiots who say the same line of dialog every time you try to converse with them.  The monsters should be able to steamroll over them in like five seconds.  These games never make any sense.

It would have been cooler if he was standing by the dock of the bay, even though there’s nothing to do there either, besides watching the tide roll away.

The hook of Monster King is that you can capture enemies when they’re weakened and then use them during battle.  It’s not exactly Pokemon, because you can only use each monster once during a battle.  However, the magic and monster system are basically the same idea.  Use fire against things made of wood, water against things made of fire, Bengay against things made of old people, etc.  Figuring out which enemies work on others is a little trickier, and most enemies pack a pretty decent punch, so you don’t have time to experiment.  Your defense never upgrades when you level up, probably to keep the game from getting too easy, so you have to camp out near towns so you can refill your health and magic points every-other battle.  Are we having fun yet?

Monster King does make an effort to have some form of humor in it, but it really doesn’t work all that well.  Here, humor comes in the form of jokes from the towns people.  The one that stuck with me is “people ask me if I’ve lived here my whole life.  I tell them no, not yet.”  That’s about as sophisticated as it gets.  For the most part, it’s just go to town, buy weapons, fight monsters, level up, slap yourself in the face to prevent yourself from falling asleep, explore caves, and fight bosses.  However, Monster King is more stripped down than Mortal Legacies in some other aspects.  Weapons and armor are automatically equipped, you can’t hock any old ones, and stores do not sell potions.  After playing for over an hour, I never found any item stronger than the standard potion, which can only be got out of treasure chests.  MP can only be restored by sleeping at an inn or leveling up.  Thus, the already boring gameplay is really taken to its most basic level of design.  I don’t get why people make games like this anymore.  This doesn’t feel like a game someone made because it was something they wanted to play.  It seems more like a game that someone made to see if they could.  That’s fine.  That’s how you learn.  But maybe it’s best to not attempt to sell that game.

Status? Sleepy, getting sleepier.

I was ready to write off Monster King as competent and functional, but as shallow as refrigerator condensation.  And then, it happened.  What happened?  Well, I was fighting snowmen and grinding up my XP.  I had just fought a boss, had leveled up a couple of times, bought some new armor, and was about to buy a new sword.  Then I got a message from a friend asking if I could check to see how much something on the Xbox marketplace cost.  I scooted over to the town, slept in the inn, saved the game, and turned it off.  I returned just a few minutes later and loaded up my game.  Only my game was from about twenty minutes before my last save, meaning I had to fight the boss again and make up for the five levels I had climbed and then lost.  I am not sure how this happened.  I typically save XBLIG files to my memory card.  Hang on, let me check and see if I accidentally saved it to the hard drive.

Nope.  No save file found on my hard drive.  Mind you, I’m hyper-compulsive about saving in games.  When I was a kid, I went a little too long between saves playing Kingdom Hearts, and a power-outage resulted in my first legitimate gaming rage moment.  My SpongeBob pillow suffered one lost limb and three stab wounds of unknown origin (pssss, it was from a nail file).  Since then, I’ve been vigilant about saving.  And so I did save after every level-up.  But, come to think of it, the game was a little weird about when the save happened more than the one time.  I did die after a battle or two.  Sometimes I would go back to my previous save spot, but more often I would go back further.  Obviously something is not working here.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have recommended Monster King anyway.  Like Mortal Legacies, it seemed like a good first-attempt, but not a game I could recommend spending actual money on.  But, I’m sure there are people out there who are looking for bland, one-dimensional time wasters.  If that’s the case, and the save thing doesn’t discourage you, knock yourself out with Monster King.  Or, here’s a better idea: go see a fucking doctor because you obviously have no pulse.

Monster King was developed by NickB

80 Microsoft Points wondered why the tree that is brandishing a gun is called the “Tree Killer.”  Wouldn’t “Killer Tree” make more sense?  I mean, I guess it could be killing trees when it’s not attacking professional monster slayers like a dumbass.  But if that was the case, why does it have a gun?  Guns aren’t very effective at killing trees, unless it’s a gun that fires big bullets.  Like a cannon, but that really isn’t a gun.  It should have been brandishing a chainsaw, which would have been a good chance to add humor to the game.  I mean, a tree that uses a chainsaw?  Ironic comedy.  A tree with a gun?  Just weird.

Mortal Legacies

When I first heard the name “Mortal Legacies” I thought it sounded like someone left out the word “Kombat” on an iPhone port of the series.  I mean, doesn’t Mortal Kombat Legacies sound like a crappy iPhone version of Mortal Kombat?  It does to me.  Something that uses digital controls and plays like shit.  Well, Mortal Legacies isn’t an iPhone version of Mortal Kombat.  It does play like shit though.

Okay, so the term “play like shit” is a bit harsh.  Utterly pointless, clunky, and containing less personality than a sea sponge is probably a better description for Mortal Legacies.  It’s a traditional turn-based RPG, where you play as a dude who has to kill a demon and return the king’s crown to him.  Why?  I don’t know.  Mortal Legacies does a decent job of recreating early 16-bit era graphics, but skimped out on stuff like storyline, characterization, and any sense of urgency to the situation.  Let’s face it, straight-laced RPGs are fucking boring as hell.  The only reason to play them is if they contain an absolute dynamite storyline that can keep you from zoning out while you navigate menus.  The guys at Zeboyd realized this, which is why they took copious amounts of laughing gas when it was time to write the batshit insane scripts for their games, or at least that’s my theory.

Okay, early-early-early 16-Bit era. I’m talking Beta stage here, people.

Mortal Legacies has five characters that join your party, but none of them have any back story, or even dialog beyond an introductory sentence.  Characters in towns typically speak only one fragmented sentence at you.  With no story and no characters, what is the point?  Maybe this was a learning-curve game for the developer, who frequently posts here as Ivatrix.  Cool dude he is.  But he has a long ways to go as a game developer.  Ignoring the lack of narrative, Mortal Legacies has all kinds of mechanical problems.  First of all, it’s a time-honored tradition in RPGs that you press A to talk to someone.  Here, you just walk up to them.  Early on, this created annoying situations where I missed dialog from my mother that I couldn’t repeat.  Maybe I missed something that would give the main protagonist something resembling a personality.  Probably not, at least outside of being a pussy-whipped momma’s boy.

Leveling up is fairly easy in Mortal Legacies.  I was easily able to max out all the stats of my party on normal difficulty in fairly short order.  It helps that you get experience points for completing objectives, like for example, talking to your mother.  You level up for that.  I’m not joking.  If that’s too easy for you, you can fight in random battles.  However, enemies shit out so much XP and Gold that they might as well shove a spigot in their ass and call themselves a tap.

You use gold to buy items, even though enemies hemorrhage those as well.  Chances are you’ll never actually need to buy any potions, so you can save up all your money for weapons and armor.  Equipping them is a bit tricky.  The menus are unintuitive, slow, and clunky, but thankfully the game only lasts a little over an hour so you won’t have to deal with them for too long.  Then again, there really is no reason to play Mortal Legacies.  When I say it has nothing to offer, I’m not being coy.  It literally has nothing to offer.  If this was Ivatrix’s babysteps into game development, bravo for the effort.  It’s too bad he missed the first lesson of RPG creation: have a fucking plot.  Do you know what you call an RPG that doesn’t have a plot?  That’s right: Final Fantasy XIII.

Mortal Legacies was developed by IvatrixGames

80 Microsoft Points said this should have been the ironic theme song of Mortal Legacies in the making of this review. 

%d bloggers like this: