Penny Arcade Adventures episode 3 hands-on preview - return to the precipice July 10

In 2008, PA creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins took the leap from culture commentators to creators, collaborating on Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. A downloadable title, it featured the turn based-combat of an old school RPG and the whimsical, text-based narrative of an adventure game. Meant to be an episodic adventure, a sequel soon followed, but then the precipice grew darker. Would there be a third outing for the Startling Developments Detective Agency? The fans wanted it, and were further enticed when PA scribe Hulkins began posting the script to the unproduced third adventure. In the forums, Zeboyd Games was suggested as a possible developer for the third game. Possibility quickly became reality, and now Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is set for a July 10 release on Xbox 360 and Steam, with a Mac, iOS and Android release swiftly to follow.

This third outing is rendered in 16-bit glory, a style Zeboyd is known for. It looks like, and plays like, a Final Fantasy game from the Super Nintendo era. However, those games were not blessed to have Holkins as a writer. His signature wordy wit can be found in everything from the dialogue to character descriptions. Taking the game for a test drive, we fought foes ranging from lewd robots, with names too rude to print here, a Mime-o-pus, the insidious spawn of mime and octopus, gender-neutral Cavepersons, plus multiple forms of vicious hobo. Box Dwellers were shaggy-bearded fiends, whose cardboard encasement provided extra defense, and the description for Rail Riders proclaimed them to be “proud poli-sci majors.”

It’s not all just styling, there was meaty turn-based combat as well. As the levels progressed the challenge increased, and strategic deployment of character abilities became an absolute necessity. Gabe, the brawler class, got a heavy damage bonus when using the aptly named First Blood as a lead-off. He also had a move that ignored an enemy’s defense, perfect for sundering a Box Dweller’s brown armor. The tried and true mantra became end a battle as quickly as possible. Enemies tended to dig in and grow stronger by buffing each other. If you fail to take out a mage-enemy before he can buff his zombie allies, your team is in for a world of hurt.

What team, you say? You’ll be bringing more than just the two PA boys to battle. Early in the game Anne Claire, Tycho’s “uber-niece,” forced her way into our party in typical tagalong fashion. We also teamed up with Jim, a skull-in-a-jar curiosity with necromantic powers, and Moira, a red haired gumshoe who shares a sordid history with Tycho. Best of all, your party all walks along in a neat little line, à la any classic RPG.

Our time with the latest PA adventure gave us a lot to look forward to. A heady mixture of nostalgia and cutting-edge humor, a mere $5 price tag seems downright charitable. This is a downloadable we can’t wait to download. July 10 is the release date for PC and Xbox only. The game will initially deploy on Steam and XBLA, with a Mac, iOS and Android release to follow at a yet-to-be-announced date. Also, Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness will be a SteamPlay title, meaning one purchase entitles you to both a PC and Mac copy. And to that fan in the forums who suggested Zeboyd Games, we salute you, sir/madam!

Alex Roth