Penny Arcade Episode 4


Zeboyd Games


Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mobile



Release Date

June 11th 2013



The series that bares the Penny Arcade name has had a turbulent history. The first two episodes were much larger affairs, and their status as “full” games was denoted by having achievements, miscellaneous avatar awards, what have you. But then, a falling out between the original developers and the guys at Penny Arcade (that is, Hothead Games dropped Gabe and Tycho like two hot rocks), left the series in limbo, with a brief word that it would, instead, be told in the form of a play, almost. But they were later picked up by Zeboyd, and agreed to make Episode 3 in the style of an old 16-bit RPG. They were obviously successful enough to get the fourth installment, though both are considered “indie games.”

At the end of the third episode, Tycho had cooked up a plan to start the world over. The overarching plan involved killing off the four remaining elder gods; once they were dead, their nonexistence would cause reality to collapse, but Tycho had planned for this, planning on using a being of all that is good and pure in the world as a catalyst, knowing she would create an ideal world—his niece, Anne-Claire. Unfortunately, they didn’t take into account the fourth god, and they wound up tooling around the Underhell (that is, the hell beneath Hell). In their quest to tear down Underhell and restart the universe, Gabe and Tycho, as well as a few friends and enemies from past episodes, have to trek through Underhell, destroy three massive pillars holding it up, and finally slay the last of the four gods to make their dream a reality. And you won’t believe who that fourth god is…

The gameplay is much like the prior episode, but instead of the main characters getting down and dirty themselves, they have different beasts they find throughout Underhell to battle for them (except Tycho, who battles with a sword on his own, but for different reasons). They’re called “monstorbs,” and they do the bidding of their masters. That’s right…it’s a big homage/spoof of Pokémon. And oh yeah, there’s a Team Rocket knockoff called Fish Force, and their Meowth stand-in in a sentient piece of sushi. Enemies grow stronger as the turns in battle pass, but unlike last time, you get to know how many elemental weaknesses they have when you target them (along with a very surreal description of the target in question).

The Penny Arcade-style humor is certainly there, and it makes for very interesting moments. That said, it’s got some problems. For one, it can be a bit difficult, and the strength of the enemies can outpace the strength of your monsters. Even worse, there are no random encounters, and the enemies you beat don’t reset, meaning there is a finite number of battles to go through, as well as a finite amount of money you can spend on weapons, armor and items. It does, however, lead to fighting smarter, relying on picking away at a target’s weaknesses and chip away at their defensive values. The sound adds to the atmosphere of the game, but in battle, that same song over and over again can get really tedious…especially if you’re having trouble bringing a particular set of enemies down.  Underneath all of this is an excellent story, which, sadly, can only make sense completely if you’ve played all three games before it. You can gleam the general idea of it through the in-game text, but there’s a minor issue with it that bugs me: the text appears in the window all at once; there’s no scrolling. So if you hit the button too quickly to advance the text, you wind up missing something that may or may not be important to the plot or your next move in game.

Overall, this is a fine conclusion to the series, though I, like mostly everyone else, would’ve loved to have seen it in the same style/engine as the first two games, but what can you do. Even if you’re not too thrilled by the retro graphics, you can still get a good game play experience out of it, and have fun watching two complete lunatics pick a fight with elder gods and come out on the positive end of the exchanges more often than not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get the song “We Are Fish Force” out of my head…

Pro: The Penny Arcade style of humor is alive and well, with a very compelling story.  Plus they got a lot out of the simple-looking 16-bit era graphics.

Con: The party is split up at the beginning, and the frequency of the jumps back and forth between the two can be jarring, repetitive music, and some of the spells and abilities are visually unimpressive despite their effects.

Overall: You may not be a fan of Penny Arcade and/or RPGs in general, but you’re missing out on a great story if you pass this series up. If you haven’t played the first three yet, I recommend you do before picking this up; they won’t let you down.

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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