When a video game relies heavily on humor to provide the requisite entertainment, it better be able to make people laugh hard and often. Thankfully, if you enjoy the comic strip’s offbeat and snarky sense of humor, you’ll find the second Penny Arcade episode to be just as funny as the first one, with robotic fighting monkeys and wealthy socialites replacing hobos and mimes as the punchlines du jour. The same sarcastic, and occasionally vulgar, humor that has defined the webcomic is on full display here, and nary a moment passes without a sight gag or clever comment demanding your attention. The appeal is still largely dependent on how funny you find Penny Arcade; though the combat is fun and engaging, it's not deep enough to warrant attention on its own. But for those eager to laugh at the absurd, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 2 is just as entertaining as the first game and delivers an even wackier, more fleshed-out story than before.
The first episode ended after the Penny Arcade characters’ epic battle with a fictitious god--so, one god has been vanquished while three more are still very much alive on the metaphorical windowsill. Episode 2 continues this demented trek toward killing the next immortal in line, though the overarching story is often lost in the minutia of your quest. You once again create your own character (or transfer your own from the first episode) and join up with Gabe and Tycho through six environments (four of them brand-new) as you partake in random quests for needy people. The story is given a lot more room to breathe this time. Short movies highlight every dramatic encounter, providing another platform for humor that was largely ignored in the first episode. These dialog-free cinematics add some life to the crazy situations, animating the wacky scenes you’ll continually encounter.
The action-centric-though-still-turn-based combat makes the transition largely unchanged. Each character has three different techniques: items, regular moves, and special attacks. Though special moves are usually your most powerful choice, there is a reason to use other means to dispatch your foes. The attacks become available in sequential order, so you'll have to be patient before your special meter fills. Enemies are also immune to certain weapons or have severe weaknesses to exploit, so you won't be able to just blindly spam your special attack and expect to destroy everyone you encounter. The minigames that determine how powerful your special moves are make the return from the first game, though they are handled in a much more entertaining way. They are all timing-based, and they get fast and frantic when you unlock stronger moves during the course of your quest. Defense is also handled in an active manner; enemy life bars will flash briefly before they attack and, if you can time your block perfectly, you can absorb the damage or even dish out a nasty counterattack. Even though you don't have a wide variety of attacks available to you, the the fast-paced nature of the combat combined with the strategy needed to take down stronger foes makes it fun and intense throughout.
The adventure aspects are still the weakest part of Penny Arcade Adventures. Exploration is extremely limited. You are confined to narrow streets and cramped rooms, and though you can examine a wide variety of objects, these exist as another way to make a joke rather than provide a little more meat to the gameplay. Considering that the combat and story are so enjoyable, it's disappointing that the exploration seems to just take up time rather than provide its own entertainment. Some of the missions require you to repeatedly backtrack through the same areas, which makes the first half of the game plod along at a snail's pace. The silly observations your character makes about the various objects littering the environment are certainly funny, but this still feels like an underdeveloped part of the overall experience.
Visually, Penny Arcade remains one of the most appealing games on Xbox Live Arcade. The environments are diverse and often disgusting, ranging from a dank sanitarium clearly being run by its patients to a lecture center overflowing with eccentric doctors. The dialogue screens and cinematics are brimming with personality, bringing the characters from the webcomic to life. The combat is brutally satisfying; enemies go out in a satisfying and bloody burst if you can finish them with a special attack, and every enemy has its own unique idiosyncrasies. Though three of the six environments are quite small, only one or two screens wide, the other environments are large and detailed, so you won't get stuck staring at the same scenery for half of the game.
Penny Arcade Adventures revels in its often off-the-wall and occasionally gross humor, which is both its biggest strength and weakness. The frantic combat makes the stretches between jokes entertaining, but those who aren't enamored with PA's brand of humor may wonder what all the fuss is about. The striking art design--with even more animated cinematics--and cheaper price point (1200 MS Points, 400 less than the first), make this hard to ignore for anyone who gleefully tore through New Arcadia earlier this year. Penny Arcade fans who get a laugh out of the strip’s humor will enjoy the game’s bizarre quest for deicide, and will have a blast mowing down legions of fruit fornicators and whacking the extremely wealthy with rakes.