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WADE MANNS – The Corsair

Yet another awesome independent game developer, Hothead Games has quite a few more resources at its disposal than most. Its Creative Director was none other than Ron Gilbert, who created Maniac Mansion and the Secret of Monkey Island adventure games in the early 90s. The developer has so far released two properties, both episodic in nature, both RPG-influenced, and both really great. And both can be acquired through either Steam or Xbox Live Arcade.

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

Released: Episode 1, May 21, 2008; Episode 2, October 29, 2008

Genre: Role-playing

Penny Arcade is an extremely popular webcomic that stars several interesting characters based somewhat on their creators; Jonathan Gabriel and Tycho Brahe live in their own world, play video games and commentate on them. Sometimes the comics spin off to alternate continuity, as is the case with this first interactive offering featuring the duo, their friends and enemies; taking place in 1922 in the seedy city of New Arcadia, Gabe and Tycho run a paranormal detective agency hot on the case of the massive robot who just crushed your home.

That’s right, you pretty much play you, raking your lawn at the behest of the mysterious tutorial voice when suddenly, a massive metal foot stomps your house and takes off down the street; the mysterious automaton is chased by our intrepid duo; you join forces with them soon and vow to track down the rampaging robot, while engaging in many RPG-style battles and gathering items along the way.

Graphics are done in a clean, cartoony style as befits the characters’ origin; sound, including the narrator’s voice, is similarly well done, and gameplay just consists of clicking and occasionally using timed presses of the Spacebar for more damage during battles. Simple, but effective.

Also befitting our protagonists’ origin, there’s a great deal of foul language and crass humor, but you’ll be used to that if you read the webcomic; it’s nothing too bad. I give the games overall five out of five. The series was indefinitely postponed so Hothead could concentrate on their second offering; when you’ve finished the second Penny Arcade Adventure, check out PA’s website to read up on what was supposed to happen in Episode 3.

DeathSpank

Released: July 13, 2010; Thongs of Virtue released September 20, 2010

Genre: Action role-playing

Drawing from such sources of inspiration as The Secret of Monkey Island and Diablo; DeathSpank is more or less a combination of both; the conversational trees found in classic graphical adventure games, a deconstruction of the action-RPG genre (as well as ‘epic’ media in general), as well as a very capable game in its own right.

DeathSpank is a big, tough warrior with a mighty, heroic (even stereotypical) voice, who adventures through a massive, detailed land in search of The Artifact. Having many enemies to kill, he can hold up to four weapons at a time and switch among them at will; he also engages in humorous conversations with many interesting people in the course of acquiring quests.

The graphical style is quite heavily cel-shaded (which I don’t have a problem with at all), controls are easy and intuitive, and gameplay is rewarding and addictive. I haven’t played Thongs of Virtue yet; I assume it’s more of the same great content. Five stars and a provisional five for ToV; I’m sure it’s great too.

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