20 bucks on the Pendog to win!
Life was simple on the Iced Planet. Its inhabitants, the PenPens, were a peaceful, playful race of penguin-like creatures. The Penpens spent their days lolling about on the ice, soaking in the rays and discussing the 'big' questions: 'What is my purpose?' 'Is there life elsewhere?' 'What will I wear for the race today?'
The race? Yep. It seems that even serene PenPens require some cold-blooded competition to get through the day. As it happens, the freaky little beasties invented a bizarre sport to determine, once and for all, which one is the snuggly-wuggly googly-eyed cutesy-wutesiest racer of them all!
Go ahead - barf away. That's what I wanted to do to. However, PenPen Tri-Icelon offers more than just gratuitous cuteness to keep you playing. This Mario Kart-esque racer features very slick graphics and a very artsy presentation, though in the end can't escape its lack of depth and childish underpinnings.
PenPen plays like any classic racer - pick a racer, pick a track, and try to come in first. However, the game offers a slightly new twist with its segmented courses. Much like our human Triathlon (hence 'Tri-Icelon'), PenPen incorporates three different race styles: walking, swimming, and belly-surfing. The swimming and belly surfing require you to press a button to thrust, while the walking portion allows you to jump and attack the competition.
The characters in PenPen are among the most bizarre, twisted creatures seen in a game. I think each is supposed to be a combination of a penguin and another animal. There's Sneak the Penoctopus, Balery the Penhippo, Back the Penseal, and my personal favorite, Mr. Bow the inebriated Pendog. Whatever the case, they all look like those giant stuffed animal mascots you see walking around at Disneyland.
Speaking of the Happiest Place on Earth (tm), the tracks in PenPen are reminiscent of something you'd find at an amusement park. There's a Haunted track, a Jungle track, a Toy track, and a Sweets track. But that's it - only 4 courses, though each can be played short, medium, or full length. They look very cool, but unfortunately are strictly linear. Once you've raced a course, you know where to go. This is quite unlike other kiddie style racing games (like Mario Kart 64), which often excel due to alternate paths. The one-dimensionality of the track design is frustrating, since the tracks have so many neat side graphics. Makes me want to club a seal.
PenPen does offer a reward for winning: clothes. Yep, win a race and you'll open up a new article of clothing with which to dress up your penguin (that sounded dirty). Unfortunately, it's unclear exactly how the alternate clothing affects the game. Some clothes could have obvious advantages (like the scuba gear or the climbing equipment), but others are just downright weird (like the Santa Claus outfit or the 'Nail through the head.'). I suspect that very little changes with the different clothes and that this is primarily just an excuse for gamers to play dress-up.
Graphically, PenPen is very impressive. The framerate is high and the action stays smooth throughout. You'll love the little details along the course, like the enormous strawberries dropping from the tree on the Sweets course. The racers themselves look great, with big, scary grins and bulging eyes, not to mention the goofy expressions. The bright, vibrant colors help establish the 'otherworldliness' of the game.
The sound is equally amusing, particularly the fantastic music. The catchy tunes are a strange mix of clown-infused polka and synthesized pop. Makes you feel like you're at a German circus.
The big problem with PenPen lies in its depth, or lack thereof. Take away all the flash and pizazz and you're left with a racing game that only has 4 linear tracks. The AI is less than terrific, and there's no variable difficulty settings. You'll likely beat the tracks without much hassle. Most gamers will lose interest after a few hours.
Of course, multi-player helps with this. You can play PenPen with up to 3 of your friends, and the graphics hold up well in the various split screens. But again, the track linearity really takes away from things. It's just not that fun playing the same tracks over and over again, regardless of who you're playing with.
Artistically speaking, PenPen Tri-Icelon is a neat game. From the wacky characters to the funky loading screens, it's got plenty of style and childish humor. Unfortunately, children are probably the only ones who will keep coming back to it. The rest of you will grow tired of the penguins and their frozen gameplay rather quickly.