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 ™, 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
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.