Thursday, June 15, 2017

Weird Sports Games 4 - Pen Pen TriIcelon (Dreamcast, 1998)


Pen Pen TriIcelon (General Entertainment, 1998)

Pen Pen TriIcelon (Ice Triathlon, get it) received deservedly mixed reviews, but I can think of one award it deserves: clunkiest title ever. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the confusing title hurt its sales in the US (in Europe it was simplified to the less irritating Pen Pen).

This game should be seen and heard in motion to fully appreciate. I think the developers were trying to make something cute and funny and influenced by American cartoons...I think. What they ended up with is something off putting at best and straight repulsive at worst. Look at this shit:


I know I'm charmed!

Okay, so the character design leaves something (a lot of something) to be desired, but Pen Pen is incredibly colorful, fascinating to look at, and let's be real--if it weren't also kinda grotesque I probably wouldn't remember it today. The characters bounce and stretch in cartoonish ways that you didn't see very often in 3D games.

The Music


Nightmarish. I mean it's actually well done, just...exhaustingly wacky and loud, and I'd say the magnified American cartoon influence on this game is most strong in the sound department.  God Bless This Hot Mess:

Actually, I can recommend something similar but better to this game's OST, and like Pen Pen it's also American style toon music from Japan! Plus-Tech Squeeze Box is a great "picopop" electronic band that makes similar high-energy, zany music:

Oh yeah...that's exactly where you wanna be.

The Game


What about the actual game, though? Actually...I'm into it. A racing game through deranged amusement park style tracks with even more deranged space monster birds! I love small, arcade style games that polish up their small amount of content by always giving you new things to look at or slight variations on the core gameplay.

For example, the "Tri" in TriIcelon (ugh) refers to three sports that I assume space penguins love to play--waddling, swimming, and belly sliding, each with their own control schemes and obstacles. How does it control, you may ask? Pretty bad. Let's get into the game modes!

Sliding: The most fun event by far. It's the fastest and most rewarding mode to do well in! Glowing boost powerups are scattered around the track--make use of them if you want the lead. Drifting and proper rhythm in swinging your arms is crucial to keep your penguin's speed up, making the skill ceiling in this mode a bit higher than the others. Think of it kinda like a snowboarding game.

What is this unholy place I've ended up in
Waddling: Some bullshit. Waddling is the weakest event but the one where you can most easily screw over your opponents as you now have a dashing attack. Unfortunately, because Pen Pens are about as bad at sprinting as real penguins are, avoiding all the walls, ledges and pinball bouncers strewn about this leg of the course can be frustrating.

Character designs aside the game looks beautiful
Swimming: Similar to the sliding event, but now you're moving vertically as well as horizontally through an obstacle packed river/underwater tunnel. As with the other modes a big key to doing well is hitting the boost spots, though it's a little tougher in this event. Not as challenging as sliding, but not bad!

As mentioned, theme park attraction feel of each of the four courses enhances the weirdness of the atmosphere and fills the stages up with colorful and interesting things to deal with. Something about this is right up my alley! I just love small games with lots of visual variety.  The overwhelming oddness of the game as a whole really gives Pen Pen that unique, idiosyncratic Dreamcast flavor.

Here's something unique, too:

Not Touching This One

Jesus. Come on, General Entertainment.

My shock at this guy being the owner of the Jungle stage is second only to the fact that Sega gave this the OK to bring to America with no changes! Now I KNOW that nobody else but me played this game. Ignorance aside, some of the other characters are pretty cool, like the vaguely sinister Bambi Mask:

Just a bunch of fun loving, totally normal looking creatures
By the way; do any of these characters look at all familiar to you, Dreamcast Fans? Maybe from one of the best games of all time, Climax Graphics' Blue Stinger??

Why on Earth are PenPen characters in this game too??

Honestly, I can't figure out what's going on with the development of Pen Pen TriIcelon. The characters in Pen Pen are featured prominently early on in Blue Stinger, and Pen Pen seems like exactly the kind of bizarre and tone deaf game Climax Graphics would make. The thing is, Pen Pen was developed by a company called General Entertainment, and Climax's name appears nowhere in the game. Why the crossover between these two? In the end, I guess game just recognize game.

However, when you boot up Pen Pen the company name that appears is not even General Entertainment; it's a company called Land Ho! They were probably just an internal team within General Entertainment. In any case, who could care about all this; I've got one more strange little thing to mention here...

The Weird Loading Screens anyone else inexplicably creeped out by the loading screens? Something about these hideous bastards being in the real world just doesn't sit right with me. And judging by the insignia on those mailboxes, these photos were taken in Sweden. But...why? What a mysterious game.

Give Pen Pen TriIcelon a try, preferably with at least one friend; as with many Dreamcast games, it's got 4-player splitscreen. For all the shit I talk on it, it really is a fun game that's worth seeing just for its oddness.