Retro Corner: Pen Pen TriIcelon

by on June 7, 2013

When gamers think of the SEGA Dreamcast, the inevitably think back to the first-party hits, such as Sonic Adventure and SEGA Bass Fishing, or arcade-perfect ports like Crazy Taxi and Soul Calibur. Or maybe they look back fondly at the cult classics, such as Shenmue and Skies of Arcadia? Either way, there are the select few games that hold a place of honour in the Dreamcast library, followed by the many which just weren’t really good enough.

Of course there were also the many great titles, or under-appreciated gems, which perhaps didn’t quite capture the hearts of the public or were maybe even a little too strange for the tastes of general gamers. One such title was actually one of the launch games for the ill-fated SEGA console, and that game was Pen Pen TriIcelon.

gfs_42689_2_9_midFor those who don’t know – which will be many of you – a TriIcelon is very much like a regular Olympic Triathlon. Athletes race from one end of a course to another, by running, swimming and sliding, only in this race the competitors aren’t humans. Set on the mysterious Iced Planet, all of the competitors are Arctic animals or similar sea-bound creatures. In fact, the eight racers in the game include; penguins, a dog, an octopus, a shark, a hippo and a walrus; although all of the species are pretty similarly matched.

That is because some creatures are better at other parts of the courses than others. As you can imagine, the shark is ideal for underwater swimming sections, and the walrus is great for the belly-first sliding sections, and in the running – well, more like waddling – sections, the penguins possibly have the edge. But that said, the characters are well-balanced and no one competitor will run away with any single race. As you make your way through races, you unlock new items and can customise your Pen Pen as you wish with these clothes and accessories.

gfs_42689_2_11_midThe interesting thing about the racing, however, is the different techniques that it is necessary to master in order to perform the different sections. The waddling on-land sections are simple enough as the player uses the analog stick to move in all directions and has buttons that allow you to perform a minimal jump or to charge at your opponents to knock them off-balance.

This is definitely not a precise art, and the running is probably the least responsive of the three disciplines, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t fun. The slow pace and plodding action in this mode is quite funny to watch, and when you add pinball-style bumpers and other such obstacles into the mix -which can become frustrating and is somewhat difficult to navigate – there is also a lot of fuel for hilarity here. As such, this is as different as you could get from the other two modes of transport.

gfs_42689_2_18_midBoth swimming and belly-sliding require slightly more refined controller inputs for success. Both work in the same way, where the player must press and hold the A button, releasing it at the right moment to perform a swimming stroke or a push in the sliding event. So you need to get a bit of a rhythm going in order to reach top speed. At the same time, you have to navigate with the stick to avoid obstacles or find speed-up pickups. This is quite a lot to take in, and quite often just as you manage to get a fast speed and a good rhythm going, you will smash into an object or another racer, slowing you down considerably. When you reach top speed, there can be some spectacular crashes!

But that brings me to the best part of the game – four-player split-screen play. The game, as you might have gathered by now, is somewhat eccentric in its gameplay, character and level design and this lends itself perfectly to some wacky, unpredictable multiplayer races. Imagine Mario Kart without the karts. That is the type of racing that Pen Pen TriIcelon delivers, despite how crazy that idea sounds. Of course it can get quite slow at times, with the waddling, but the pace really ramps up during the sliding sections, and you also have the loopy American/Japanese announcer screaming out when you take the lead, or if you are in last place – the “Booby”. This may all sound a bit incoherent, and it is a bit, but that makes it all the more ridiculous and fun when you are playing through a race.

gfs_42689_2_1_midUnfortunately, although the four courses are all very imaginative – with tracks based around the themes of Sweets, the Jungle, Toys, and Horror – and the level designs are varied – so you keep transitioning between different transport modes and there is a lot of excitement to be had – there unfortunately just aren’t enough of them to play through. On top of this, the reward and impetus for going through and winning all of the races is also too little. You only receive the extra clothing items, etc, there is no other real reward to aim for, and no different modes to play through in order to extend your gameplay session.

These factors meant that the title was never going to have the longevity or the elements to keep dragging you back to the title that its contemporaries like Mario Kart could do. Obviously the lack of any recognisable mascots or characters didn’t help its cause either. Maybe if SEGA had licensed their Sonic characters out for a racing title like this, the game may have become a more mainstream hit. But then the game would have likely lost all of its insane charm and flair. This is a game that doesn’t sound particularly great or fun when described in writing; you need to play this title with some friends to really see what it is all about. Only then will you see just who is the fastest Pen Pen in the world!

The God is a Geek Retro Corner will return on the first Friday of next month. You can see previous entries into the GodisaGeek Retro Corner by clicking here.