Mark Nielsen
, posted 2 hours ago / 294 Views

From the moment you first boot up the menu in Penny’s Big Breakaway it cements itself as a game with a strong visual style, colorful, energetic, and greatly reminiscent of Sonic Mania – the game that previously put many of these developers on the map. Since then, they formed Evening Star Studio and are now trying their hand at an original IP in the 3D platforming space. None of the charm of their previous title seems to have been lost in this transition, but it is of course the gameplay itself by which a platformer stands or falls.

Here you play as the colorfully-dressed protagonist Penny, armed with a sentient yo-yo aptly named Yo-Yo. After a talent show audition at the palace goes awry at the beginning of the game, Penny finds herself running from the law and, more specifically, the emperor’s army of penguins, a chase that takes her far and wide in the fictional world of Macaroon.

This brings us right into the action, of which there is a lot. Penny’s Big Breakaway is a fast and often hectic platformer where you can combine the various yo-yo tricks at your disposal to blast through levels like a pro… at least in theory. The game even has a combo meter that lets you rack up a high score, and if this is your goal you essentially want to be touching the ground as little as possible, going from swinging on your yo-yo to riding on it and constantly staying in motion. When it flows this can be a very satisfying way to play, but for new players it’s more easily said than done and can also quickly become self-sabotaging as you accidentally fly off the stage or into a stage hazard.

The levels are creatively crafted and most of the time a joy to traverse. You’ll also encounter the occasional power-up to Yo-Yo, letting you fly through the air by spinning it like a helicopter or using it like a flail to smash bricks that block your path. The fun doesn’t come without a side of frustration though, as the game is at times more brutal than its sunny exterior might suggest, and also suffers from the occasional bug or unintended behavior. Both of these elements culminate in a second boss fight which is perhaps the low point of the entire experience, but if players make it past that part, they can breathe easy knowing it only goes up from there.

One of the weaker points of Penny’s Big Breakaway is its choice of main enemy. The penguins of Macaroon won’t attack Penny, but rather grab onto you and try to slow you down. If a certain number of penguins grab hold of you before you can shake them off, you get captured and will respawn at the last checkpoint. A unique take on enemies for sure, but it’s also combined with the fact that the penguins (in most areas) respawn endlessly, making them a never-ending force that you’ll just have to run past rather than engage. This dynamic does certainly fit well into the game’s theme of being a felon on the run, but the end result is that you barely notice the penguins half the time since there’s no incentive to engage with them, and when they do make their presence felt they often feel more like a nuisance than a threat or a challenge to overcome.

But while the levels are linear in structure, Penny’s Big Breakaway does offer more goals to the player than simply getting to the end as quickly as possible. Levels are filled with the citizens of Macaroon, many of which will have a witty remark handy when approached, but each level also has three citizen requests and three hidden collectibles for you to find. The citizen requests are the more unique element here, offering a new challenge each time, but one unfortunate element is that many of them are strictly timed and will auto-start when you approach the citizen, at which point even pausing to read the request decreases your odds of completing it. Another frustration with these requests is that after respawning you’ll retain the ones you’ve completed but they’ll still start again when you go near the same citizen, leading to many cases of “failing” a request that you’ve already been given the reward for completing.

Speaking of respawns, Penny’s Big Breakaway is somewhat unique in this area. Penny has a “Gusto” bar that’s limited to four slots; at the start of the game this appears to function like the classic (and arguably dated) platforming mechanic of ‘lives’, each one counting as a respawn when you fail (falling off the stage or getting captured by penguins), and resulting in a Game Over if you lose them all. However, once you get a little further in, the game will start to include elements that damage your Gusto directly and, in that sense, it becomes a combined health and lives mechanic – and a fairly limited one at that. This is softened somewhat by the fact that a game over doesn’t result in a full level start over here, but instead a hefty deduction from your high score. It’s a reasonable alternative, though it can make the high score system somewhat deflating for new players.

As hinted at earlier, Penny’s Big Breakaway offers a lot to the patient player willing to take the time to master it. In addition to having short unlockable bonus levels of a higher difficulty, and a time attack mode with an online leaderboard, the game also features one extra unlockable per stage: a scrapbook page, which the player can earn by reaching a high enough score. While reaching this high score goal quickly becomes impractical on a first playthrough, it does offer a compelling goal to strive for upon repeat playthroughs. While the main story is about 7-8 hours in length, it’s safe to say there’s potential for a lot more game time for those willing.

When it comes to the story, this is told through short cutscenes at the end of each world and only takes up as much space as one would expect from a 3D platformer. It’s a pleasant enough little tale, with a few funny moments throughout, but it can hardly be said to be one of the title’s focuses or particular strengths. The opposite can be said for the aesthetics. As mentioned in the introduction, the visuals are vibrant and stylish, and the music is another positive element throughout. It ranges from upbeat to soothing depending on the stage and greatly compliments the experience.

All in all, Penny’s Big Breakaway is a title that achieves what it sets out to do in many areas, creating a stylish game with a fun, rich moveset that incentivizes and rewards masterful play, but which is hampered by a few design flaws and a steep difficulty spike early on. Casual platforming fans or those who are easily frustrated might want to think twice before picking it up, but those looking for a game with a high cap for mastery or simply a unique take on the genre could very well find what they’re looking for here.

This review is based on a digital copy of Penny’s Big Breakaway for the PC, provided by the publisher.

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