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[Rapid Review] Penny’s Big Breakaway

Posted on March 2, 2024 by (@@Virtualboi92) in Reviews, Switch eShop

Penny's Big Breakaway review

System: Switch
Release date: February 21, 2024
Developer: Evening Star
Publisher: Private Division

When the initial reveal trailer for Penny’s Big Breakaway debuted last year, it felt like the stars were aligning. Here was a small development team of die-hard platformer fans delivering a wholly original IP, fresh off the back of crafting Sonic Mania for SEGA. Killer looks along with subtle, stylish nods to their prior work enamored a clamoring and captious demographic. Even as a relatively new team, developer Evening Star has prestige streaming from their ears, and an expectant fan base to go along with it. Now the game has finally dropped, and the resulting experience might not be all we had held our breath for.

The biggest departure from Evening Star’s prior work on Sonic Mania is that Penny’s Big Breakaway is a 3D platformer, albeit one with a fixed camera. As Penny, you wield a magical yo-yo that excitedly munches up the regal King’s clothes at the game’s outset. This essentially brands you as a criminal, and puts you on the run throughout most of the game – an exciting plot wrinkle that’s firmly baked into the game’s many mechanics.

Penny's Big Breakaway review

Right from the off you’re introduced to a suite of traversal techniques centered around that troublesome yo-yo. You can double-jump, swing through the air using nothing but the yo-yo itself as an anchor, ride along atop of it for a speed boost, and slingshot Penny forward by flicking the right analog stick twice in your desired direction. In isolation, all of these maneuvers will have you grinning as you execute them the first couple of times. Actually committing them to memory – and pulling them off in the midst of a complex platforming sequence – can be very troublesome throughout the game’s opening hours. The game’s main enemy – the King’s penguin foot soldiers – mob you constantly, existing as more of a nuisance to be avoided as opposed to the satisfying full stop you might be used to in other platformers. The Switch’s lower resolution and frame rate, coupled with some hefty input delay, can make these enemy encounters incessantly infuriating.

Despite these issues, Penny’s Big Breakaway shines when it comes to its presentation. Remember all of the postmodern, 3D squiggly art you’d often see in the background of a Genesis-era Sonic title’s cover art? Penny’s world essentially looks like that, as does the world’s inhabitants, bosses, menus, you name it. I’d argue that the feverish nostalgia that once surrounded this specific look has abated a little bit in recent years, but the execution here is just so masterful that you’ll have no issue getting sucked into the game’s aesthetic. Music too is a particular high point, although I noticed some tracks being re-used a little too frequently toward the game’s end, which became a little grating.

All in all, there’s sufficient variety in Penny’s presentation to carry the game through its entire runtime. You’ll no doubt notice that this review is coming in quite a bit later than the game’s initial release date, and truth be told, it’s not without reason. See, Penny’s Big Breakaway is a game that I can wholeheartedly recommend for a number of reasons. The game’s charm, unique character design, incredible art and music, and sheer gameplay variety are all ample contributors to a hearty potential recommendation. With that said, over the course of the week I’ve spent with the game, I’ve found myself routinely nipping back to my Switch’s home screen for alternative uses of my gaming time.

Penny's Big Breakaway review

For everything Penny does right, it often feels as though there’s a big caveat waiting in the wings to take the shine off your time with it. Take collectibles for instance, a platforming staple. Within each level, there are three special tokens to collect that are often found away from the critical path. Thanks to the fixed camera, however, it’s easy to feel deceived when – after your third or fourth time through the level – you finally spot the token in question in a dubiously hidden zone. Far too often I found collectibles nestled away in areas that Penny the character can surely see, but you the player can not.

Alongside those collectibles, there are three secondary objectives for Penny to complete that are given out by friendly NPCs dotted around the world. Getting to these NPCs can be a poorly sign-posted challenge in and of itself as it’s not always clear which path through the level is the intended one, and you’re never guaranteed a route that you can backtrack through should you take a wrong turn. Once you get to these quest-givers, you need to be pretty dialed in if you want to complete their requisite challenge – more often than not you’re given a single attempt to complete them. If you fail, you’ll have to retry the stage from the beginning in order to give that secondary quest another go. These quibbles aren’t going to matter to those who just want to slingshot their way through Penny’s adventure. Ironically, it feels as though Evening Star intends for the game to be played in this way, which for a token-hunting, quest-seeking completionist is bound to cause some headaches.

The Verdict

Penny’s Big Breakaway is a game that I’m absolutely weighing down with my own platforming fixation. Despite being able to see the game’s objective polish, quirky characterization, and the sheer love and attention poured into its creation, there’s something holding me back from giving it a full recommendation. On one hand, the title wants to be this rip-roaring roller coaster ride through a colorful world teeming with character. On the flipside, there are constant distractions tempting you to slow down and dig a little deeper. It’s not unlike Sonic the Hedgehog in that regard, a series that – through questionable design – has often felt totally at odds with itself. Penny and her world are definitely worth a look for any intrepid platforming fan – just be prepared for a buffet of ideas that doesn’t fully coalesce into a satisfying overall experience.

Penny’s Big Breakaway copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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