Penny hopes to be a star performer at her kingdom’s upcoming gala. But when a mishap sees her magical yo-yo embrace the kingdom’s ruler, Emperor Eddie, she finds herself on the run. Now she will have to swing, slide, and twirl across the world if she hopes to stay ahead of Eddie’s legion of penguins in the 3D platformer Penny’s Big Breakaway from developer Evening Star and publisher Private Division.
The platformer genre is a tough one to innovate in. When the core mechanic is as basic as jump, adding new elements can be tricky while still maintaining that central focus. While Penny’s Big Breakaway showcases several interesting mechanics, how they impact the adventure doesn’t always add up.
The lone tool at Penny’s disposal throughout her adventure is her yo-yo. The devs at Evening Star have managed to come up with a plethora of uses for the enchanted object. From doubling as a grappling hook to functioning as a segway, the yo-yo never fails to surprise in its versatility. Throughout the first five areas of the game showcased in the preview, there was a steady flow of new ways the yo-yo could function. It could be used to provide lift, like a helicopter, or become a giant, allowing it to carry Penny through previously unbreakable obstacles.
Penny’s Big Breakaway doesn’t always make it easy to appreciate this ingenuity, however. The fixed camera angle is the most persistent struggle the game presents to players. With no control over how the player sees their world, making jumps, judging distances, and lining up yo-yo shots can be trying. While there are moments where the game uses the camera angles to hide collectibles cleverly, there are far more moments of frustration.
A set of collectibles and several side missions fill each Penny’s Big Breakaway stage. These side elements offer some of the game’s most enjoyable challenges. The side missions provide enough variety to help bolster the core gameplay mechanics and collectibles are hidden in clever ways. Having to gather items within a time limit or perform a string of maneuvers to rack up a high score adds fun to the proceedings.
The only way side missions fall flat at times is how they interact with the save point system. While the distance between save points feels fair, their placement often leads to frustration. Rather than having them before challenging elements, the game places them before easier moments. This means that the places where players are most likely to die set them back furthest. This means replaying the easiest sequences the most times. It also resets any side missions that occurred after the save point. The repetitive play loop saps the fun out of what was originally enjoyable.
One recurring element that helps elevate and breaks up Penny’s Big Breakaway‘s gameplay comes at the end of each level. When players reach a level’s end, they will find a multi-tiered platform waiting for them. The higher the player lands on the platform, the bigger the potential prize they can win through a series of quick-time events. These short moments serve as excellent cappers for each level.
The final major element of Penny’s Big Breakaway‘s core gameplay is unfortunately a frustrating one: the penguins. Whenever Eddie’s loyal soldiers are nearby, they flock to Penny, threatening to overwhelm her. If too many manage to get their wings on her, she is captured and must return to the last checkpoint. Penny can do any number of maneuvers with her yo-yo to shake these fowl pursuers off. However, barring a fall to a lower area, they will endlessly return.
The oppressive presence of the birds can get frustrating quickly. Their presence constantly hampers platforming elements or even light puzzles. They never once enhanced the gameplay experience during the moments where they distract from the game’s other mechanics. Only during pure chase moments where I had nothing else to do but flee did they provide a positive presence within the game.
If a player finds the platforming fun and wants to put their bird evasion skills to the true test, Penny’s Big Breakaway offers a time attack mode along with the story campaign. Players can elect to try any level they’ve already completed in this mode. Any death sets the player back to the start of the level. This makes the demand for precise maneuvering and quick thinking paramount.
Bringing both the good and the frustrating of Penny’s Big Breakaway together is a solid graphical presentation. Throughout the game, bright colors and fun designs bring the numerous locations in Penny’s world to life. From beach themes to firey lava fields, each area manages to stand out from the rest. The frequent additions to Penny’s toolkit also help give the game reasons to make each level look unique. As new power-up-based abilities are brought into the game, the world must provide the elements for each ability to function. This mandates every area be distinctive, rather than simple design swaps of the same features.
While not every element in Penny’s Big Breakaway hit during my preview time with the game, there is a charm and inventiveness at its center.
Penny’s Big Breakaway is slated to release on Steam, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Series S|X later this year.