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Penny’s Big Breakaway Review

Gotta go yo-yo

Very few 3D platformers have come close to mastering the genre like Mario. The Italian stallion has had it largely to himself for many years, with the occasional indie and a certain blue blur coming close but never quite hitting the same heights. With a unique hook and fresh, rewarding mechanics, Penny’s Big Breakaway felt like the first attempt in a long while that could capture some of the magic others have lacked. It’s a genre that sets expectations a little too high, but despite Penny’s best and colourful efforts it doesn’t quite have the magical touch, though there’s enough here to get excited about.

Penny’s journey begins with a lucky discovery, a magic thread that turns her trusty yo-yo sentient. Dubbed a ‘cosmic string’, Penny’s new friend turns in a clothes-stealing performance during her audition for the Emperor’s upcoming gala, leading to her going on the run from an army of penguins and uncovering a strange story of broken friendships.

Using her now supped-up toy, Penny can swing out across gaps, ride down ramps at high speed, and attach to railings. Every stage across the 11 available worlds is designed to create a sense of momentum, not unlike developer Evening Star’s previous work in Sonic Mania. It’s all about using every available move at the right time to build up speed, avoiding capture by the pesky penguin troops or an unfortunate trip down a hole.

Penny’s yo-yo has a number of abilities, including flying

Though you’ll still be dealing with plenty of other obstacles and platforming hazzards, the Emperor’s Army of penguins will almost always be there chasing you down. They’ll latch onto you if you get too close to them, and if enough of them do you’ll eventually be caught and must start over. It’s a clever wrinkle on-top of the general puzzle solving and platforming on show, which can lead to some manic moments if you miss a jump or need to reach a goal within a given time limit.

While most of the experience feels swift and enjoyable to master, there are plenty of situations where Penny collides with the environment or flings too far forward to reach a platform. I felt like I was fighting the controls a little too often, not that I found them difficult to get to grips with, but I was  frustrated by the lack of precision or control over where Penny lands from a long jump. Worst still, swinging the yo-yo out to break open canisters often had her moving forward quickly, which led to a mad scramble to avoid an untimely death. Little quirks like that led to some difficult situations as the challenge slowly builds over each level.  Still, there are just as many situations where riding the yo-yo down a ramp and across traps felt smooth and engaging.

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Like every good Mario clone, each world introduces its own share of new tricks, be it ice on the ground or exploding bombs you need to time right to blow up a nearby wall. There’s a solid amount of ingenuity across the level designs, each with three small objectives handed to you by the locals, along with three hidden coins to collect. Said objectives are as easy as getting from A to B within a time limit or bringing an item to a friend in one piece. The hardest, however, are those that require you to perform tricks to reach a certain high score in one combo, which always gave me a bit of a headache.

Each level ends with a chance to do a few tricks for the fans

The best levels, however, are hidden within the bonus Star Globe stages you can unlock as you play. These felt like they were ripped straight from the pages of Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy playbook, along with the handful of boss battles you’ll have to overcome. Here the game truly shines, using Penny’s abilities at their fullest across clever scenarios, some more dastardly than others. That’s not to say the main stages don’t have something to offer, if you’re a completionist you’ll find a challenge in finding everything, but the moments where the game breaks away from just another checkpoint race to the finish and cleverly makes use of the yo-yo feel and play much better..

I did have a good time taking Penny across chasms and over obstacles, but the moments of frustration with her controls left me disappointed. It reminded me a lot of my continued issues with the Sonic franchise, a character that’s defined by speed and agility but as soon as he hits the wall, things come tumbling down. It’s a constant flaw of his design, though at least here some effort was made to actively avoid some of those pitfalls. Penny’s yo-yo does a better job of getting her out of a jam, though it does feel inconsistent, and at least the moments on foot and the little puzzles to solve aren’t taxing or complex. That’s thanks to a fixed camera perspective, which does take a little time to get used to but otherwise does a good job of keeping everything you need in sight. Unless, of course, you miss a golden opportunity to collect a hidden item and can’t backtrack since the camera doesn’t turn around, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

Final Thoughts

Penny’s Big Breakaway manages to create an enjoyable platforming experience, despite some glaring flaws. As a package there’s still plenty of entertainment to be had, a handful of cutscenes do a solid job of telling the tale and a banging soundtrack nicely backs the colour on screen. It does lose some of its magic towards the end, when all the creative ideas run low its the boss battles that carry it through, but despite my worst frustrations I still had a fun time here. It’s an experience I wish had a bigger backing, maybe some voice overs or a bolder overarching story to Penny’s adventure. Ultimately, Evening Star’s debut doesn’t hit my lofty expectations, but if colourful worlds and a bit of old-school shenanigans are your thing, you’d do well to give Penny and her sentient yo-yo a crack.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Penny’s Big Breakaway Review
Penny’s Solid Debut
Penny’s Big Breakaway is an enjoyable audition, clogged by the usual 3D platform trappings but fun and colourful enough to get away with it. Hopefully this is the first of many adventures to come.
The Good
Mostly enjoyable level design
Excellent boss battles
A banger of a soundtrack
Vibrant and creative worlds to explore
Star Globe levels are worth unlocking
The Bad
The yo-yo can be a challenge to master
Controls aren’t quite all there at times
Some pitfalls and traps are a real pain
The magic falls away a tad towards the end
7.5
Solid
  • Evening Star
  • Private Division
  • PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / Switch / PC
  • February 21, 2024

Penny’s Big Breakaway Review
Penny’s Solid Debut
Penny’s Big Breakaway is an enjoyable audition, clogged by the usual 3D platform trappings but fun and colourful enough to get away with it. Hopefully this is the first of many adventures to come.
The Good
Mostly enjoyable level design
Excellent boss battles
A banger of a soundtrack
Vibrant and creative worlds to explore
Star Globe levels are worth unlocking
The Bad
The yo-yo can be a challenge to master
Controls aren’t quite all there at times
Some pitfalls and traps are a real pain
The magic falls away a tad towards the end
7.5
Solid
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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