Not that I hate it, but the 3D platformer genre has never been my favorite, with some Sonic titles being the exception for somewhat nostalgic reasons.
Nevertheless, now and again, one arrives with so much personality and adventurous gameplay that it’s nigh impossible to not fall in love with it. Penny’s Big Breakaway is one of those titles, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with a demo for it.
Penny’s Big Breakaway is filled with content and refined mechanics, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise; the game is the product of Evening Star, a studio which features several developers from Sonic Mania, including Christian Whitehead.
A world to explore
Like most 3D platformers out there, Penny’s Big Breakaway has a surreal premise starring Penny, an entertainer who wants to be the best in their craft. Penny wants to participate in the competition viewed by the emperor. Things go wrong when she de-pantses the emperor, leading to a chase from the penguin minions of the royals. Luckily, her yo-yo isn’t the average yo-yo, and its cosmic string is capable of helping her fight against adversaries.
When things go awry, Penny is turned into a fugitive running away instead. As you explore the different settings, you hear from the citizens, with some of them praising Penny and disturbed by the sight she exposed them to.
Penny’s colorful world is full of life and interactivity. NPCs are clearly intentionally crafted to pique your interest and progress the plot. Unlike speedier 3D platformers like Sonic, this one is best taken slow at most points.
Additionally, you can help the citizens with tasks such as finding objects that they can’t reach. During my playthrough, I helped a fellow reach his lunch and a group of workers get their screws back. I assume things only get harder later, as these were easy challenges to knock back.
Yo (yo), what’s up?
As a 3D platformer, there are a few things you can expect from PBB. One of the appealing aspects of 3D platformers is their invitation to explore small but dense areas and rewards who have the skill to find every secret in every nook and cranny. To do this, you need to know the game’s mechanics.
Thus far, I’ve utilized the ability to interact with items by artfully spinning the yo-yo at the object you’re interested in. It’s easy to aim with the toy. Though it moves fast, it is accurate and it doesn’t take long to learn how to aim reliably.
Penny’s movement is also satisfying. There’s no sliding like in a Sonic game – she stops and goes for as long as you instruct her to. Despite this, Penny’s movements don’t feel stiff. Instead, she feels one with your intentions and inputs before long.
You’ll have to master both Penny’s movements and the speedy yo-yo if you want to progress. It’s necessary to interact with environmental items like raising elevators, which you can do by hitting the controls with your cosmic string-enhanced yo-yo.
You thought you could get away without combat? The emperor is beyond mad with Penny’s actions, and hordes of penguins have been sent to thwart you. I’ve learned (or the game has taught me) a yo-yo spinning move that keeps enemy penguins off me during chases. Penny can ride the yo-yo when speed is needed, and it even lets me seemingly magically swing in the air. Who needs a sidekick when you have a yo-yo this impressive?
You also can’t forget the “platformer” part of things. The genre is also known for testing your dexterity. These are things that Penny’s Big Breakaway does, but there’s something else it does that makes me fall in love with it a tad more.
Swinging your way to the top
Penny’s Big Breakaway asks a lot of you. Too much, sometimes. Difficulty does not a good game make, at least not in this type of experience. Hence, if you want to simplify controls, this is possible by pausing and heading to “Controls”.
This is a setting I appreciate for a sometimes overwhelming experience. By the second world, I already struggled to remember how to ride my yo-yo, spin it, and use it to swing to different platforms.
This may be a personal problem, but I feel like everything and the kitchen sink is being thrown at me, and much like my real life, I’m not coping. I also did not like the Busker Bonus mini-game, which has you playing a corny memory-meets-rhythm game.
Another personal gripe, but I don’t like the sections that have the emperor’s penguins on your tail. It’s a distraction from the exploration and platforming I’m busy with. These are the parts I wish I could turn off completely and turn it into a conflict-free title, but that obviously isn’t Evening Star’s vision.
With that aside, I really liked Penny’s yo-yo and the learning curve it takes to master. I don’t think I’m quite there yet; there are still plenty of instances of me pressing the wrong button or forgetting how to perform a maneuver.
My advice is to not try to be smart. Stop at every cone that teaches you what to do and read carefully. Speed past, and you’ll miss out on the plethora of actions your yo-yo is capable of. There’s a time for speed, which we’ll get to in a second.
Nevertheless, know that Penny’s Big Breakaway gets pretty cool with its yo-yo tricks, and you can string (pun intended) moves together to reach spots that are visible but seemingly unreachable. Some moves are clearly for replay value; you won’t know it’s possible, even if you can do it now.
The prevailing feeling is that this is a game that isn’t meant to be played just once, and is packed with content in whatever direction you look whether it’s chatting to an NPC or finding your way onto a construction lift that feels just out of reach.
Worth your time
This isn’t my ideal genre. Nevertheless, Penny’s colorful world still has me hooked during the segment I’m allowed to explore during my preview. This is a title that can only get more impressive as its scope, story, and surreal setting expand.
I didn’t even spend time discussing the Time Attack mode that’s accessible for every area you’ve completed. It tests your speed and ability to complete the area as fast as possible, which requires knowing every nook and cranny and how to make the most of the yo-yo’s powers.
It isn’t a mode that gels with me, simply because I care too much about NPC chatter to speed past, even when I’ve heard it already. I’m also more of a collector than a speedster – give me 100 coins to find instead, and you’ll have my attention. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see the speedruns and how players integrate the yo-yo moves.
Given Evening Star’s past, you might expect a reskinned Sonic game, but it would be a big lie to call Penny’s Big Breakaway that. All the two have in common is their genre, but the moment-to-moment gameplay reminds me nothing of the blue hedgehog’s franchise.
Penny’s Big Breakaway presents a unique 3D platformer that intrigues and completes the experience with banging music, irresistible aesthetics, and genre-defining gameplay. I don’t want to end espousing too much praise, as I’ve discussed some flaws too, but I do want you to leave knowing that the yo-yo game is good. Very good.