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Penny’s Big Breakaway Review: Yo-Yo Star

Platform(s): PC (version reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series
Genre: 3D platformer with yo-yo antics

Nobody wants to live under the shadow of their own success, especially if it’s someone else’s work they’ve vastly improved upon. Take Christian Whitehead and his Sonic Mania stint, a 2D platformer of the Sonic brand that was so good, it gave Sega hope in reinventing the mascot and his platformer games. But clearly Christian and his associates do not want to be referred to as the “Sonic Mania” guys forever.

So off they go, forming a development group called Evening Star and toiling their hearts on a new game that brings in the retro gaming feels while being its own new character. That game? Penny’s Big Breakaway for PC and consoles, a 3D platformer that’s set in a unique and colourful “performance arts” style world with various themed sections, loads of platforming, and a dose of charm. Is this the sort of retro-esque experience we need right now?

 

Queen Of Swing

Penny’s Big Breakaway is about our title character Penny who finds a yo-yo with a cosmic thread that supposedly helps her with her upcoming auditions for the kingdom’s gala night hosted by King Eddy. Unfortunately, her yo-yo ends up causing havoc, embarrassing the king, and subsequently put her on the “Most Wanted” list. So off Penny runs, evading justice and figuring out how to get out of her predicament. Gameplay-wise, you do this by platforming your way through 11 worlds with various stages, each with its own set of 3D platforming challenges that will remind you of classic late 90s titles like Super Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot.

These worlds are familiar-yet-creative, as if the developers wanted to make their own spin on a classic archetype. The water level is basically a giant bathtub city, while the fire level is food-themed with frying pans you need to literally butter up to activate nearby gateways. You can either head straight to the finish line of each stage, or partake in the game’s side objectives. Completing them makes you gather citizen tokens (3 in each level) to boost your score; these comes in various flavours from short time trials (with collectibles) to filling up a trick meter that goes up if you keep your yo-yo combos going. Subsequently, there are special tokens (3 per level) hidden in secret areas that require a bit of groundwork and yo-yo skills.

This brings us to the highlight of Penny’s Big Breakaway: movement in the game is awesome. Penny is not only acrobatic and nimble, but she can do a lot of air tricks with her yo-yo. It attacks and hits foes (mostly penguins) -either a straight line or a circular 360-degree swing- and also lets you do air swings from anywhere. You can ride on your yo-yo on the game’s many racing tracks and makeshift roads and ramps, clearly meant for you to speed through. You can also dash/air dash by flicking the yo-yo twice; a good move to zip in and out of trouble, especially the penguins that cluster as a mob.

While they’re overall great, you can’t get too spammy with the controls, as you can accidentally careen off a ledge if you flick the yo-yo too fast. Penny’s game is more suited for movement & acrobatics than full-on combat, though there is the option to use the right analog stick to attack in the direction you point at, if you want to get more precise.

So how does one control the camera? Simple: you can’t. However, the game is designed well enough that your path is made clear and your objectives are in focus. As far as my experience goes, there was really no need for me to see beyond what’s presented, and even tweak the camera to get the right jump angle. The designers did a great job in taking out the camera-fidgeting hassle and just let us go through the obstacle courses.

Challenge-wise, the main stages start easy enough, and escalate with the right amount of difficulty. The tougher parts come when you attempt to get all the citizen tokens; some of these side objectives get really precise with their time limits and can really test your patience. I can’t recall the amount of times I had to retry a section in the game’s water-themed stage where I had to collect bath towels under a time limit in a course full of barricades meant to eat up your time.

And if you feel that those aren’t tough enough, you can take on Star levels which are long-as-heck obstacle courses with no checkpoints whatsoever. Again, these are only for the toughest of 3D platforming fanatics who aced their Marios and other 2000s copycats. Yes, I nearly broke my controller at some of these tougher challenges, but they’re optional. The mandatory parts of the game are a good delicate balance full of fun and surprises, with some fun boss battles capping most of them.

I said “most” because some worlds just end with a cutscene with no conflict whatsoever. Maybe it’s to avoid extra padding since the game has tons of stages to go through, but it is a glaring omission. And while my time in Penny’s weird and wonderful world is full of yo-yo swinging fun, the game gets buggy in the latter half. Some platforms don’t register my yo-yo ledge grapple, while standing on certain ledges and edges of a platform made Penny “spaz out” and potentially stuck. Thankfully, a few yo-yo strikes got me out, but there’s some polish needed in some of these latter parts of the game.

 

Spin To Win

Penny’s Big Breakaway is a godsend for those who lost all hope for 3D platformers making it big. While I’m not a fan of the main character’s aesthetic and the last few levels feel pretty buggy, the overall game & experience were given a lot of care and thought by Evening Star. Besides, gameplay & level design matters, and this yo-yo-centric misadventure has it in spades, along with some charm and boppin’ tunes to jive to courtesy of composer Tee Lopes.

If you love 3D platformers and can’t get enough of replaying the same levels over and over for the best times & scores possible while finding out new platforming tricks with yo-yo-style shenanigans, this one will do it for you.

 

Final Score: 80/100

Review copy provided by publisher. 

 

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