HomeReviews4/5 ReviewPenny's Big Breakaway Review

Penny’s Big Breakaway Review

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I love Sonic Mania. I really love Sonic Mania. Like, 100+ hours in-game love Sonic Mania.

So, when I heard the team at Evening Star, made up largely of the Mania team (including director Christian Whitehead), was making a Sega Saturn-style 3D platformer, I was sold. However, after a few years of waiting, the 3D platformer, now christened Penny’s Big Breakaway has made its debut as a shadowdrop. What is it with SEGA-style games and shadowdrops (looking at you Hi-Fi RUSH!)?

In any event, is Penny’s Big Breakaway a breakout hit, or does she need a bit more practice to reach her rhythm? Let’s find out!

Pennys Big Breakaway review 1
Joining Penny on a Big Breakaway?

To begin with a quick overview, Penny’s Big Breakaway is a retro-style 3D platformer, evocative of titles released in the SEGA Saturn and Dreamcast days. It has a simple, clean, straightforward 3D look, with appropriately blocky character models. The gameplay itself is fast and fluid, with an emphasis on momentum and movement.

You play as Penny, a young busker whose yo-yo act goes awry, and inadvertently strips her town’s beloved emperor to his skivvies. Forced on the run, Penny and her magical Yo-yo are tasked with avoiding the Emperor’s penguin troops, navigating obstacles, helping denizens and uncovering the secret of yo-yo’s secret powers.

The story here is straightforward and undeniably charming, carried by some adorable animatic-like cutscenes and some witty dialogue. While the story is rarely the reason to play a platformer, titles like Psychonauts 1, Psychonauts 2 and Conker excepted, what is on offer here is likeable, fun and does go above and beyond many of its contemporaries.

Where Penny’s Big Breakaway really shines, however, is in the gameplay. At its core, Penny’s Big Breakaway is evocative of Classic Sonic but in 3D. Penny can perform a number of unique tricks with yo-yo. From swinging in the air to dashing on the ground to even revving up and riding the toy like a motorcycle, Penny has a number of unique abilities at her disposal. If you keep moving and stay off the ground, you can string together multiple combos and get through a level faster.

Pennys Big Breakaway review 2
Yo-Yoing!

Penny’s moveset is versatile, fresh and fun as hell to play. When the level design clicks with her abilities, it makes for an amazing experience. Unfortunately, like classic Sonic, there isn’t always an alignment between level design and gameplay. Penny’s momentum is sometimes slowed to a crawl by precision platforming and busywork. The former is particularly rough at points due to the game’s fixed camera, making it sometimes hard to parse exactly how far you are from the platform.

Penny’s Big Breakaway also struggles technically. While the framerate is remarkably solid, I encountered several issues with collision detection and other larger-scale bugs. Most notably, in a few instances I fell through the stage itself for seemingly no reason, or got stuck on a non-existent platform. Thankfully, the game has a generous checkpoint system to help circumvent these headaches, but they were difficulties I encountered nonetheless.

To touch upon aesthetics briefly, Penny really shines here. The game looks phenomenal, evoking the look and feel of late 90’s 3D platformers perfectly. Like Sonic Mania, it is a retro style but with modern flourishes. While the fixed camera can frustrate for platforming, it also does work to create some truly memorable moments in gameplay. From being chased by a boulder made of thousands of penguins to ziplining over a forest into a hidden mansion, there is a considerable cinematic flourish to the game.

The music itself is also incredible, with tracks from a gifted assortment of composers, including Sean Bialo, Hunter Bridges and Sonic Mania and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge’s own Tee Lopes. I found myself humming these songs and tapping on my desk during the workday, a sign of a great soundtrack. The soundtrack also just hit Spotify so… it’s safe to say this will be getting a lot of rotation.

Pennys Big Breakaway review 3
Phenomenal visuals

Finally, to briefly touch upon value, Penny’s Big Breakaway retails for £24.99. While on the surface this may seem high for a 3D platformer, I estimate I got around ten hours of enjoyment out of the game. Couple this with replayable levels stuffed with collectibles, unlockable in-game challenges and a separate Time Attack mode, and you have yourself a game more than worthy of the price tag in terms of the sheer breadth of what is on offer.

All in all, I had a pretty great time with Penny’s Big Breakaway. Fast, fluid and fun, the game is a delight to pickup and play, so much so that when it shines, it really shines. In many ways, it feels like how the classic Sonic formula should feel in 3D and I sincerely hope the team at SEGA takes some inspiration and notes. While some momentum-killing levels and technical issues hold Penny’s Big Breakaway back from perfection, the killer aesthetics and buttery smooth gameplay loop make the game an undeniable breakout hit.

Frankly, I cannot wait to see what the team at Evening Star does next.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Buttery smooth gameplay
  • Nails the Saturn look and feel
  • A great soundtrack
  • Hours of fun!
Cons:
  • Level design doesn't always play to strengths of the gameplay
  • Technical issues
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Private Division
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PS5, PC, Switch
  • Release date and price - 21 February 2024 | £24.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Buttery smooth gameplay</li> <li>Nails the Saturn look and feel</li> <li>A great soundtrack</li> <li>Hours of fun!</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Level design doesn't always play to strengths of the gameplay</li> <li>Technical issues</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Private Division</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PS5, PC, Switch <li>Release date and price - 21 February 2024 | £24.99</li> </ul>Penny's Big Breakaway Review
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