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While speeding through Penny’s Big Breakaway, the studio debut of new development company Evening Star, I could swear I was playing an underrated Sega 3D platformer from years ago. It brought me back to the ’90s and 2000s when platformers held the same weight as AAA story-centric single player games do today.


Time to enter Penny’s colorful world


Penny’s Big Breakway is a brisk, colorful, and nostalgic adventure. In it you play as Penny, an anthropomorphic street performer who seeks to perform with her yo-yo in the world of Macaroon’s annual Gala held by its ruler Emperor Eddy. On the way to the Gala, Penny finds a Cosmic String that enhances her yo-yo bringing it to life with a ravenous hunger for, well, anything. Hilarity ensues at the Gala as Penny’s starving sentient yo-yo tears apart the Emperor’s outfit in front of the onlooking Gala crowd and, just like that, Penny is on the run from the law (a henchman gang of penguins). 



Much like its silly plot, Penny’s strengths lie in embracing the quirkiness of the best underrated mascot platformers. The pitch is like a ‘best-of’ Sega hits: The emphasis on moving quickly through vibrant, advantageous Samba De Amigo-esque levels to reach the goal will remind anyone who picks it up of Sonic The Hedgehog’s Sega Genesis glory days. The catch is that Penny herself is not a fast character on her own. Similar to another Sega property, Nintendo GameCube cult classic Billy Hatcher & The Giant Egg, Penny is able to utilize her yo-yo to enhance her moveset. With the help of the Cosmic String Penny is able to dash, grapple and roll through areas that would otherwise take her hours to get through. 


Penny’s all about finding your need in speed


It’s clear that Evening Star’s team worked on Sonic Mania when playing Penny’s Big Breakaway. The essence of a platformer is to make it from point A to B as quickly as possible while being rewarded for collecting out of reach items. Penny’s Big Breakaway understands this and is set up as a 3D score attack game that encourages speedrunning. It embodies the spirit of what Sonic is about, in a way. Rather than featuring combat, the game is more interested in making you outrun a horde of enemy penguins. Speed and finding optimal routes are key to improving your score. And when you die, you lose a significant portion of your earned score. Each of Penny’s 11 worlds include levels with plentiful gaps to be air-dashed over, halfpipes to be rolled through and items that are made to move you along rather than stall you. As Penny, you have a deceptively small toolkit of moves. Chaining them together racks up a satisfying Tony Hawk-like combo counter that adds to your score. The core experience is addictive and a blast to learn. 



Penny’s Breakaway design and structure are pretty brilliant


I appreciated the emphasis on varying gimmicks in each world. Surfing through wave pools in Tideswell set itself apart from using spellbook portals to traverse outer space in World’s Edge. The yo-yo transformations were a delight too. Chili peppers can be rode as motorcycles, burgers become bowling balls and cakes can be used as a high-flying propellor. The design choices made are whimsical and thought-out. The fiery Moltobene, sudsy Bubblin and cutting-edge Industria are never lacking verticality or hidden pathways just out of reach. I always felt tempted to explore and was rewarded with collectibles and funny NPC Super Mario Sunshine-esque dialogue when I did so. 

The structure of the game is simple. Each world has anywhere from two to four ‘acts’ before you move on to the next world. Boss battles also play their part but don’t appear in every world consistently. As a matter of fact, their inclusion tended to be unpredictable — which I appreciated. And when a boss battle did occur, it always utilized an interesting concept. The highlight for me was fighting Mr. Q, an 8 ball with limbs. You fight him on a pool table and in order to defeat him, you you have to literally play pool. It was this quirkiness that stood out in the best way. Boss battles also moved the plot along and came with cutscenes both before and after, a nice touch. I’ve played numerous platformers that didn’t put forth this same amount of effort. 



Okay, so Penny’s Big Breakaway isn’t perfect


Not all of Penny’s Big Breakaway shines so brightly though. On Nintendo Switch specifically, the game runs at 30 frames per second, a far cry from the 120 frames per second of the other console versions and PC port. This wouldn’t be a problem if not for the blurriness of its environments and backgrounds. Often the levels begin in dynamic camera angles that are meant to show the scope of the world you’re about to run through. On Nintendo Switch, the rising spires and gargantuan structures tended to appear as scribbly, indistinguishable blotches of color. The game looks perfectly fine in motion. It’s when you stop to appreciate the details that the cracks begin to show. In-engine cutscene animations didn’t always look the best either. 



There tends to be a barrier for execution with level traversal as well. For instance, pressing Y twice initiates a dash but pressing Y once then holding it locks you into a grapple. I had numerous game overs due to attempting to make a tricky jump where the desired move just didn’t activate how I would have liked. I was hoping the right stick mapping would help with this. Unfortunately, the same problem persists with it. You can twirl the right stick to spin the yo-yo around you à la Cappy from Super Mario Odyssey and this works great. But dashing and grappling, as important as they are to your success in the game, just aren’t as responsive as they should be. I didn’t feel that the roll move was explained very well either. You can press and hold A, ZL, or ZR to begin rolling on your yo-yo at any time but the game doesn’t tell you that you have to hold forward on the left stick in order to be able to make most turns. The controls in general could be improved upon. 


Penny’s will have you yearning for more


Regardless of its flaws, Penny’s Big Breakway is a successful indie debut. Fans of Sonic Mania will rejoice at the emphasis on speed, clever exploration, funky ’90s tunes and vibrant quirkiness. Once through the game’s 11 worlds, there are grueling bonus levels and a time attack mode to come back to. For a budget title, Penny’s neither overstays its welcome nor feels light on content. I would have to say that everything about the game is on-brand with what I remember loving about 3D platformers. Even the blemishes, as frustrating as they were, filled me with a weird fondness for a bygone era. I would have rented this game from a Blockbuster back in the day and had a great weekend with it. If you grew up on the Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo GameCube, you should definitely check this one out. 


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  • Nostalgic but fresh 3D platforming action
  • Emphasis on speed makes for an exhilarating playthrough
  • Colorful worlds and quirky characters
  • Fun gimmicks keep levels fresh
  • Fun to find optimal paths through levels by making use of your yo-yo
  • Controls don’t always work correctly
  • Nintendo Switch version lacks visual clarity and polish
  • Lower frame rate compared to other versions
  • Occasionally frustrating platforming

System: Nintendo Switch

Release Date: February 21, 2024

Categories: Platformer, Adventure

Publisher: Private Division

Developer: Christian Whitehead, Evening Star

Written by Matthew Powers

Nintendo has been Matthew’s preference for fun video gaming since 2004. In addition to his love for all things Mario, Metroid and beyond, Matthew also enjoys heavy metal, roller coasters, pinball machines, and being a proud cat dad.