Penny’s Big Breakaway – Hands-on Preview

Like many nostalgic millennials, I’m a sucker for a good 3D platformer. Hell, I’m a sucker for a mediocre 3D platformer, because the part of my brain that first loved them never really cared about quality, and that mindset has stuck. Penny’s Big Breakaway is a game that aims to emulate some of those early collectathon adventures, and the few hours I’ve played of this new offering from the Sonic Mania team suggests that they’ve done so with just the right amount of charm and ambition. This is a game that’s playing to its strengths without shooting too high – and it has the makings of a family favourite.

Penny's Big Breakaway screenshot
Penny's Big Breakaway screenshot

The premise is simple – Penny, an aspiring yo-yoing star, is set on auditioning for a contest that will (if she wins) allow her to headline the king’s gala and see herself on the big stage. After some clever trickery, she makes it in front of the king, but the sentient yo-yo that seems to be (at least in part) the source of her skills goes rogue, dacking the king and seeing Penny branded as a criminal who must now go on the run. It’s a classic rags to wanted criminal story that sees Penny hunted by the kingdom’s law enforcement – obviously an army of penguins – who want to lock her up and see that her name never appears in lights. 

Honestly, simple and silly is exactly what a game of this kind should be. Penny’s Big Breakaway is incredibly self-aware in its world and quest design, and so far seems to be nailing the kind of goofy humour that I wish more games would lean into. My favourite so far is a quest that tasked me with collecting roses for an NPC’s anniversary that was “happening in twenty seconds”, so I needed to be quick. There’s an inherent absurdity to the mechanics of these sorts of titles, and I just love it when it’s acknowledged and worked into the metagame.

Like the premise, the game’s mechanics are also straightforward to learn, but they’re also a little tricky to master. Most of the actions you can take with Penny’s yo-yo – including mid-air jumps, long-jumps, attacks, and turning your yo-yo into a rideable ball – are mapped onto one controller button. This makes it incredibly easy to know which button you need to press, but sometimes hard when it comes to making the game understand your intention. There were a frankly embarrassing number of occasions on which I yeeted myself into the abyss while trying to make what should have been a pretty simple jump, mostly because you’re just as likely to swing out of control and end up falling off the side of the level.

But really, this game is nailing it where it counts. Once you get the hang of the yo-yo’s unique form of movement, you can truly glide across a level and pull off stunts that could rival a Gnasty Gnorc – and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to show off your best tricks. There’s some clear Sonic influence at play when it comes to smooth, fast-paced motion, and it works to the game’s advantage very neatly. This is going to be a fun addition to the world of 3D platformers, a genre which absolutely deserves a resurgence.

Penny's Big Breakaway screenshot

Penny’s Big Breakaway is set to release in early 2024. Player 2 played this preview on PC using a code kindly provided by the publisher. 

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