Monday, June 3, 2024

Penny's Big Breakaway (Multi) Review

What is this?! A WRITTEN review without a video component?! On SuperPhillip Central?! In 2024?! In THIS econom--okay, enough of drawing out the bit here. It seems I rarely write anything new, but this week is the anniversary week of SuperPhillip Central. In fact, we went live on June 5th, 2008! Wow!

Regardless, I wanted to at least ring in this anniversary with some new written content for those of you who still stop by this blog. Partly as a means to prove to myself I still got this "game writing" thing (heh), and also partly because to thank everyone for continuing to stop by this site, whether you've been here since day one or somewhere along the way.

At any rate, my first piece this week is a review for Penny's Big Breakaway. As some of you may know, my favorite genre is the platformer, and I LOVE a 3D platformer, as well! How does Penny's adventure fare and compare to other linear platformers? Let's discover that answer for ourselves with the SuperPhillip Central review of Penny's Big Breakaway!

A Penny for Phil's Thoughts on Her Big Breakaway

Since helping to make and develop the extraordinary Sonic Mania with Sonic Team, my eyes have been closely watching development studio Evening Star for any signs of activity. When its new game was announced in a Nintendo Direct, and a 3D platformer at that--something we don't get TOO much of nowadays--I literally squealed with delight. And if you know my voice and self, that does NOT create that great of a visual image! 

Regardless, Penny's Big Breakaway is the game, and a 3D platformer of any size for any developer is itself a big undertaking. This game designed around a yo-yo for most of its mechanics makes for a solid experience overall, but it doesn't quite make the trip "around the world" without some mistakes.

Penny is a prospective performer wishing audition to tag along Emperor Eddie at the Gala located at the cleverly named Eddietorium. What is her specialty? Yo-yo tricks, of course! Along the way to her audition, she encounters a Cosmic String which attaches to her yo-yo, giving her amazing abilities, such as cutting in line ahead of hundreds of other auditioners and utterly wowing Emperor Eddie in the process. However, the yo-yo, enriched with the Cosmic String, takes on a personality of its own, going wild and wacky and ripping a hole through Emperor Eddie's clothes. Penny is blamed for the incident, and what started as an audition turns into a chase for her freedom as the Emperor calls forth his entire penguin army to pursue her. 

The story of Penny's Big Breakaway is cute and the cutscenes charming. Everything from the dialogue to the character designs and names are flush with personality. Although most of the characters are one-off and not quite recurring, they did leave a positive impression on me. 

Penny's Big Breakaway isn't a sprawling collect-a-thon platformer by way of Mario or Banjo-Kazooie. Instead, its greatest inspiration would be closer to that of Sonic the Hedgehog games--which of course makes absolute sense considering the dev team started out making Sonic fan games. While Penny's adventure is 3D, the gameplay is more akin to Sonic's 2D titles, where momentum is needed to keep speed going to conversely keep one's combo going. That said, points and such are mostly to show off, though high scores will bestow trickster players snippets of art in a gallery to view.

Forget a combo mambo, just practice getting into the general rhythm
and swing of things your first run through the game.
Starting off in Penny's adventure, I struggled immensely with the controls. You can utilize either the right stick or the face buttons for various yo-yo tricks and maneuvers. I ended up going for a meeting in the middle, using the face buttons for the trickier techniques while using the right analog stick when I wanted to grab something in a specific direction, attack an enemy, or spin the yo-yo around in a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion.

A little bit of razzle and dazzle while we enter Swing-Around Fun Town!
Chaining tricks together elegantly makes for an effective way to get around the game's levels. Penny can throw her yo-yo forward to gain a quick boost in that direction, flip in the air with a double jump (this also serves as a wall jump when near, well, a wall), and she can even hold the button to throw her yo-yo to keep it held out. This essentially gives her a perpetual swing in midair over the same area. Further, Penny can also ride her yo-yo--a fantastic move for rolling down hills, boosting off ramps, and keeping a combo going as well. 

Swing low, sweet Yo-Yo, coming for to carry Penny all around and across levels.
Using these techniques together can be used like so--Penny launches herself forward with her yo-yo to give herself some momentum, which allows her to ride it a vast distance, before leaping up and over a chasm by swinging in place with the yo-yo, and then carefully landing on a narrow platform by double jumping to it. 

While at the beginning of the average player's time with Penny's Big Breakaway, this kind of gameplay scenario will very much be a pipe dream--or yo-yo dream, I guess in this case. It takes some practice to get the mechanics down precisely. Really, my first playthrough of the game was more of a practice run to explore the levels, get my bearings, and then when I beat the game, I returned to past levels and started really doing all the--if I do say so myself--impressive chaining of tricky yo-yo techniques together to speed through levels. 

Penny's Yo-Yo has more than just acrobatic tricks to it!
It can also grab on to handles and more to get the job done.
Of course, that said, speeding through levels is something that is an option to do, for sure, and while these levels are relatively linear, they also feature plenty of activities in them. Chiefly, there are three Show Pieces in each level--collectibles that are used to unlock challenge levels--and Denizen Dilemmas, which spice up the gameplay considerably. These dilemmas put players into assisting various NPCs with their trials and tribulations, usually something like collecting a certain number of items with or without a time limit, with or without taking damage, and so forth. 

As for damage, there are lots of means for Penny to be harmed. The life of a performer being pursued by penguins isn't an easy one! Obviously, there's Emperor Eddie's penguin army, which will latch on to Penny if they get close to her, requiring her to perform yo-yo tricks to shake the pesky penguins off of her. If five or more penguins latch on at the same time, it's game over. 

Penguins in close pursuit? You better run, girl!
Additionally, each level has tricks, traps, and hazards to watch out for, including chasms, bodies of water, spikes, lava floes, platforms that break upon standing on them, crushing blocks, and so many more. As is pretty much standard for any 3D platformer worth its jumping height, each world within Penny's Big Breakaway--of which there are eleven--has its own theme and locale. From Tideswell's serene beaches and deep orangish-red waters to Moltebene's fiery waves of lava and cooking vessels strewn about, Penny will venture far and wide, up and over, over and out, outside and inside, and all over the place to avoid Eddie's armada of penguins and to help clear her name!

Careful around that lava, Penny--you don't want your goose (or anything else) cooked!
Penny's health is represented by four bars of Gusto goodness. Popsicles refill one bar of Gusto apiece, and they're quite common especially in more challenging sections of levels. Checkpoints are relatively commonplace, though it's always frustrating to fail with a checkpoint in sight and be forced to do a somewhat arduous section of level all over again because of a dumb mistake. Especially so if it's because poor Penny fell through the floor, clipped through geometry, "killed by the camera", or any other less than polished gameplay reason, which sadly happened often than I would have liked. That said, and fortunately so, collectibles and activities like Show Pieces and Denizen Dilemmas you've gathered and finished prior to dying before a checkpoint remain collected and completed as long as you finish the level. That saved lots of aggravation, most certainly!

Riding on her Yo-Yo can see Penny dash across the face of bodies of water with ease.
While levels are enjoyable and filled with copious split paths--usually like Sonic where the high path is more difficult but faster to stay on, while the low path is safer but slower--the boss encounters are less so. These are what I would consider as the sum of their parts the weak link of Penny's Big Breakaway's yo-yo chain. Some are a little frustrating, some present the game's lack of polish in full display, while others are just not much to write home about. The best thing I can say about them is twofold: 1) They try some interesting things at times, and 2) They can usually be completed quickly.

Penny's Big Breakaway recently received a performance patch for the Nintendo Switch version, bringing a performance mode, offering an optional 60 FPS mode for players. On PlayStation 5 and other platforms, the game runs at that FPS as the standard as opposed to the Switch's 30 FPS. If you're like me and don't really notice that (if only because of my smaller TV--sad face), it won't matter too much. Regardless of the version played, you'll get a colorful, vibrant art style that looks pleasant and animates beautifully. Meanwhile, on the audio side of things, we get another glorious Tee Lopes soundtrack who teamed up with Sean Bialo for the music for this game. It's suitably catchy, wonderful--I bought the soundtrack on iTunes the day it officially released--that says it all, really. It's another winner.

While the lack of polish and the steep learning curve, ironically somewhat similar to actually learning how to use a yo-yo in real life, can betray some the game's otherwise stellar entertainment value, Penny's Big Breakaway brought me lots of joy playing through it. Don't be ashamed if your first playthrough is that of a practice run than a dedicated Tony Hawk's Pro Yo-Yo'er affair. That said, if you're the type who is a one-and-done kind of player with your games, then you might just find yourself frustrated and flummoxed with the main mechanic and won't get to enjoy learning it fully. That's not necessarily the "wrong" way to go about playing Penny's Big Breakaway, but you will miss out so be forewarned there. For everyone else, especially 3D platformer fans, you'll yo-yo between a super satisfying momentum-based platformer and a game that can really grind your gears with its issues. More the former than the latter, though!

[SPC Says: B-]

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