Penny’s Big Breakaway Hands-on Preview – A wheely good time

Posted on February 2, 2024

Sorely lacking in the modern age is 3D mascot platformers. Gone is Banjo Kazooie; Rare is Crash Bandicoot.  It seems we need something new. Penny’s Big Breakaway, a new adventure from the Sonic Mania devs that follows a new yo-yo-wielding hero, is looking to be that fix. And after a handful of hours previewing the speedy title, I am more than convinced.

Penny’s Big Breakaway follows the titular hero, who’s a budding street performer with her yo-yo known as her Cosmic String. Following an audition to be a new performer for the palace court, she makes something of a fool of herself, embarrassing the Emperor by… well… accidentally pantsing him. It’s this silly inciting incident that sees Penny on the run, fleeing across the lands from an army of penguins in search of refuge. It’s a thin plot, but it’s more than enough to invite the player into the bright and colourful world found in the handful of hours I’ve played thus far.

Like Sonic Mania prior, Big Breakway uses its innate talent of taking known genre foundations and squeezing every ounce of potential out of them, only now it’s in the 3D space. Yes, you’re exploring typical world biomes you’d find in a platformer such as a beach or fiery lava filled-mountainside, but the vibrancy in level design and choice of colour, combined with a varied movement skillset allows for the game to hold its weight.

Comparisons can easily be made to Super Mario Odyssey, with a high emphasis on chaining movement abilities to cover good ground. For instance, holding the yo-yo action button in midair makes for a spontaneous swing that can buy you some time to deliberate trajectory. Follow this up with a double tap of the same button while also midair and you can cast out the yo-yo and then promptly zip to it. These are effective means of long jumps. Consider this merging with the typical wall jumps and so on and you can get moving. Fast.

Keeping you going through Penny’s Big Breakaway levels are collectible bolts and little side tasks you can complete for the locals. These largely boil down to picking up an object and getting it to a location safely, or every so often having Penny collect a given amount of items or score a certain amount of points from yo-yo tricks in a given time frame. The former of these makes for an engaging challenge because throughout levels you’ll be flooded by an onslaught of penguins. They are intent on slowing you down and, if you’re overpowered, take off a chunk of your health or destroy the item you hold.

“…There’s a delightful terror to watching a flood of penguins surge out of a pipe, ready to take you down.”

There’s a delightful terror to watching a flood of penguins surge out of a pipe, ready to take you down. It stresses urgency and becoming familiar with the movement mechanics so you can get in or out of an area fast.

You will before long learn how to be quick in Penny’s Big Breakway, and it’s in that that you will be able to see the Sonic DNA. The game also revels in this and gives you more opportunity to show off your speed and platforming know-how by engaging in time trials earned upon completion of a level.

In the five worlds I’ve experienced thus far, Penny’s Big Breakaway is intent on showing you a really good time for every second of gameplay. There are skating halfpipes that you can ride your yo-yo along, careening you to great heights. A colourful world and funny dialogue are spouted by adorable bean-like NPCs you’ll find on your journey. You even end a given level by completing a little QTE song and dance number. Where I’m not yet sold on the game’s offerings is in its boss encounters.

These teeter a little on the easier side. Having experienced two encounters, they offer interesting enough gimmicks. One has you in an arena, avoiding an endless onslaught of projectiles that you will later have to knock into holes on the map as it shifts into a pool table. This at least offers a bit more challenge because there’s just so much being sent at you. The latter however has you simply taking on a Sumo wrestler, avoiding getting a ring-out as they spin around the area. Before long they stop, dizzy from the action and it’s here you spin them around and throw them out of the arena à la the final Bowser fight in Super Mario 64. I came out of these experiences feeling like they were missing just that little bit of juice; perhaps more environmental hazards or projectiles to avoid.

Still, I can’t overstate the endless charm found in Penny’s Big Breakaway. There’s a big encouragement on replayability, working to spend those hard-earned coins on unlockable concept art and additional challenge levels. It already feels like one of those games that rewards you the more you put into it as you learn its ins and outs intimately.

The wait for another great indie platformer isn’t long. Penny’s Big Breakaway is coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC in early 2024. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for.