After arguably flailing for years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been experiencing a resurgence. Part of that has come from the release of Sonia Mania, one of the series' best 2D games since its heyday on the Sega Genesis. The team behind that title, led by Christian Whitehead, has since gone on to new endeavors. That leads to Whitehead's Evening Star studio, which is working on an original 3D platforming title called Penny's Big Breakaway. A lot of the retro spirit of Sonic Mania can be felt in this new adventure, but there's plenty that makes Penny's video game debut stand out. Shacknews recently had a chance to try it out.
The story of Penny's Big Breakaway is simple and appropriately silly. Title character Penny is ready to audition to be a part of Emperor Eddie's Palace Court Performers. As a street performer, she has incredible talent with her trusty yo-yo. In a strange twist of events, just before Penny shows up for her audition, a Cosmic String bring's Penny's yo-yo (named... er... Yo-Yo) to life. Instead of performing dazzling tricks, Yo-Yo opts to eat Emperor Eddie's pants. As amusing as that is, that humiliation turns Penny and Yo-Yo into fugitives and sets the stage for the rest of the game, where they'll be on the run from Emperor Eddie's army of penguins.
First revealed during the June 2023 Nintendo Direct, one thing that stands out right away is that Penny's Big Breakaway is colorful. It revels in its whimsical atmosphere with visuals that harken back to the early days of 3D gaming, looking like it would fit in perfectly with the best of the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn. While its look is decidedly old-school, the game's mechanics are what bring it into a more modern age.
In addition to standard 3D platforming, Penny's biggest tool is Yo-Yo. Yo-Yo allows Penny to swing across large gaps, pull levers, and string together dashes. Tall ramps require Penny to ride Yo-Yo, while certain switches call for an "around the world" swing. Momentum can be key in many areas, as once Penny builds enough speed, she can ride atop Yo-Yo and blast through straightaways, launching herself across big chasms. At various points, she'll be swarmed by Emperor Eddie's penguins, at which point she'll have to use her abilities to shake them off before they can haul her off to the dungeon.
Targeting can sometimes be an issue, especially with the right analog stick mapped so that players can aim Yo-Yo anywhere. Fortunately, there's a simplified controller option that maps everything to face buttons and the camera to the right analog stick.
Evening Star doesn't let up on the charm of Penny's story. Over the course of each stage, Penny can assist NPCs with quick tasks that reward her with a bigger audience at the end of every level. Once Penny hits the end of a level, a spotlight shines down and players are prompted to perform specific yo-yo tricks for a higher score.
Penny's Big Breakaway feels like a charming throwback, one aimed at simpler concepts like score chasing and time attacks. In fact, Time Attack trials will open up for each stage after completing them in Story Mode. It does look like it needs a little more time in the oven, as we saw some performance hitches during cutscenes. Despite that, we're excited to see this game when it's ready, because Penny and Yo-Yo were born for a bigger stage. Penny's Big Breakaway is coming soon to PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
These impressions are based on an early PC demo provided by the publisher. It may not be representative of the final product.