Penny’s Big Breakaway review for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch

Platform: PC
Also on: PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Evening Star
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

How high is your tolerance for bugs, jank, and glitches? How much do you pine for early days of Sonic’s foray into 3D gaming? Your answer to those two questions will probably determine how much you enjoy Penny’s Big Breakaway.

Realistically, if you really want to get the most out of Penny’s Big Breakaway, your answer to those questions needs to be “fairly high” and “a lot”, respectively. Because no matter how much you may like SEGA-style 3D platformers, you’ll have to put up with a decent amount of jank to get there.

In fact, in some cases you have to put up with the game simply not working. I started by trying to play Penny’s Big Breakaway on the Legion Go; it hung forever on a blank screen on my first attempt, and the second time around it crashed after about ten seconds. Next, I gave it a try on the ROG Ally; this time, it crashed after about five seconds. Undaunted, I tried again on the Steam Deck, and this time the game worked, but it doesn’t speak much for the game’s performance on Windows-based devices.

Though even once I was into the game, it’s performance was a little…let’s say, variable? At times Penny’s Big Breakaway looked gorgeous, like a classic SEGA game brought to life on modern platforms. At others, though, the usually vibrant colours suddenly gave way to drab, grainy visuals, especially during cutscenes, when the artstyle occasionally changes to something less SEGA-y and more like a bland cartoon.

On top of that, the game’s physics are all over the place. The goal is clearly to emulate 3D Sonic or Nights Into Dreams, with quick, fluid movement. However, in practice, it doesn’t work that way. One of Penny’s go-to moves is to hop on her yo-yo and zip forward – except she doesn’t always do that, since just as frequently she’ll roll for a few moments and then come to a stop.

Jumping isn’t any better. You can use your yo-yo to swing you across huge gaps – except when you can’t, or when the game doesn’t properly read the angle you’re aiming for, and you just go straight up in the air (and plummeting to your death if you’re yo-yo-ing over empty space).

Even the yo-yo can be hugely frustrating. There are lots of points where it’s clear the game wants you to ricochet around, whacking enemies or breakable objects with your yo-yo and racking up huge combos. But it doesn’t work that way – if you use your yo-yo too quickly it’ll send you shooting towards whichever direction you’re facing, which is a problem in a world with lots of platforms that aren’t exactly enormous. And for extra frustration, there are moments where all the game’s annoying quirks combine to make it extra annoying, like when you’re trying to escape a herd of angry penguins, except you don’t move quite fast enough to do it, and your attacks send you careening in the wrong direction.

And yet, for all its flaws, it’s hard to really dislike Penny’s Big Breakaway. As I wrote up top, it captures the spirit of SEGA’s best platformers – which makes sense, seeing as the studio that developed it was founded by Christian Whitehead, best known for his work on Sonic Mania and Sonic Origins. When everything works just right – when the SEGA-esque score is blasting and the colours are blending together in a rush and when the titular heroine is whipping around in circles and flying through the air – you really see the game’s influences come shining through. In those moments, there’s a straight line from SEGA’s glory days to this game, and you want to love it.

But those moments don’t happen nearly enough. More often, you’ll be plagued by technical issues, or annoyed by controls, or dying a dumb death because of inconsistent physics. There’s a great game somewhere inside Penny’s Big Breakaway, and it’s entirely possible we’ll see it one day, but right now, it’s just not there yet.

Private Division provided us with a Penny’s Big Breakaway PC code for review purposes.

Score: 7

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