There’s NOTHING better than a shadow drop, especially when it’s for a game that’s been on your radar for some time. That’s exactly what happened with Penny’s Big Breakaway, which I knew couldn’t be too far away after seeing some previews earlier in the month, but officially released during last week’s Nintendo Direct. And you know what? It’s really, REALLY good, with its nostalgic 3D platforming escapade proving that the genre really has stood the test of time.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Penny’s Big Breakaway puts players in the role of the titular protagonist Penny, who SHOULD be having her moment of glory when she gets to perform some slick yo-yo tricks in a talent show but ends up marked as a felon when she accidentally… uh… strips the all-powerful Eddie the Emperor of all of his clothes in a yo-yo mishap. It’s not COMPELTELY her fault, especially since her yo-yo has seemingly fused with a bizarre creature known as the Cosmic String that has a mind of its own, but it does mean she has to go on the run to escape from Eddie’s peculiar penguin minions and somehow clear her name.

What follows is a zany platforming-adventure that leans heavily into old-school design to see players zipping their way through linear levels that task you with getting from point A to B. Of course, there’s room for SOME exploration and players who venture off the beaten path will find some collectibles to unlock or simple side quests to complete, but ultimately, it’s all about reaching the end of the level without getting caught by Eddie’s penguins along the way.

Ok, that’s over-simplifying it a bit, because there is a lot going on in Penny’s Big Breakaway to help it stand out in the crowd. For one, Penny’s abilities revolve around her yo-yo, which allows her to perform an array of platforming manoeuvres as she speeds through levels. A quick flick of the right stick will shoot your yo-yo out in the corresponding direction to smash up small obstacles or enemies in your path, whilst double-tapping the stick will dash you forward in that direction. If you hold down the shoulder button you can charge your yo-yo up and launch yourself across the environment atop of it, in a move that’ll remind a lot of players of the spin-dash from Sonic the Hedgehog. Need to land a longer jump? Hold down the yo-yo button in midair and you’ll use it as a swing, allowing you to jump that little bit further and land in those hard-to-reach areas. It has other uses throughout levels too, whether that’s when travelling down a zip-line, spinning on a rotating pillar, or even whirling open a screw-like contraption, so you’ll never run out of tricks to perform.

“The level design is superb, with plenty of different platforming challenges introduced as you progress further through the game to keep the experience feeling fresh. Whilst it does embrace a lot of the typical hallmarks of the 3D platforming genre, it also manages to add its own little twist to them thanks to the unique yo-yo mechanics.”

It’s a really cool mechanic that makes traversal in the game a treat, with plenty of room for experimentation as you swing and spin your way through each level. There’s even a combo meter in place that’ll boost your score if you’re particularly creative, with levels cleverly designed to offer multiple ways to proceed through them that utilise Penny’s skillset in a variety of ways. Admittedly, I’m not quite good enough yet to use these methods to their full and get those super high scores, but there were a few levels where I was able to string together different manoeuvres in cohesion to completely clear areas without slowing down or even touching the ground. It’s REALLY satisfying and showcases just how free-flowing and intuitive the yo-yo traversal can be in the game.

That being said, I did have a few mishaps here and there. It could be all too easy to accidentally dash off the map and to your doom at times, especially when trying to perform manoeuvres in quick succession, whilst it could be hard to figure out where exactly you’d land when jumping in some of the game’s busier areas. Some of this is owed to the fact that you don’t have control over the camera in the game, with the right stick instead assigned to yo-yo actions. In general, the camera is well-placed and efficient at following the action, but there were a few occasions where that lack of control made it more difficult to track where exactly you’d land during a jump – most levels offer room for error so it’s not always an issue, but it can be the difference between life and death in some of the more challenging levels.

Maybe saying ‘life and death’ is a bit extreme, because Penny’s Big Breakaway is pretty forgivable for the most part. Whilst you’ll face plenty of creative platforming challenges that’ll test your skills in levels, you have infinite lives, so you’ll always be able to return to the last checkpoint if you fail. This can affect your score if it happens too many times, but it gives plenty of leeway for those who aren’t too worried about getting high scores. It CAN be a little inconsistent with its checkpoint placement in some levels, but I never found myself re-playing through areas of a level so regularly that it felt like an issue.

Check out some screenshots down below:

It might sound like I’m knocking on the game a bit, but believe me, I had a great time playing through Penny’s Big Breakaway. The level design is superb, with plenty of different platforming challenges introduced as you progress further through the game to keep the experience feeling fresh. Whilst it does embrace a lot of the typical hallmarks of the 3D platforming genre, it also manages to add its own little twist to them thanks to the unique yo-yo mechanics. You’re also able to utilise a bunch of different snack-themed power-ups for your yo-yo in levels, with things like the cake allowing you to glide down across heights and the red pepper making your yo-yo speed through areas superfast when riding atop of it, just to name a few. And the collectibles I mentioned earlier? Not only are they a lot of fun to find, but they unlock additional challenging levels that are especially rewarding to play through. It’ll please completionists and certainly adds to the replay value of the game, as does the Time Attack mode that challenges you to complete levels as fast as possible.

Oh, and the boss fights? I’ve seen a few complaints online that they’re not very good, but I enjoyed them. Sure, there were one or two frustrating encounters, but for the most part they lean into the strengths of the game and give players an enjoyable little challenge to face to mark the end of a set of levels.

I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the game’s visuals, which I absolutely loved. I’m a sucker for the early platformers that marked the initial transition to 3D, with Penny’s Big Breakaway embracing a visual style that captures the essence of those perfectly. It’s simplistic in design, but so creative, colourful, and eye-catching that it’s hard not to be impressed by how authentic it is in re-creating that old-school aesthetic. Add to that the wonderful soundtrack that plays to the whimsical vibe of the adventure perfectly and you’ll quickly find that the audio and visual design of Penny’s Big Breakaway is sublime. I have no doubt that the visual style won’t be for everyone, but as an old-school gamer, I adored it.

Penny's Big Breakaway Review

Penny’s Big Breakaway is a wonderful 3D platformer that captures the vibe of the classics of the genre perfectly with its creative level design and vibrant visuals. It manages to feel really unique thanks to its clever yo-yo mechanics too, which certainly help set it apart from similar modern releases – even IF it can make for some clumsy situations, especially with the lack of camera control.

It’s just a really fun game that has a lot going for it, with the wealth of collectibles, bonus levels, and additional challenges ensuring it’ll keep players hooked in for some time. Some of the team at developer Evening Star are best known for their work on Sonic Mania, but their first original platforming release proves that they don’t need to rely on a recognisable mascot to show off their platforming prowess.

Developer: Evening Star
Publisher: Private Division
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch