Inverse Recommends

Penny's Big Breakaway Is the Must-Play Platformer of the Year

Run away from menacing little penguins.

Penny's Big Breakaway
Private Division
Inverse Recommends

If you took the charm and whimsy of Banjo Kazooie and mixed it with the gameplay of Sonic the Hedgehog, you might get a game like Penny’s Big Breakaway. That makes perfect sense as the same team behind Sonic Mania, Christian Whitehead and Evening Star, developed the game. Penny’s Big Breakaway’s momentum platforming is brilliant, embracing a real sense of speed and allowing you to chain lengthy combos of different moves. Penny’s Big Breakaway feels a bit rough around the edges at times, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most inventive platformers in years.

Like many other platformers, Penny’s Big Breakaway begins with just a dash of a barebones yet still whimsical story. Penny is a young street performer with some serious yo-yo skills, and after Eddie the Emperor (Penguin) calls for new Palace Court Performers, she answers the call. The young girl encounters something called a cosmic string, however, that brings her yo-yo to life, and turns it into an animalistic creature seemingly intent on biting everything.

Penny’s gameplay is entirely focused on momentum and takes a bit to get used to, but has surprising depth.

Private Division

The story is light and breezy, which is perfect for this kind of experience that really revolves around that core gameplay experience. Penny is most easily described as a momentum platformer. What this means is that all of your movement in the game is about building up speed, as Penny doesn’t instantly respond to the directions you put in. In other words, instead of the player’s input directly affecting a character’s movement, your inputs are instead affecting the acceleration. Some of the games that most obviously fit this role are the 2D Sonic games, like Sonic Mania, as well as titles like Super Meat Boy and Crash Bandicoot.

The influence of momentum is incredibly obvious right off the bat with Penny, as even the simple act of running requires you to get up to a top speed. But Penny’s moveset focuses on running as little as possible, instead using the yo-yo to interact with the environment.

The most obvious is simply throwing the yo-yo ahead, which can latch onto objects, break crates, damage enemies, etc. But this move also serves a dual purpose, as pressing the same button again lets Penny fling herself to the yo-yo, resulting in a quick forward dash. Apart from that, you can jump on top of the yo-yo and dash along the ground for a quick speed boost, swing the yo-yo in an arc around you, and use it as a mid-air swing for extra distance.

Penny can get power-ups that change her Yo-Yo into things like a fan to let her glide, or a big Hamburger that crushes rocks.

Private Division

Where the real brilliance of Penny’s systems comes in, is how each mechanic is given multiple uses and variants. Rolling on the Yo-Yo can also be used to cross bodies of water, and the levels are intentionally designed with hills and inclines to help give you speed boosts. Smartly using your dash ability can let you bypass entire platforms or areas of the level.

Of course, a huge part of this comes down to the level design itself, and that’s the other aspect of what makes Penny feel so special. Each level is impeccably designed to encourage comboing your abilities. For example, rolling down a hill might let you transition into a dash, then grab on a pole to swing up to a trampoline platform that lets you bounce even further. Mixed into all this is a constant threat of the Emperor’s Penguin soldiers, who mill around each level and chase Penny as soon as they see her. This often lends a sense of urgency, and it can be surprisingly terrifying to run away from a horde of the waddling little gremlins.

There’s a dynamic flow to the platforming of Penny that feels exceptionally satisfying, but each level is intentionally designed with alternate pathways to make sure you don’t ever feel like you’re doing something “wrong.” There’s almost always more than one way to move forward, which means you don’t have to perfect that one way, making it constantly feel like you’re doing things correctly.

Running from evil little penguins adds a surprising amount of tension to Penny’s Big Breakaway, and can often simultaneously be hilarious.

Private Division

The core gameplay combined with smart level design make Penny feel thrilling to play. It’s an easy game to pick up and play, but there’s a lot of depth in mastering its movement and mechanics, and a real emphasis on going back and perfecting runs or aiming for better times. Each level also has several optional objectives including collectibles and citizens that give you little missions, encouraging even more replay.

Admittedly, there are a few aspects of Penny that feel a bit rough: I encountered a few bugs in my playthrough that forced me to reload a checkpoint, some boss encounters feel a bit too demanding, and the camera can be a bit finicky. Those are all things that could have been ironed out with more time, and likely will in future updates.

Still, the foundation of Penny’s Big Breakaway is so fun and compelling that it's easy to overlook those flaws. It’s probably the best use of momentum I’ve ever seen in a 3D platformer, and shows that the team at Evening Star will be one to watch from here on.

Penny’s Big Breakaway is available on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Related Tags