Penny’s Big Breakaway review

For their next trick, the Sonic Mania team leaps into the world of 3D platforming. It’s a bold move, with even SEGA themselves infamously stumbling when it comes to creating fast-moving action platformers starring their blue-hued hedgehog. The team does at least have over two decades of mistakes to learn from, and as Sonic Mania proved, they have a good grasp on what makes a speedy platformer tick. Question is, can they transfer these skills into the third dimension?

Penny’s Big Breakaway is seemingly born out of a passion for SEGA’s spiky star, featuring similar momentum-based traversal. At the same time, it also showcases a desire to put their stamp on the genre by adding a sprinkling of innovation. There’s no escaping the developer’s roots either, with this platformer featuring similar stylish presentation to Sonic Mania, while borrowing the delightfully clashing colour schemes found in Sonic CD; the black sheep of Sonic’s ‘90s escapades. We haven’t seen this many varying shades of pink since Noel’s House Party.

Penny’s Big Breakaway review

The brief opening scene – set in a bustling town inhabited by docile Bonanza Bros-esque denizens – introduces us to our mute white-haired protagonist and outlines the plot, all while showing off her move set. Penny is a dab hand with the yo-yo, but while demonstrating her skills at a gala audition, she accidentally embarrasses the town’s mayor – who retaliates by ordering their robotic penguin patrol to stop Penny in her tracks. Suddenly, she’s a wanted woman.

The yo-yo is used in traversal and feels like an organic implantation; much like how Kazooie was paired with Banjo to normalise the bear’s floaty double jump. Penny can air dash, swing the yo-yo around 360 degrees, grapple onto poles and bars, and – most importantly – whizz around as if it were a unicycle. Or Segway, if you want to take Penny down a notch. There’s a choice of controls available, in the sense that attacking is mapped both to the analogue stick and X button, while jumping can be performed with either the shoulder buttons or the A button. Air dashing can also be performed with a flick of the analogue stick, or by pressing X while mid-air. While it may seem superfluous to detail the controls here, it does show that the developer understands that a single set-up may not suit all. Air dashing does feel a bit more intuitive with a double stick flick, so you may want to experiment.

Penny’s Big Breakaway review

The levels are all designed around this move set, incorporating chase sequences, sections that introduce new power-ups, slower paced platforming segments, skate-park style ramps and halfpipes, and the occasional zip-line to show off the busy backdrops. To elaborate, Penny can grab limited-time power-ups that destroy walls, and send her skyrocketing or speeding, all assisting in traversal over long distances – levels are suitably lengthy, even lasting close to ten minutes. Every level also has a handful of quests to fulfil in order to achieve 100% completion, such as delivering objects in a time limit, finding lost items, or performing tricks to meet a target score. You may even find yourself seeking out denizens, as each has something unique to say, such as an amusing musing or wry observation.  

Worlds bear certain tropes when it comes to themes (lava, water, sand, ice, etc) but effort has gone into inducing a spin, with the lava world also having a culinary twist, and the water world being a resort with diving boards and wave machines. Colour schemes are distinct, and although some background elements are low-poly (presumably to keep the Switch version’s framerate in double digits) it has a fresh abstract style too, and the starting area of each stage is often built-up and complex. Not every world has a set quota of stages either – varying from as many as six, to as few as two – and the variety within reflects this, with no world overstaying its welcome by featuring overused ideas or mechanics.

Boss battles also appear sporadically, and not at the end of every world as you may expect. This may have been down to budget or time constraints, however. The few boss battles that are here are creative, usually introducing a new mechanic or switching perspective mid-battle. Penny can only withstand four hits, and when it comes to fighting a boss, you’ll be keeping a closer eye on the speedy star’s health as there are no mid-battle checkpoints.

Penny’s Big Breakaway review

Another way the developers have put their stamp on things relates to the game’s enemy roster. Well, the absence thereof. The mayor’s posse of penguins have been instructed to capture Penny, and attempt to do so by carrying her away. They burst out of walls and attack in groups before clinging, with a gauge showing how many are currently attached. Attacking and dashing will shake them off, but if four manage to latch on then poor Penny will be carted away, casting you to the last checkpoint. It’s a fun set-up, especially considering the penguins can appear unexpectedly, but these marine blue mammals are pretty much the only adversaries present from start to finish, a few variants aside.  

When the ending credits ran, I had just over ten hours on the clock, which included visiting a few of the smaller bonus ‘Star Globe’ challenge stages – accessed by spending hidden tokens. The replay value is decent, making the £24.99 price tag more than reasonable. Levels have score and time targets, along with secrets to find and a gallery to unlock, and the whole thing does appear to be geared towards speed running in the way that Penny can get around with dashes and peel-outs. The scoring system is even tied to continuing (there are infinite continues, which helps keep frustration low and progress swift, but each retry costs 1000 points) and at the end of each stage Penny can acquire a ‘busker bonus’ by partaking in a short button-matching mini-game.

Penny’s Big Breakaway review

But when I finally sat the controller down, I also felt that a lot of Penny’s deaths weren’t my fault. One chase scene involves running from a colossal penguin ball, with Penny rolling out of harm’s way using a power-up. At one point a wall must be smashed, but there’s no instant transition from boosting to attacking; a problem that causes issues elsewhere. Occasionally a reticule won’t appear in good time when trying to grab a pole or elasticated line, and it can be hard to judge the distance of certain platforms due to the dynamic camera – which automatically shifts perspective, with a fondness for isometric angles. It’s generally fine though, and probably wasn’t the easiest of things to implement due to its constantly shifting nature.

Ultimately, Penny’s Big Breakaway provides a very good time, constantly teetering on great. First impressions were mighty positive, making me think this was going to be 2024’s Hi-Fi Rush – sharing some of that game’s energy, excitement, and passion – but over time a few niggles crept in, which may have been rectified with another month or two of development. Thankfully, these niggles never amassed to anything more than that. Had this starred a certain hedgehog, we would be looking at a rare franchise high note. Checkmate SEGA. Again.

Penny’s Big Breakaway is developed by Evening Star and published by Take-Two subsidiary Private Division. Out now on PS5, Xbox Series, PC, and Switch. Code supplied by publisher.