Penny’s Big Breakaway is a delightful callback to simpler times

Penny's Big Breakaway evokes early 2000s platforming games with a grin and a wink.
penny's big breakaway game

3D platformer games of the early 2000s have an intangible sense of joy about them. Nostalgia might be part of it, but it’s fair to say titles like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and Banjo-Kazooie are buoyed by a light-hearted charm and a sense of simplicity that often feels lacking in modern games. While graphically and technically more impressive, modern platformers often lack the pleasant, brain-tickling vibes of their predecessors. Their sheer sense of fun.

Penny’s Big Breakaway, a new, nostalgia-infused adventure game from Evening Star and Private Division might be a rare exception. After hours with the game in preview, its bouncy enthusiasm has wormed its way well into my brain, and reminded me just how transportive a good adventure game can be.

You start this unique, brightly-coloured journey in snappy fashion, with only a brief cutscene to introduce the madness. The story follows Penny, a young performer who deploys tricks with her handy Yo-Yo – a device which is also sentient, and has its own funny little agenda. Yo-Yo loves mayhem, and it’s that desire for chaos that forces Penny on the run from Eddie the Emperor, and his vicious penguin army.

penny's big breakaway gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

With Eddie on her case, Penny is thrust on a quest of survival – running, swinging, and rolling through a variety of kingdoms in purple, pink, and orange vaporwave hues as she attempts to escape the Emperor’s wrath and clear her name of wrongdoing.

Adventuring in Penny’s Big Breakaway is a complex but rewarding art. With Yo-Yo by your side, you’ll spend your time spinning and twirling through the air, using the yo-yo as a grappling hook, a rideable vehicle, and a mid-air swing. It can push back enemies, break through walls, tap buttons, and it lets you cross great ravines with the right combination of rhythmic jumping, swinging, and boosting.

While there are occasional issues with precision in this system – in my playthrough, I was frequently detached from grappling lines, and the yo-yo ride disengaged multiple times – for the most part, it’s a delight, and one that feels entirely original.

penny's big breakaway game
Image: Evening Star

With a complexity in its movement, the yo-yo system requires deep thinking and analysis of traversal challenges. You need to consider your environment and your distance, and then master a cool, swinging rhythm to cross gaps, avoid enemies, and make progress.

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In certain levels, the challenge is tweaked again by one of the funniest mechanics I’ve seen in a platformer: eventually, you will be forced to run from Eddie’s army of tiny penguins, all seeking to capture you for the glory of their master’s kingdom.

These penguins will fling themselves at you, should you come into their orbit – and if you get more than half a dozen penguins attached to you, you’ll be captured and have to start your level again. In theory and in practice, it’s a wonderful sight – to be having a lovely time looking at bright-hued oceans and forests, and suddenly see a great hordes of penguins descending on you from your blindspot.

penny's big breakaway game
Screenshot: GamesHub

Whenever they’re around, Penny’s Big Breakaway becomes a mad dash for the exit, as you attempt to find each level’s end, while also collecting special gears and completing mini-quests in each kingdom along the way. The penguins inadvertently make you a better, more quick-thinking yo-yo user, and add a livelier, frantic pace to the adventure that makes it all the more endearing.

Across its first few levels, what struck me most about Penny’s Big Breakaway was this devotion to silliness. In its carefree approach to platforming, with levels all filled with their own quirks and oddities, it displays such a sense of warmth and nostalgia.

It feels like it could be a long-lost cousin of Kingsley’s Adventure or Glover – an underrated but cherished platformer of the early 2000s. Evening Star certainly understands what makes the genre so appealing, and why players still have such fond memories of it, years after it peaked.

Penny’s Big Breakaway is currently set to launch for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch in early 2024.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.