Penny’s Big Breakaway Review

March 3, 2024

Penny’s Big Breakaway feels equal parts a love letter to the aesthetic and style of the 90’s era of platformers, and a big ball of original ideas of its own, which seems right given this is the first game from developer Evening Star, formed from developers on the beloved Sonic Mania, under Aussie Christian Whitehead. While created with modern tools and with modern standards, the game feels like something that you might have found on the Sega Saturn or PlayStation back in the dayHowever, its momentum-based gameplay may prove an obstacle to platforming newcomers.

Penny herself is a performer, living in a world centred around performers, where the Emperor Eddie’s gala event and talent show is the ultimate dream for most of its denizens. Herself a talented yo-yo trickster, Penny’s audition goes awry when her yo-yo is brought to life by a ‘cosmic string’ she finds, which causes it to not only steal the show but also the emperor’s clothes. This affront causes the emperor to declare Penny an outlaw, and send his penguin guard armada after her. The major thrust of Penny’s Big Breakaway covers Penny’s escape from the emperor, and her attempts to try to clear her name and return to normal life. The story is simple and portrayed though a mix of in-game cutscenes and painted artwork, which conveys it all effectively enough. I was a little confused by how everything resolved by the end, but the core elements are easy enough to grasp – Penny has to run for her life.

The influence from the developers’ background on the Sonic series is clear from both the game’s aesthetic and its gameplay. The music and visual style is highly reminiscent of Sonic CD, the remaster of which was one of Whitehead’s early successes, both in the jazzy and catchy electronic vibe of several of the stages’ music, as well as the retro-chunky UI styling as you enter into stages, and the abstract colour palette, with plenty of purples and oranges – even blue sands rather than seas at one point.

Stages are constructed as long linear journeys to an end goal, with opportunities for scenic sightseeing as you soar past on connecting paths, much like Sonic Adventure. However, Penny has much more exploration built into it than Sonic, and also is much more centred around its momentum mechanics, as Penny’s yo-yo forms the basis of her entire move-set. On her own, Penny moves at a slow jog, but with her yo-yo she can dash through the air, as well as swing to reach further platforms, and ride on the back of her yo-yo. Both the dash and swing are essential to speeding around levels as efficiently as possible, but require a lot of practice. They never feel precise on their own, often leading to you overshooting narrow targets (which can be frustrating in lava levels like Moltobene), or falling short when it seems like you might have been able to close the distance. You can get used to it, and when you have a handle on how Penny gains and can maintain speed, you can whip around levels well enough, but it can still feel a bit tricky.

Riding the yo-yo also relies entirely on Penny’s own momentum. On a flat surface, it won’t do much, but rolling down a hill will allow it to gain enough speed to ride up ramps and over gaps. It can be ‘revved up’ like Sonic’s spin-dash, but this isn’t all that powerful in most cases, and the best results often come from parts of levels structured around the mechanic – rolling plains with speed boosters for instance. There’s also various temporary upgrades you can imbue the yo-yo with, like a hammer to crush blocks, or a helicopter to glide over enemies and pop balloons. The yo-yo as a whole is an interesting idea to hang the game’s mechanics on, and certainly original, it’s just a bit of an up-hill battle getting to grips with it all.

One of the best ideas in Penny’s Big Breakaway is how it handles enemies. The chief adversary you’ll come up against are Eddie’s penguin guards, who explode out of guard stations like tidal waves and pursue Penny relentlessly. They’re incredibly cute and a creative way to pose a problem for Penny, as they latch on to her in clumps, slowly slowing her down to the point where she can be captured. The only way to deal with them is either to outrun them or shake them off with yo-yo tricks, and their appearance always adds that bit of tension you need when navigating the levels. Bosses on the other hand fall a little limp, with an amusing start in the form of a giant ball of clumped penguins that can only be avoided, before thy fall into pretty routine “hit three times to be rid of them” arena affairs.

As mentioned, Penny’s Big Breakaway‘s levels (calles ‘scenes’) have a bit of exploration in them, through the inclusion both of collectibles to gather, and side missions to complete. Each scene has three locals looking for help, which Penny can choose to provide, whether it be collecting items, delivering something from Point A to Point B, or doing enough yo-yo tricks to achieve a high score. These are mostly pretty easy to complete, although occasionally Penny can speed past them pretty quickly, activate them, and then be in the middle of their strict time limit before you’ve even had the chance to read what their prompt is.

Unfortunately, at this point there’s also a few bugs which can prove problematic, at least on PlayStation 5 where this was reviewed. In several instances I’ve had Penny clip into walls, or below platforms, which can ruin a really good run, even if you are able to jump back to your last checkpoint. Other instances have been a bit more worrying – I was unable to finish 7-2 for ages because of a sequence just before the final goal where penguins are released from balloons – they’d constantly interfere with what should be the ‘goal’ cutscene, locking the game and necessitating a close and restart. I was also never able to consistently pass the ‘Busker Bonus’ mini-games after every level, which are QTE sequences. They appear to be simple, but my analogue stick prompts were frequently rejected, no matter how precisely I followed directions, or different timing I applied. I don’t think I’m that bad at QTE’s or rhythm games usually, so I have to assume there’s something wrong with how it reads inputs.

Penny’s Big Breakaway is a very nostalgic experience for the 90’s era of platformers, but one that’s driven by its own original gameplay concept. Penny’s yo-yo is both an interesting and refreshing mechanic, as well as a frustrating one at times, and your enjoyment of the game will depend on your ability to master the yo-yo and make it work for you to speed-run through levels. Even if it didn’t quite click for me, I’m excited to see Evening Star grow from its roots in franchises like Sonic and grow their own ideas, and Penny’s Big Breakaway is a unique and enjoyable first step for them.

This review is based on code provided by the publisher for PlayStation 5.


-Trippy, nostalgic presentation
-Unique yo-yo mechanics
-Lovable penguin army


-Steep learning curve, tough to master
-Bugs can frustrate or stymy progress

Overall Score: