Penny’s Big Breakaway is a loving homage to a somewhat awkward period in gaming history. The early days of 3D mascot platformers were defined by garish saturated colors, exaggerated character designs, and a variety of gimmicks as the genre found its footing in this new environment. Penny’s Big Breakaway fits right into that legacy, like a lost gem that just got a shiny new remaster. But while its stylized look will probably be an acquired taste, it makes good use of its gimmick to avoid some pitfalls of the era it emulates.
The story revolves around Penny, an aspiring yo-yo performer who goes to a talent show audition put on by a stodgy Emperor. Along the way, her toy prop fuses with a creature, becoming a sort of sentient and voracious pet. The creature grants her all sorts of special abilities but also causes trouble at the talent show, angering the Emperor and putting her on the run from his army of penguin goons. Her “big break” turned into a breakaway, get it?
That sets the stage, so to speak, for a few different elements. For one, it sets the expectation that stages will be propulsive with constant movement. You’re a wanted fugitive! As a result, stages aren’t wide open worlds to explore so much as they are courses to navigate, often with great speed, as you stunt and trick your way past traps and obstacles. You can occasionally pause to catch your breath or find a collectible, but for the most part, each stage has you running from Point A to Point B as fast as you can.