In the wondrous world of video games, where creativity knows no bounds, a group of talented platformer enthusiasts transformed themselves into professional game developers after the success of Sonic Mania. They embarked on a new journey, establishing their own studio known as Evening Star. And now, their latest creation, Penny's Big Breakaway, has graced our screens, demonstrating an abundance of love and an unrivaled understanding of platformer design accumulated over countless decades.

Penny's Big Breakaway is a whimsical 3D platformer that places you in the nimble shoes of Penny, a street performer with a knack for trouble. Our daring protagonist finds herself pursued by hordes of penguin cops after a disastrous audition for the local emperor, leaving him in nothing but his undergarments. The game exudes gentle, psychedelic vibes reminiscent of Nights into Dreams, while boasting a unique visual style. Imagine Lego-like construction workers adorning the city with blue and fuchsia skyscrapers, or beachgoers basking in the peach-colored sands against a backdrop of pink ocean waves.

Now, here comes the twist. Penny possesses a trusty yo-yo companion named Yo-Yo, which essentially resembles a pair of dentures hanging from a string. Yo-Yo becomes Penny's key to success, enabling her to dash, double-jump, and traverse wide-open spaces. While a simplified button-based control scheme is available, the true depth of the game's movement mechanics lies within its default mode. Utilizing the bumpers to jump and the right stick to control Yo-Yo, players can launch Yo-Yo in any direction, unlocking a mesmerizing array of acrobatic maneuvers.

Picture this: double-tapping a direction propels Yo-Yo forward, allowing Penny to dash with unparalleled speed. Pulling the trigger initiates a thrilling ride, propelling our heroine up ramps, soaring through the air, and swinging off Yo-Yo to achieve astonishingly long leaps. The exhilarating flow of movement is unparalleled, akin to the euphoria experienced in a Tony Hawk game. To encourage players to maintain their momentum, a combo meter reminiscent of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater rewards skillful chaining of moves.

What truly sets Penny's Big Breakaway apart is its ability to transport players to a bygone era of 3D platformer design, one that was delightfully strange and wonderfully experimental. While no direct comparison can be made, the dynamic camera and innovative movement options evoke nostalgia for cult classics of the N64 era, such as Chameleon Twist.

Embarking on Penny's Big Breakaway does come with a learning curve, particularly when mastering the intricacies of Yo-Yo's abilities. However, the game is cleverly structured to allow players to tailor their own difficulty level. The levels themselves are mostly linear, with occasional branching paths leading to side quests and collectibles. It's akin to the structure found in modern Mario games, where reaching the end of a stage is not overly challenging. Yet, for those eager to push their platforming skills to the limit, a handful of more demanding challenges await, rewarding the intrepid on their path to victory.

I found myself leisurely exploring each stage, dedicating a good 10 to 15 minutes to meticulously scouring every nook and cranny in search of secrets. But then, an irresistible urge took hold: I yearned to return to the stage and chart the most efficient course imaginable, completing it in a mere matter of minutes. Time attack modes usually don't captivate me, but Penny's Big Breakaway offers a speedrunner's dream come true. With levels expertly designed around your movement abilities, the allure of replaying them becomes irresistible.

While Evening Star bid farewell to their nostalgic IP with Sonic Mania, their spirit of innovation and amalgamation lives on in Penny's Big Breakaway. It's a game that encapsulates the very essence of the platformer genre, blending its best elements and concocting an experience that surpasses the sum of its parts. Already skyrocketing to the top of my wishlist, I eagerly await its arrival on the Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X and S, and PC in early 2024.

As we look to the horizon of 2024, a plethora of indie games beckons with excitement and anticipation. Penny's Big Breakaway stands tall among them, promising an adventure that defies time, penguin cops, and the bounds of imagination.

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