Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: The Next Penelope [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

If you’re looking for a challenge that bends the edges of your normal genre expectations the Switch has been a great source of excitement since launch. In general indie titles have been far more willing to blur the lines and deliver experiences that you didn’t expect. The Next Penelope falls firmly into that category, playing in many ways like a quasi F-Zero style racer on one level but also adding a variety of diverse power-ups and even boss battles to the mix to make for a game experience quite unlike anything I’ve played to date.

You’ll play as Penelope, wife to the hero Odysseus, who is on a journey to find and save him. If you’re not up on your mythology, don’t worry, it is just used to help with the theme overall and inspires some bosses like the Minotaur, and there isn’t a quiz at the end. It is used to give some context to the game’s reasonably fun multiplayer survival race mode as well though, with people will playing as suitors competing for her attention, so it is put to good overall use.

The primary focus of the game will be trying to accumulate your ship’s various weapons and powers, building towards a final confrontation with the game’s boss. You’ll get to choose your path, though the way the stage difficulties are described it suggests the general way you should proceed. In each 3-stage zone you’ll work through 2 challenges, the first usually focused on familiarizing you with a new power you’re there to acquire, the second involving a race where you’ll make use of that ability, and a third that always involves a boss battle. Each of these powers you acquire offers a pretty crucial skill you’ll need to make use of whether it is your teleport to make quick evasive moves, your Hydra mines that do damage to your foes but also replenish your energy bar, or your harpoon that can be used to open pathways.

Each of the game’s stages can be challenging and in order to persevere you’ll need to make smart use of your power-ups and keep an eye on your energy bar as much as you focus on your racing. There are no set ways to win in the races, they play out a bit differently each time, but you’ll want to hit your boosts, make careful use of your mines (that can hurt you as well), and try to stay off the walls to keep up your speed. It all sounds simple but in the thick of things you’ll need to be smart about how and whether you attack opponents and sometimes which paths you should take based their risks. As you progress you’ll get points that can be used to improve your stats in some key areas but you’ll need to be selective. My suggestion is to pull the zoom level out a bit as the default can make it really hard to see what’s going on ahead of you until it is too late.

As a whole The Next Penelope looks like a racer but plays out in a way that blends in elements of adventure and relies on strategy in a variety of ways. If you’re struggling in a particular level the issue will usually revolve around over-use of your powers and running too low on energy so judicious use of both should always be on your mind. While it may not be an experience for everyone if you’ve been looking for something different to throw several hours of unexpected challenges at you The Next Penelope delivers.

Score: 8

  • A blend of racing, adventure, and strategy that keeps changing things up as you go
  • A pretty challenging overall campaign with diverse bosses to defeat in each zone
  • A reasonably-good multiplayer mode to extend the game’s life past the main campaign

  • Those looking for a more traditional racing game will be disappointed
  • The frustration level may be a bit high for more casual gamers
  • Though you can adjust it with upgrades the initial zoom level of the action is a bit close