Right out the gate, The Next Penelope is a rather strange concoction. Taking an ancient Greek myth as the foundation for its story, surrounding that in a futuristic setting and rounding all that off with some Micro Machines-inspired racing doesn’t sound like the sort of ingredients that would or even should go together let alone make sense. Yet somehow it all comes together in yet another strong indie effort for the Nintendo Switch.
You take on the role of Penelope, wife of Odysseus (and a devoted one at that) who for ten years has been awaiting the return of her long-absent king. With the palace at risk from the evil Poseidon, Penelope has no choice but to find Odysseus in exchange for her people’s survival. Taking off in her spaceship the game’s journey will take you to a number of planets throughout the kingdom of Ithaca where she will race, learn new abilities and even take on bosses.
At its core, The Next Penelope takes on the form of a top-down racer, the action blisteringly fast and frantic – so much so that you’re always hurtling forwards. Controls are nice and simple, your ship controlled using either the analogue stick, the D-pad positioned face buttons or the shoulder buttons. Outside the constant acceleration, the style of the racing feels fairly similar to the Micro Machines series. However, that is where the similarities end as The Next Penelope forges its own path by introducing a number of unique weapons/abilities, but more on those later.
The game’s story mode is laid out in such a way that you’re free to choose what order you tackle planets and their three events. The first introduces you to a new ability; the second sees you then put it to use against a number of AI racers and the final stage features some sort of boss battle. And while other games of this genre might treat its weapons and abilities as smaller accompaniments to the actual racing, here they are essential in order to progress. The teleportation ability for example not only allows you to skip ahead of the pack when timed well but will give you the edge when battling that planet’s Minotaur boss. Other abilities prove just as beneficial in their own ways too. The boost allows you to knock enemies aside and burst through rubble, the grappling hook snatch away armour, guns do… their gun thing and mines can halt other racer’s progress and absorb their energy.
Speaking of energy, every ability you use will sap it from your tank meaning management is key. It’s an interesting mechanic and one that will keep you on your toes as you choose between playing it safe and keeping a fuller tank or risking it all for a shortcut. Another neat inclusion is the game’s levelling system, experience awarding you with upgrades to things like your speed and handling. It gives the game a rewarded sense of progression as you not only update your craft with new gadgets but also its performance too.
It’s these abilities and features that help The Next Penelope stand out from other racers out there by seamlessly injected them into its racing. So much so that at times you feel like you’re playing a shoot ‘em up or even a platformer as you try to remain on the track and avoid a fatal fall or figure out the weakness of a deadly enemy. Unfortunately, while the game’s campaign is constantly engaging, throwing you new toys to test out fairly quickly, it’s also a very short one. Even with the handful of extra challenges that you unlock the content still feels a little light. Even with just a couple more planets, the game would have benefitted greatly.
The Next Penelope is a real eye-catcher – the game sporting a unique low-polygonal style highlighted by its bright palette of colours. The characters themselves meanwhile appear more detailed with a static almost anime look about them popping up throughout the adventure to further the game’s story. All of this is rounded off with a catchy soundtrack that matches the urgent action on screen. All in all the presentation is excellent.
The game also includes a multiplayer option playable for up to four people that’s sadly restricted to local play only. Like Micro Machines the aim here is to stay on the screen whilst avoiding weapon fire from your foes or risk being eliminated. Last racer standing gets the point. Rounds are fast-paced some potentially lasting mere seconds before a winner surfaces so it won’t be long before you’ve exhausted the slim selection of tracks on offer. A neat inclusion especially seeing as each participant can play with a single Joy-Con on its side, but it’s one that will probably lose steam quickly.
The Next Penelope is a short but very fun racer. While it may be the eye-catching visuals that initially draw you in, it’s the tough, clever, addictive racing gameplay that you’ll want to stay for. Another winner for the Nintendo eShop on Nintendo Switch.