My, how mortals take the gods to task
If I told you that I wanted to mix Greek mythology with the racing and shoot-’em-up genres, you’d probably call me crazy. But that’s just what developer Aurelien Regard did with his one-man show The Next Penelope, and for the most part, the gamble paid off.
While it’s due for a Wii U release later this year, it just exited Early Access on PC, and it sadly hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves.
The Next Penelope (PC [reviewed], Wii U)
Developer: Aurelien Regard
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Release Date: May 29, 2015 (PC) / TBA (Wii U)
It’s the year 3044, in Ithaca. Odysseus has been away at sea for 10 years, and his kingdom is now under attack by Poseidon, father of the Cyclopes race. As a result, it’s up to Odysseus’ wife Penelope to find him. If you couldn’t tell by the year marker, all of this is set to the tone of a futuristic epic — spaceships are prevalent throughout Penelope‘s universe, and Poseidon is basically a member of an alien race. A lot of people probably won’t even pay attention to the ties to Homer’s Odyssey, but it works for the most part.
All of this setup brings us to the main event — racing. Yep, somehow, someway, this is a classic top-down racer reminiscent of the Micro Machines games or Blizzard’s Rock’n’Roll Racing. As such, the visuals are retro-centric, and I have to say, they look excellent. Everything from the animated anime-like portraits during cutscenes and the colorful, flashy in-game graphics are painstakingly detailed.
The controls take no time at all to learn, as they mostly consist of just altering your direction by way of the arrow keys or the gamepad’s triggers, but they’ll take quite a while to master. Acceleration is automatic, but weapons and power-ups can be enacted by pressing a specific button (in the case of a keyboard, the up arrow). These range from things like boosts to bullets, which you’ll often need to blow away enemies or blast through hazards like boulders. They’re fun to use, but since the general gameplay is so fast, they don’t have as big of an impact as they should.
Power-ups also bring another classic racing mechanic into play — energy zones from F-Zero. While micromanaging your abilities, staying on track, and fighting off foes, you’ll also have to occasionally steer yourself into the way of energy areas to sap up more power-up meter. It’s fast, frantic, and fun, especially since individual stages are roughly a minute or two long. What’s amazing to me is that The Next Penelope hosts a four-hour campaign. Heck, with its old-school flair it didn’t even really need to go this extra mile, but it did.
The campaign is even further augmented by a full galaxy map, the power to choose what stats to level-up (including upgrades to steering, defensive capabilities, and more outwards camera zoom). Boss battles on top of all this madness make things even more interesting, turning the game into a full-on shooter. It’s crazy how much variety there is.
The four-person multiplayer mode also has a mini-story involving Penelope’s suitors, who are battling each other for glory. It’s not a fully-fledged campaign or anything, but it’s a neat little way to justify its inclusion. The gist is that all four racers, CPU or player-controlled, are attempting to blow each other up while they struggle to stay on one screen. If you’re left behind, you’re dead, and the last ship standing takes it all. It’s a good old-fashioned slugfest across nine maps, and given the way it works, all four players can feasibly share the same keyboard. It’s important to note that no online play of any kind is supported.
The Next Penelope is a blast to play on PC, and will probably be a massive hit at parties when it arrives on Wii U later this year. It’s a shame more old-school racers aren’t around, but with games like this and 90s Arcade Racer, the scene is seeing a revival that brings a huge smile to my face.
[This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]