This racing game is a blast! ...I am sorry.
The Next Penelope is a game by Aurelien Regard, who was previously responsible for all kinds of fun things at Arkedo Studio. Now he is working on a pretty awesome game for the PC and Wii U, which we played for over an hour. It’s easy to disregard The Next Penelope as just a racing game, but it’s so much more than that. When you mix elements from Micro Machines, F-Zero and adventure racing games together, this is what you get. The results are an absolute delight and ended up being one of the stars on the show floor this week.
What immediately grabs you about The Next Penelope is the way that the game looks. Despite still being in development, the game is quite stunning to behold, and yet it keeps that retro look. The stages are vibrant, and each of them show off elements that are entirely unique. The stages are not just for show either, as they tell the story about Penelope, who is looking for her husband Ulysses across the galaxy. It is loosely inspired on Greek mythology, but is having fun with itself more often than not.
We saw most of the story bits in the introduction, where the controls are also taught. There, you can choose between the D-Pad or analog controls. While the analog controls can be more compelling in the long run, I feel it is better to start with the D-Pad -- it’s quicker to get used to, and doesn't take long before you get going proper. You use the left and right buttons to move across the overhead plane while the ship accelerates automatically. It was a smooth endeavor, but it gets more dangerous as you go.
Every galaxy you explore contains three levels. The first one is mostly used to teach you the ropes. You will steer around without too many problems while learning some techniques along the way. These techniques will overtake the face buttons in time, the first one being boost. This boost is not only for going faster, but it is also meant to destroy any blocks or enemies that are in the way. This is certainly handy, but you can't keep using the boost forever. This, along with any of the weapons, will eat at your energy bar. If you use all of your energy, you are knocked out of the game and will have to restart the level.
The three-part galaxies start with introducing you to a new game mechanic, then throw you into a race, and end with epic boss battles. This is where you’ll need to learn to play risky and use most, if not all, of your power to overcome foes. In the lava galaxy, teleportation is presented, which can be handy to find shortcuts or to avoid enemy fire. Switching lanes and avoiding lasers is also integral in this part. In another galaxy, mines can be dropped in front of opponents. In the final one in the demo, a hookshot is used to collect items and remove blocks out of your way. While the structure is always the same, every single one tries something different while the AI opponents work in sync with the changes.
My time with The Next Penelope went by quite fast. Going through the stages on offer was incredibly rewarding for the most part, and there was enough going on to keep you on your feet. So far, it seems that the game is only a single-player experience, which certainly could prove a ton of fun. However, I would love to play this with others, even it was only a local thing. It seems tailored for having fun with others by trying to destroy each other with the weaponry on display.
The Next Penelope is shaping to be one of the Wii U eShop's finest offerings next year. While our experiences have mostly been from the PC version, we have assurance from Regard that it will roughly run the same on the Wii U. So far, the game looks stunning and plays wonderfully -- a good sign. How the full version will come together remains to be seen, but the first seeds have been properly planted.