The Next Penelope (Early Access)

If I say Penelope, Odysseus, Arachne and Ariadne, you might think you'd stumbled onto a blog for aficionados of classic Greek myths and legends. Fear not! This is still GoPlayThat, and these are all characters in The Next Penelope, a punishingly difficult top-down racer that will test both reactions and prudent use of weapons.

So, taking a liberal sprinkling of inspiration from a whole bunch of Greek legends, a big evil has come to destroy Ithaca Islands, and Odysseus, helpful chap that he is, has scarpered. In a desperate deal to save Ithaca, Queen Penelope must scour the galaxy in search of Odysseus using a prototype ship that she doesn't really know how to handle. To make matters worse, a gaggle of greasy suitors are lining up to claim the hand of the abandoned Queen, so Penelope must battle them in the only way she knows how: A RACE TO THE DEATH!

After a couple of tutorial levels that set the scene and introduce the first power-up, Penelope jumps into the wide reaches of space to find her errant husband. In practice this means that she has to fly to different planets, grabbing a new power-up, racing against prospective suitors and then battling a boss before jetting off to the next destination.

The top down racing style recalls a certain childhood favourite of mine (Micro Machines), and it would be remiss of me not to mention the obvious homages to F-Zero (energy pods refill as you race over them), but the hyper difficulty and the introduction of boss battles sets The Next Penelope apart from other racing games.

While each planet's challenges follow pretty much the same tack, they are all significantly different thanks to the new upgrades found on each level. Whether it's learning to teleport or changing incoming projectiles into useful XP points, each weapon has a game changing effect, and it's up to you to figure out how to best use them in each race or boss fight. The big kicker is that using any of your fancy-pants new weapons costs energy, precious energy that Penelope needs to keep the ship aloft. This means that weapon spam is simply the fastest way to die. Choose your shots, use energy wisely, don't crash too often and you might just make it through the races. Only first counts here, silver is a restart!

The boss fights can be arduously difficult affairs, but as with many great boss battles it's simply a question of finding the pattern and then utilising that against them. The great thing about the fights here is that the patterns are very often obfuscated by the boss being off-screen or the sheer speed or amount of effects happening at one time. While avoiding missiles, spawning enemies and environmental hazards it can be pretty hard to figure out the best plan of attack, so prepare for a fair few deaths before you cotton on!

Colourful and challenging racing with a hell of a difficulty curve and massive boss battles, The Next Penelope is available as a Steam Early Access title from the 22nd of January. The title is fairly complete as it is and it is only expected to be in Early Access for around three months, to balance a super-hard mode and four player local multiplayer which definitely sounds promising. There is a 33% discount for the early birds, so get in while it's hot!

GoPlayThat Podcast: Tom shares his thoughts with Rob on the Early Access release of The Next Penelope.

The Next Penelope is available on Steam.

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ReviewTom Woolford