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The Next Penelope review

The Next Penelope header
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £10
inc VAT

In this futuristic action indie racer, Homer's Odyssey meets F-Zero with spectacular results. An adrenaline-fuelled triumph


Available formats: PC, Wii U

Raiding the works of classic literature has proved a fruitful pastime for game developers in recent years, but we often wonder how their liberal cherry-picking from the world’s book shelves would go down with the original authors were they still alive today.

Dante Alighieri, for example, would no doubt banish Visceral’s mediocre Dante’s Inferno to the ninth circle of Hell, while Jane Austen would likely raise a drole, if bewildered eyebrow at Europress’s attempt at turning Pride and Prejudice into a hidden object puzzle game.

The Next Penelope, on the other hand, would probably make Homer think he’d been slipped one too many lotus fruits or downed too much cheese and wine from Circe’s parlour. For rather than opt for a simple third-person adventure template, Aurelien Regard’s futuristic re-telling of the Odyssey is Greek myth told by way of Micro Machines and F-Zero, where clingy suitors take the form of rival racers and monsters of legend await in open arena-style boss battles. It’s certainly a novel take on one of literature’s most famous works, but it’s one that hangs together surprisingly well considering the one-man team behind it.  

The Next Penelope screenshot^ With its bright colours and superb electronic soundtrack, Ithaca has never looked or sounded so good

As with F-Zero, health and weapon energy occupy the same brightly colour meter at the top of the screen, but here enemy racers are far more aggressive, touting laser cannons and eventually deadly homing missiles to help stop you in your tracks. Luckily, you’ve got the arsenal to match, as new weapons are unlocked each time you successfully take down one of the Odyssey’s famous monsters.

However, with bombs, grappling hooks, boosts, shields and teleportation to take into account – all of which are expertly employed over each three-stage mission – your health bar can rapidly diminish if you don’t keep a watchful eye over your remaining energy reserves. Different powers zap your strength at different rates, too, making the wait between the sparse scattering of restorative energy lanes a tense, yet gripping exercise in extreme resource management.  

The Next Penelope screenshot01^ Bosses can be tackled in any order, but we’d recommended following the difficulty warnings before racing into trouble

There is some relief from total destruction in the shape of your bombs, which restore energy upon colliding with a rival racer. However, when bombs are also one of the most power-hungry weapons you own, it’s a risky gamble that only rewards absolutely pinpoint precision in your detonation tactics. It’s not quite as futile as firing a backwards Green Shell in Mario Kart, for example, but the wily enemy AI are more than capable of steering round your traps if you lay them down well in advance.  

Mastering your bombs is vital for surviving The Next Penelope’s boss battles as well, as these often take place in large open arenas with no energy lanes in sight, leaving your bombs as the only means of keeping yourself alive. You’ll likely explode several times before striking the right balance between offence and defence, but each attempt gives you a fresh chance to switch up your strategy and gradually discover the best method of taking them down.

The Next Penelope screenshot02^ The teleporter uses a lot of energy, but it does let you take sneaky shortcuts if you’re quick enough

You’ll need to think quickly, though, as once you start, you literally cannot stop. Braking and accelerating are obsolete concepts in this future Ithaca, so all you can do is merely steer your ship using either the controller’s somewhat slippery bumper triggers or more precise D-Pad to move left and right. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but leaning in and out of each curve soon becomes incredibly natural, and boss arenas rarely feel cramped despite their open-ended layout.

The Next Penelope’s greatest triumph, though, is how it sets your heart racing with its adrenaline-fuelled level design. Regard pushes each race right down to the wire, and simply crossing the finishing line soon becomes an act of heroic proportions. For instance, after the first couple of missions, there wasn’t a single race where we didn’t finish by the absolute scruff of our neck, making each victory that much sweeter when we shakily put the controller back down on our desk.   

Throw in even more brutal post-completion time trials, special game modes and a four-player multiplayer, and The Next Penelope is a monumental achievement for a single developer. It’s as lean and mean as racers come, and ever more satisfying for it. Homer would be proud. 

PC Requirements
OS SupportWindows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1
Minimum CPU1.8GHz
Minimum RAM2GB
Minimum GPUNvidia GT/s 4xx or equivalent
Hard disk space500MB
Buying Information
Price including VAT£10
Product codeN/A

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