Imagine the candy-colored mayhem of an early 90’s Saturday morning cartoon fused with the gravitas of an 8th century epic poem and you have The Next Penelope, an original 2D racing and action game set in a futuristic version of The Odyssey. If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is, but the crazy works. Playing fast and loose with the second oldest extant work of Western literature, developer Aurelien Regard’s first solo project focuses not on Homer’s titular hero but his long suffering wife, Penelope. Having grudgingly agreed to serve the god Poseidon in order to protect the people of Ithaca and find her husband, she must fend off suitors and fight monsters by chewing up the track in a series of retro futuristic neon and synth-soaked space races. It’s a gorgeous game, made all the more so by IndieBox’s gorgeous packaging and presentation.
IndieBox is a monthly subscription service that gives indie games the big budget treatment, re-packaging them in a collector’s edition box and mailing them to your doorstep. Each IndieBox includes a retro-style game box, USB game cartridge, color instruction manual, original soundtrack and other collector’s items related to that month’s featured game, which are always Windows, Mac and Linux compatible. The service starts at $19.99 + shipping ($4 for United States, $9 for Canada and $14 for international) for a recurring 1-month subscription, which you can cancel at anytime. Of course, if you lock into a longer commitment, like a 3-month ($17.99/mo + shipping) or 6-month ($15.99/mo + shipping) subscription, you save some scratch. You can also purchase copies of previous IndieBoxes for $24.99 + shipping while supplies last.
The designers at IndieBox have once again delivered on the cover art, giving us a hauntingly lovely image of a one-armed, one-eyed Penelope as she serves up some serious anime heroine angst. What’s truly exciting isn’t the look of the box but the feel – just let your delighted digits run over this sturdy, Sega Genesis-styled plastic case! As much as I love IndieBox’s glossy cardboard boxes, that resounding *SNAP* of a heavy-duty plastic case makes me nostalgic for my childhood.
Nestled in front of the case’s cover art is a lenticular print…of the case’s cover art! As the 3D print is viewed from different angles, Penelope’s hair gently waves in the breeze. I was as surprised as Penelope to find there was a breeze in the cold, dark vacuum of space, which explains why she didn’t go for an updo. That, and a french braid is pretty hard to pull off one-handed.
I love a good mini poster – nothing dresses up a soulless cubicle like a 7″ x 12″ reminder of the game you’d rather be playing. That being said, I wish this poster had been a little more “wow” and a little less “meh.” The Next Penelope is an eye-melting, synth-blasting space opera inspired by larger-than-life Greek myths, so where’s the pageantry and the majesty? I know where the drop mines are located in relation to the smash boost, thank you very much. This isn’t my first space race. What I don’t know is what a laser-shooting minotaur would look like riding a comet, and now I never will.
Though invented in 1983 by a high school shop teacher from Wisconsin, the slap bracelet didn’t hit hard – both literally and figuratively – until the 90’s, when it became the go to tween fashion statement. With popularity came imitation, the sincerest form of flattery, unless you’re talking about making low-grade, sharp-edged steel bracelets that kids are slapping onto vein-laden body parts. I remember when slap bracelets got banned in my school, so wearing this made me feel like a rebel. And I’m happy to report it seems to have been constructed without murder in mind, with smooth rounded edges and a thick vinyl covering. It’s just too bad the same care wasn’t paid to the printing, which is a bit spotty in places, like the color just didn’t “stick.”
Penelope’s ship papercraft
The mastermind behind Cubecraft.com, Chris Beaumont, made a special edition papercraft toy of Penelope’s ship. According to IndieBox, it’s been created in such a way they it requires no glue. It does, however, require patience; for such a small ship, there’s a surprising number of delicate cuts and precise folds needed to make it take shape. Or it could be that my calendar filled with pre-perforated papercraft unicorns, which I’ve been working on since 2013, has dulled my once finely honed papercraft skills.
Another gorgeously realized physical soundtrack for an indie game that would otherwise have none, and a what a terrible shame that would be. The Next Penelope OST – with nineteen tracks of slick, synth-infused electronica – actually stands alone as a decent album. Each track is distinct enough that it doesn’t all blend together into the techno mash typical of Wipeout clones. It’s the perfect backing music for buckling down and writing a review of the latest IndieBox release!
Of course, every IndieBox features a full-colored instruction manual, your one stop shop for details on the game’s story, controls, characters, weapons and more. But what I found most interesting was this month’s letter from the developer; formerly with Arkedo, a game development studio he co-founded, Aurelien Regard has branched out on his own to make this game. In other words JUST ONE GUY did all the code, art and music for The Next Penelope, a stunning anime-styled homage to Captain Harlock and Ulysses 31 with a gripping story, frenetic gameplay and futuristic score to match. Damn, dude!
In addition to the credit card-sized USB cartridge containing a DRM-free copy of The Next Penelope on Windows and Mac, Indiebox included a Steam code. Unfortunately, the Steam version of this game does not play nice with Mac. A visit to the community boards revealed that I’m not the only one who stalled on the starting line – others have had the progress bar on the initial install freeze 3/4’s of the way through. Hopefully, it’s an issue that will be resolved before the game leaves Early Access, considering that bonus missions and even a 4-player local multiplayer mode are expected to be added – features not included in the DRM-free version.
The Next Penelope has earned its place among the ever growing, glittering constellation of IndieBox stars with this gorgeous limited edition release. Forget the F Zero inspired racing goodness, the retro plastic case alone makes this worth the price. It’s unfortunate however that there were, for the first time, a few “quality control” issues that dulled the shine, but I’m attributing it to growing pains. With this release, the IndieBox has exceeded 1,200 subscribers, a 20% increase over last month. Small stumbles aside, IndieBox still provides the best monthly value of any subscription box out there.
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The Next Penelope is not a perfect IndieBox release, but damn close; the beautiful Sega Genesis-styled plastic case, anime-inspired lenticular print and electronica-laden OST more than make up the difference.