Publisher: Secret Mode
Genre(s): Simulation, Adventure
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on Steam)
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 27/09/2022
Price: £ 9.99
A code was provided for review purposes
Penko Park is a first-person exploration title focused on taking pictures of creatures that inhabit an abandoned wildlife park. I had never played a game like this one before so I was both curious and excited to see how my first experience in the genre panned out. If you are as curious as I was, look at this Rapid Review.
When I began the title, I was instructed to document as many findings as I could in a decrepit wildlife park. This concept was basic, and while there was little other story incorporated, there was little overarching story guiding my journey. Instead of providing direct guidance or developing characters, the developers of Penko Park designed the in-game world to tell a story. Even though there are no substantial other characters around me, the world is built as though there were when the park was operational. For example, around many of the exhibits, there were different facts that both assisted in gameplay and developed lore. While the overarching story was rudimentary, it was fun to explore the world.
Moreover, I enjoyed Penko Park’s setting because the little creatures that inhabited the world were adorable. Before playing the game, I was under the impression that the creatures would be scary. However, this could not be further from the case. Even though some of the creatures come across as ferocious or violent, so many more are living their lives peacefully. Each time I got to explore an environment, I noticed something new. I would see a cute action an animal would take or notice how one species interacted with another. The environment felt so precious, even though they were fictional characters in a game. I found myself devoted to Penko Park’s world.
Traversing the World
The setting was not the only aspect of Penko Park I enjoyed. The gameplay was excellent as well. The concept is very simple. I basically went on a tour of different locations. However, instead of controlling each aspect of my movement, I was on rails. At least in the beginning, the game largely decided where I went and how long I got to stay there. I liked this initial guidance. Plus, despite the slow pace of the car, I frequently found myself missing things. However, since the game did not allow me to go backward, I recognized that I could come back and revisit each area at a later date. This made the whole experience relaxing, as though I did not have to worry about my performance.
To be entirely honest, I was shocked that I found this to be a good thing. Many of the games I play are rewarding because they feature intense combat or technical prowess. Penko Park did not reward me in that way at all. While it was sometimes difficult to get the correct angle to get three stars on a picture, performance was never a focus. Instead, I could focus all my energy on taking in the wonders of the world around me. I could look at my surroundings before considering what my actions would do, making progress much less stressful. Plus, I had no risk of dying or getting mad at myself for missing an objective. The calm nature of the game supplemented the core gameplay focus on exploration, making Penko Park surprisingly engaging.
Shooting the Shot
Moreover, even though the technical aspect of the game was not demanding, I needed to consider my actions carefully if I wanted to capture every photo of each animal. I could choose between a variety of items that would each impact the world around me. I could pick up animal eggs with an extendable arm, perform melodies with a recorder, and of course take pictures with my camera. The varied gameplay decisions made Penko Park a lot of fun, even though they were simple too. In fact, the surface level of difficulty is incredibly small. Any action I was expected to perform was very easy. Despite this, I enjoyed doing the actions. Even if it was relatively mindless, the charm of my surrounding animals coupled with the excitement I felt when I received a perfect rating on my photo was more than enough to keep me engaged.
Additionally, I felt clever when I was able to recognize what the game wanted me to do. Many of the interactions are simple. Sometimes I will need to take a picture of a faraway creature, requiring me to zoom in. Other times, I will need to throw a ball at a creature to aggravate it. Either way, these actions are simple and do not largely impact my play style. However, there were some creatures that were incredibly fun to interact with. For example, one creature gets hot when he is frustrated. Correctly interacting with him over the round will have him melt another creature, completely altering both of their appearances. Small puzzles like this one were so rewarding to explore, even though they did not require advanced techniques. This gameplay style is something I have not been able to explore in other titles which made Penko Park fun and memorable.
Another major element of the game was the levels themselves. They were only mildly distinct from each other when considering the gameplay mechanics, but there were different characters to uncover and plenty of scenes to locate. These were a lot of fun, especially because in each of the new areas, I needed to find levers that unlocked the whole track. This forced me to look around and look closely at my surroundings even though these were not overly difficult to find. Even still, I enjoyed finding objects and exploring new worlds despite the lack of unique features in most worlds.
Penko Park also derives its personality from the sounds. There is a stark lack of music in this game. Instead, I was completely introduced to the world around me. While I thought the increased emphasis on sound effects was an important part of why I enjoyed the game, I did miss a proper soundtrack. This was one of the few things that did disappoint me. Though there was a justifiable reason to exclude a soundtrack, I would have liked one.
Overall, Penko Park is an incredible experience. I liked the simple yet rewarding gameplay, enjoyed the atmosphere and character design, and felt hypnotized by how much I wanted to keep playing this game. Even though I typically place significance on in-depth gameplay mechanics, I was immersed in the world-building and found myself right at home in Penko Park.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Penko Park on the Nintendo eShop here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.