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Penko Park Review

Penko Park is not coy about its influences. Pokemon Snap was a very unique game and outside of its disappointing sequel, there hasn’t been anything else like it since. Whenever a beloved and unique game concept goes by for so long without getting a sequel or follow-up, expect indie devs to step up and deliver.

Ghostbutter is a small team who does not have the enormous license of Pokemon to back them up on their take of the “Snap” formula. They don’t have a legacy of hundreds of memorable characters to work with, no decades worth of TV shows, movies or Ryan Reynolds to support Penko Park. All they have is their originality.

Not having a legacy could be a limitation for Penko Park… or maybe it would set them free? How does Ghostbutter improve on “snaplike” gameplay? Are their original creatures appealing and endearing? Find out in this Penko Park review

Penko Park
Developer: Ghostbutter
Publisher: Secret Mode
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac iOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: October 23, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $12.99 USD 

Anyone who has an itch for Pokemon Snap but doesn’t have a Nintendo 64 or Nintendo Online+, will be in luck if they give Penko Park a chance. This is a very pure, “gotta snap ’em all” photography experience where the player is seated in a rail car that moves through environments and has to take shots at the various fauna.

The controls in Penko Park are as simple as can be. Players can bring up a camera that can zoom by tapping the left shoulder button, and there is never any confusion over what is a Penko and what isn’t, thanks to the contextual red cursor.

More advanced actions are unlocked by earning points that are earned by taking better shots and taking shots of Penkos when they are doing specific things. Abilities like the extend-o hand that can grab hard-to-reach switches and bonus items mix up the gameplay, inviting you to replay old levels to further explore them and get shots of new Penkos.

The point system is very simple that even small children can understand it. This is important because kids are seemingly the target audience for Penko Park. There is also never any confusion over how many more shots a player needs to get to fully catalog all possible angles of a Penko due to every possibility being labeled.

To get the best snaps of any Penko- whether they are pissed off, lazy, or participating in a mystical ritual; merely ensure they are in frame and close up enough they don’t get obscured. It feels satisfying thanks to the auditory and visual feedback.

Pence Park‘s gameplay gets more interesting when players have to manage various actions to trigger unique scenarios out of the critters. Sometimes this involves several steps that require stopping the cart entirely, lopping a fistful of flowers and waiting a bit for a specific animation. Most of these are optional, as it may be too much for little kids.

It does not take much to get to the end of Penko Park. When playing optimally and getting many shots in a single run, expect to unlock all environments within a few hours. Even when the credits roll, the game only truly ends after filling out the entire Penko handbook and getting all of Penki’s hats.

This adds some extra life and replay value for a very modestly priced game. While Penko Park may be very breezy for adult gamers who grew up with Pokemon Snap, the intended target audience will likely take a lot longer to see everything it has to offer.

The boys at Ghostbutter were undoubtedly limited when it came to realizing the visuals and having to design over 140 of these things. The artists came up with a creative style that can be best described as Mary Blair meets Alex Hirsch.

There is an emphasis on texture and flat shapes. Penkos are all made up of 2D elements and are puppeteered via various limbs and joints. It is an efficient means for the artists to create a massive ecosystem of these creatures and the effect is pulled off due the sheer consistency of the design.

The trade-off is that the artist or designers are too restrictive in the creatures they can come up with. Even at 140, it is a lot to realize and the artists’ imagination run dry. There are some very disappointing Penko designs – to a point where it becomes questionable and distracting.

There are too many overly simple creature designs in Penko Park. There are multiple examples of Penkos that are just some kind of rock or blob with a face. The color and shape may vary, but they wouldn’t stand out if you put all their silhouettes in a line and had to identify them.

The Penko that don’t fall into the samey design trap are endearing and pretty cute in a children’s book kind of way. The more violent and angry Penko are especially entertaining and have the most personality.

Pence Park is a wonderful attempt at making a “snaplike”. It captures a sense of childlike wonder and the easy-on-the-eyes graphics make it an easy game for kids to understand and get engrossed in. It is fine as a game for adults who are children-at-heart, but it is even better for actual children too.

Penko Park was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Secret Mode. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Penko Park is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Linux, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Mac iOS.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Satisfying and stimulating gameplay
  • Drip-feed of new abilities and stages is engrossing
  • Charming visual style
  • Easy to for kids to enjoy
  • Decent value for its price

The Bad

  • Some of the Penko designs are very underwhelming

About

A youth destined for damnation.