Penko Park is an indie-adventure game, developed by Ghostbutter, which was released on the 23rd of October 2020. The game tasks the player with exploring, and taking pictures of adorable little creatures, in an abandoned amusement park. While it’s available on PC and Mac, I undertook my photo-taking duties on the Nintendo Switch, and let me tell you, having this game with me wherever I went was like a dream. Its influences are unfortunately right in the open, since the developers obviously took some inspiration from another on-rails photography game, Pokémon Snap. Is this a bad thing? Can I post the pictures on my socials? Well, let’s find out!
When you first start at Penko Park, you’re greeted with a brief title screen and thrown right into the world with little time to get to know your surroundings or what you’re supposed to do. I’ve been on the record saying I wish more games took this approach. Too often, developers take the slow path, tediously bringing out the slowest of tutorials, bogged down by story moment after story moment, which just gets boring. This title throws that idea out the window, tasking the player with taking pictures of creepy critters before you can even get your camera set up. However, this decision did impact my enjoyment of Penko Park.
Due to the quick intro and the hesitancy to deliver essential story details, I found it hard to care about the world and characters. I feel sad about that because this title has a unique aesthetic, and while the graphics aren’t amazing, they do an excellent job immersing the player. I can honestly say that I haven’t seen creatures like this in any other videogame. What I'm trying to get at here is that I had no idea what my mission was, who I was, or how I got into this world; other than a few little text blurbs found on each task, there wasn’t much definitive history for me to find. So I’m sorry to say, but once I finished my five-plus hour playthrough, I didn’t remember much from it. That could also be because its influences are so obvious and the type of game Ghostbutter attempted to make here isn’t the most memorable in the world, but at least give me something to latch onto.
In terms of controls, they work fine. It would have been nice to have gyro aiming like in New Pokémon Snap, but given the smaller team and the obvious budget constraints, I’m willing to let it slide. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fumble with the analogue stick at some points. As for what you actually do, well, you take pictures of weird little critters and then, at the end of each mission, you report back to your instructor and earn experience points. That’s it!
The sound design fit the mood well enough, but it wasn't anything special. I don’t remember any tracks from the game, and I honestly had to try hard to notice it. There is a vague sense of dread throughout Penko Park that I greatly appreciated. As I said before, the graphics have this low poly original PlayStation feel. Initially, I was slightly put off by it but eventually grew to love its uniqueness. These aspects enhance the gameplay by creating creepiness and making the two design decisions fit nicely together.
Back to content, I did love the simple premise, and its short length enhanced that feeling, but for the price most would be paying for it, I think it’s worth asking for a little more. The entire game could be finished in six hours, and completing it 100% isn’t much longer. Throughout your travels, you will earn new upgrades for tools to use in each part of the park. These make photo taking easier with devices like the Penko Grappling Hand and the Penko Ball. Seeing your XP go up and then heading back out to do the same thing again for the addictive gameplay loop is fun, but for £10, I think that’s a bit too much to ask for such a short game.
Of course, it is wholesome, and the little Penkos all have unique names and adorable animations. I was just hoping for more to do than just take pictures and report to my instructor, Penki, but maybe that’s just me being greedy and wanting a meaty experience. If you’ve been waiting for another entry in the on-rails photo-taking genre and have £10 to spend, I think Penko Park is a fine choice. It has some irritating quirks and could’ve used a bit more padding in the content and story departments, but for what it is, I think it does the job.
Penko Park (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Penko Park’s undeniable influences and not-so-stellar content make it a bit of a hard sell, but for those looking for a Pokémon Snap-style game, it’s a fine choice.