Pepper Grinder

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Pepper Grinder (Steam) – Review

‘Pepper Grinder’ has finally arrived on Switch and PC after much anticipation on my part. I’m keen to finally drill down to the core of what makes Pepper Grinder such an addictive time. Devs, Arh Ech, and publisher Devolver Digital have brought out a treasure of a 2D side-scrolling platformer that’s rare to find and easy to love.

The mainland nations are at war, and with this struggle comes loot… and pirates! Our adorable little blue-haired treasure hunter, Pepper, seeks riches and glory away from the drama. After a storm decimates her ship, she’s washed up on an unknown island, with all her treasures being claimed by Narlings and their edgy leader; it seems the drama has unfortunately found its way here, too.

In an unfortunate event, Pepper is thrown into the depths of a rocky crevasse but, rather fortunately, encounters a wild drill. This drill, named Grinder, is Pepper’s best chance to take back her treasures and get off this island, and it will help her traverse hostile environments to get it all back.

Grinder is Pepper’s best friend and the key to navigating treacherous terrains. Not only can it dig through rock, but it can also whizz through water and propel through the air. This is handy since the various environments are perfect for tricky but addictive platforming. Movement is incredibly satisfying when you get that ideal momentum built up to dive through surface-to-surface or launch to higher ground. While getting the timing right takes some mastery, learning the basics takes no time; the tutorial had me up and running in no time.

The adorable, modernised, ever so slightly pixellated art style of the characters and the world adds even more to the excellent adventure. Pepper, the local creatures and Narwhal-like enemies, the Narlings, have that touch of quirkiness that strikes a perfect balance between cute and bizarre. Add some super chill, lo-fi tracks, more edgy rock moments or synth tracks, and Pepper Grinder, the whole package for the eyes, ears, and all other gamer senses.

The zones to explore range from coastal caves to a lava-filled underground, snowscapes and beyond; every level within these zones presents new obstacles to overcome, and nothing ever feels too similar. Diving through sand, rock and water or dashing through the snow on a snowmobile is glorious in its own right, but the real versatility of Grinder as a tool proves there are many ways to move forward. Whether it be using Grinder to activate mechanisms, rotating gear on cannons, grappling onto anchor points, digging for treasure, or, most importantly, engaging in the drill to Narwhal-horn combat, Grinder can cut through enemies just as swiftly as it can through surfaces.

Whether cutting through the Narlings or local creatures, such as strangely annoying ladybugs, the weaponised gizmo is a delight to eviscerate, especially regarding boss fights. Pepper’s encounters with bosses require some patience and precision to master; each has its own attack patterns, which require skill to dodge, duck and dive through. They can be pretty tricky to get through. Still, with some practice, it’s doable, mainly thanks to the handy Curiosity Shop, where you can purchase various trinkets, including some additional lives.

At these curios shops, Pepper can redeem any treasures or the elusive Skull Coins found along the way into Gatcha-like machines for extra health or stickers to decorate the lovely little sticker books on sale. It’s one thing to hear the delightful clinking of treasure, another to win prizes – this game is abundant in both. Players can also use Skull Coins to purchase a key to “unlock” an additional challenge level in each zone to test their mettle.

For the ambitious, there’s even more replayability in the Time Attack Mode. I revisited stages many times to beat my score and collect more winnings as a reward for all my hard work. Pepper Grinder is a relatively challenging game; there are no difficulty settings, so

The fast-paced, precision-based gameplay can be played using a mouse, keyboard, or controller. Playing on the controller felt more intuitive, especially when using the right trigger (RT) to operate the Grinder. Add the controller vibration to mimic drilling, adding an extra oomph to gameplay. The keyboard layout felt a tad awkward and had a bit of a steep learning curve compared to the controller, playing more like an arcade game, with the use of left keys (A, D) for movement and interaction and the right side of the keyboard for traversal and combat.

I had occasions where, on the controller, the RT wasn’t able to properly maneuver a cannon into place, but a quick switch to the keyboard got me through the stage. Luckily, this only happened on one level. I enjoyed playing on both peripherals and sometimes mixing it up was another layer of challenge.

Progression through the map happens as Pepper completes each stage, activating the next node on the map, so making it through a level is of the utmost importance to keep up the pace. Options are pretty limited, but the game includes a few accessibility features, such as enabling the disable button-mashing and slowing down the game speed. While there’s no adjustable difficulty, the less confident drillers can make it through with practice and perseverance. Overall, the game runs and plays smoothly; any issues felt inconsequential to my experience.

Pepper Grinder proves there’s little more thrilling than drilling for a 2-D platforming adventure. Ahr Ech and Devolver Digital have a real treasure in this one. I recommend it to players who enjoy casual chaos with a charming twist.

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The Good

  • Addictive, satisfying and varied gameplay
  • Diverse worlds and stages
  • Charming visuals and audio

The Bad

  • The learning curve for PC control layout can be steep
  • Very rarely controls wouldn’t work as intended
9
___
10

Written by: Yasmin Noble

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