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Pepper Grinder

Developer: Ahr Ech

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Action
Adventure
Challenging
Family
Weird
Arcade
  • Price: $14.99
  • Release Date: Mar 28, 2024
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Last on Sale: -
  • Lowest Historic Price: -
  • ESRB Rating: E10+ [Everyone 10+]
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    An absolute banger of a wildly different take on platforming, though if you’re challenge averse it may be overwhelming

    While I often find myself championing the unexpected and creative output regularly coming from the indie community, the end results don’t always turn out for the best. Whether its genre hybrids that don’t quite come together, titles with clear ambitions that simply aren’t fulfilled, or any number of other snafus that can hold them back from greatness, I have no doubts about how hard it can be to create games that aren’t only well-conceived, but also well-made. That’s what makes encountering a title like Pepper Grinder a treat, realizing one of those moments where everything seems to click, and you get sucked into a new and addictive experience that isn’t quite like anything you’ve played before.

    Feeling somewhere between a platformer and perhaps a stunt flying game, Pepper Grinder is all about digging your way to success. The thing is, your drill isn’t the slow and inefficient type, if anything you can drill faster than your character can run, and that makes for a bit of a roller coaster ride in terms of the gameplay. While later stages continue to add new complications and elements like a limited-use gun, grapple points, cannons, and more, the common thread is the frantic and generally loop-de-loop digging of trails and jumping between areas at a bit of a breakneck speed. Where things then crank up the difficulty another degree is then the boss fights, which then demand that you not only be fast and effective, but also typically quite precise, and that can be extremely challenging at times.

    If there’s an Achilles Heel to the experience I’d say that the degree of challenge would rank near the top. The difficulty isn’t so much tied to the mechanics, which are quite tight even if you often feel a bit out of control. What cranks up the frustration is more typically a matter of speed, especially when you’re trying to transition between elements like using the grapple and then needing to release and start digging in a very narrow window of time. If there’s one bigger criticism I have for the game it would actually be tied to that, there’s just something a little awkward in switching between the right trigger for powering your drill and using the Y button for your grapple. It absolutely works, but when things get intense it’s also a bit too easy to get jumbled trying to move back and forth repeatedly in quick succession. The game does give you a saving grace to deal with this problem though, and I found that especially for some of the tough-as-nails boss fights that it was essential, and that’s the option to slow the game speed down. In the Options menu you’re able to take the game down to half its intended speed, though that’s pretty excessive, and I found that at about 85% my level of success jumped substantially. It may not be an extensive accessibility suite like you find in some titles, but it absolutely helps make the game more approachable to just about any skill level.

    Despite its default level of difficulty perhaps being a bit too high for the less hard core crowd, Pepper Grinder is a smart, inventive, and exciting experience. With each new zone it continues to find new ways to test and challenge you, making it hard to try to say that it allows itself to ever get terribly stale with a straight face. While there are some contemporaries that have gone to great pains to help you tweak multiple elements of gameplay to help it be more accessible, this has more lean support in that area. That said, the simple inclusion of a way to slow the game down absolutely opens the door to scaling the challenge down however you may see fit. That particular detail was quite a welcome one, because it really opens the door to as wide an audience as possible being able to enjoy this truly unique and exciting title.


    Justin Nation, Score:
    Nindie Choice! [8.8]
2024

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