Pepper Grinder Review – PC

Pepper Grinder is a bite-sized action platformer that packs a hell of a kick. Developer, Ahr Ech, delivers a challenging and fun experience that pays homage to great 2D platformers, while also leaving a lasting impression of its own. The game successfully caters to collectors, completionists, and speed runners alike, without compromising the enjoyment of any one group for the benefit of another. It’s a game that while not the longest, will leave you satisfied with the handful of hours it will take you to grind through it.

Players play as Pepper, a shipwrecked pirate who finds herself stranded on a mysterious beach. When she’s robbed of her treasure by the Narling army that inhabits the island, Pepper grabs Grinder, a super-powered drill, and sets out to regain her riches. The Grinder’s capabilities stand out immediately. Players can burrow and dig through multiple surfaces like dirt, snow, and water. Spinning your drill on top of a body of water jets players across the waves. Add in Pepper’s boost ability and a grappling hook and you feel like a parkour Goddess as you transition between surfaces at high speeds and pull off big jumps. Movement, no matter if you’re on foot or burrowed into the ground, feels snappy and fun. Levels are challenging, but never annoying.

The game continuously introduces new mechanics throughout its four worlds. One level gives players a minigun that attaches to your drill. This is then used to mow down waves and waves of adorable Narlings. Going into Pepper Grinder, I was worried how the game would handle sections that didn’t involve heavy platforming. Far too often, games will find a central gimmick and ride it all the way to the grave. Pepper Grinder goes against that notion. While platforming with Grinder is the key focus, the slower moments on solid ground do not bring the game to a screeching halt. It’s quite the opposite, as these moments are explosive and full of surprises. I won’t spoil any of the big surprises, but the things you can control with Grinder continuously brought a smile to my face with each new level.

As mentioned previously, there are four worlds in the game, with most containing four levels, a bonus level, and a boss fight. Players enter levels through an overworld map that is a spitting image of Donkey Kong Country’s overworld map (the DKC nods appear throughout the game). I was surprised by how diverse levels were, even within the same world. One level, I skimmed across the waves on a beach, dodging sharks, the next I found myself in a cave that doubled as a giant’s kitchen. Once a level is complete, players can return to collect any skull tokens they may have missed or complete a time attack of the level, which yields additional rewards. These time attacks are challenging. They demand perfection as you weave in and out of the ground and jump around as fast as you can. I happily lost a few hours to time attack levels as I looked for ways to save a fraction of a second to earn gold medals. The time attacks even extend to the boss fights. In my build of the game there were no online leaderboards, but I hope that is something planned for the near future.

Boss battles are challenging but don’t offer the most variety. There are a few things done to differentiate the four bosses from one another. One of the bosses has a highway chase set-piece before the actual fight. Outside of those few moments, these fights come down to outmaneuvering the bosses with your Grinder and hitting them while they’re exposed. They’re not bad fights, just fairly similar at their core. Boss designs range from creepy to massive, with my personal favorite being the Magmaworm, who looks like she would fit right into a TLoZ: The Wind Waker dungeon. There are some cool cinematic moments that play out at the end of each fight. They’re a perfect cap to end a challenging fight and I admit, I found myself fist pumping the air triumphantly in these moments.

The 2D sprites and colorful levels of Pepper Grinder feel like something ripped from the golden age of the Game Boy Advance. Levels are filled with things in the background that make the world feel lived in. Early on, a giant can be seen wandering the mountainous terrain as Pepper works her way through the level. As you traverse each level, you find that Pepper can cause quite a bit of chaos in no time. Fighting my way through an onslaught of enemy riverboats, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could cut each boat in half. I then proceeded to cut every boat in half (as Ahr Ech attended, I’m sure). Matching the look, the original soundtrack from Xeecee perfectly captures the feel in any given level. An early tune evokes the mystery of a cave level. A calming tune explodes into chaos as a climb up a serene snow-covered mountain becomes a nail-biting jump from barrel to barrel.

Outside of levels, players can visit shops to spend some of their regained treasures. Some passive Narling’s offer wares in the form of cosmetics, stickers, and some additional health. The aforementioned skull tokens can be spent on sticker pages and keys that unlock a world’s bonus level. Bonus levels offer some additional challenges, especially once you return to them for a time attack run. The sticker and sticker pages are a nice touch if you’re feeling artsy and want to put some scenes together. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did enjoy the act of getting stickers through a large prize machine, like those you’d find near the entrance of a grocery store.

Between Pepper and the Narlings, Pepper Grinder is hilarious and a bit dark. The game contains tons of comical mischief that matches tonally with Castle Crashers. Pepper’s one-track mind takes her on a path of destruction. She’s Sonny the Cuckoo, but instead of being coocoo for Cocoa Puffs, she annihilates anyone and anything to regain her treasure. The Narlings are a mismatch of adorable and deadly. You can’t help but laugh at one’s menacing chuckle or at the sight of one approaching with a firearm. Between that and the Narling skulls littered through each level, I started to feel bad for the dummies, until one wearing a cowboy hat and riding a giant beetle took me out with a rifle. All this to say, Pepper Grinder finds its tone immediately, and keeps the laughs coming throughout its run.

Pepper Grinder peppers in (sorry) a little bit of everything. There’s a dash of collectibles and customization, a few pinches of 2D nostalgia and comedy, and a whole helping of time challenges and speed running. The fact that it’s able to pack so much game into this little package is amazing. It’s great at home or on the go. Now excuse me, while I return for some more time attack runs.


Author: Nick Coffman
Nick is a Chicago Comedy writer whose first gaming memory is the "drowning imminent" music from Sonic 2. He was able to recover from that traumatic experience and now writes game reviews. He recently built his first PC and now uses it exclusively to play small indie titles.

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