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Pepper Grinder

Pepper Grinder

Developer Ahr Ech has looked to up the ante of regular platforming with the help of a drilling system that requires the player to think fast.

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I've become so used to games being enormous behemoths that require tens of hours of your time that anything that can be completed in one sitting more often than not shocks me. This is precisely the feeling I got with developer Ahr Ech's Pepper Grinder, as this 2D action-packed platformer is definitely not a game that will keep you occupied for long, not that that's a bad thing.

Before I get into the more intricate details relating to this game, let me point out that Pepper Grinder is "cheap" for a new game. It's a debut indie title that knows its length, which is why it'll only set you back around £14. It's precisely this lower price point that draws my attention away from the size of this game, because if you are a true completionist that wants to tick every possible box, you will probably be able to knock Pepper Grinder off your list in around five or six hours. Sure, there are other "cheap" games that provide significantly more hours of playtime, but I think this price point works, as any lower and the game would feel like a bargain, which let's be frank, isn't what a developer wants at launch. But enough about size and price.

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Pepper Grinder is a rather traditional platformer that adds a bit of spice in the form of a drilling mechanic that allows the protagonist (Pepper) to essentially swim through the earth. It's a mechanic that isn't the easiest to master but one that provides plenty of extra depth all while being rather simple to pick up and understand. This game isn't complicated, it doesn't try to test you with bizarre and unusual gameplay systems, it's all very straightforward but it's fast-paced meaning you will need quick reflexes to work through the levels without having to respawn.

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The levels are also mostly well designed with plenty of elements and stages that will test your patience, as well as a few secrets and poorly hidden nooks to find along the way. This isn't a Mario platformer with secrets at nearly every turn, many of which you'll need to think outside the box to discover, instead the hidden areas are often clear and easy to point out, and thus the collectible medals (think Wonder Tokens from Super Mario Bros. Wonder) are easy to locate too. This doesn't necessarily mean they are easy to pick up, as many are located behind challenging platforming sections that will test your drilling skills. I think Pepper Grinder could have taken more risks in the level design to push the player off the beaten path and to intuitively explore, but I do understand it's on a bit of a knife's edge in regard to difficulty and accessible fun.

Adding to the collectible tokens is a bunch of gems that can be acquired throughout the level and can then be used as currency to purchase stickers and even temporary health at the store hubs throughout the game, as well as being able to spend acquired tokens on cosmetics and even keys to unlock hidden levels.

Pepper Grinder
Pepper GrinderPepper Grinder
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Picking up on my earlier point about length, Pepper Grinder only consists of four worlds, each including around five levels. The levels are unique and impose unique challenges, with each world even featuring a boss level, where you have to whittle down the health bar off a foe while avoiding their special attack chains. These are fun, but never massively demanding and can usually be beaten in a couple of minutes. The combat isn't really a point of interest in this game, as for the most part you'll be using your drilling movement to hurt foes or avoiding them, and any time when combat is required it can feel a bit clunky with enemies with difficult to judge attack styles and very limited complexity on this front. The times when special systems, like a minigun or a mech suit are incorporated work wonders to break up the familiarity, but these times also distract the game from what it's best at: the Super Meat Boy-like challenging platforming.

Pepper Grinder is a traditional platformer in many senses. There are several elements as you progress that feel familiar, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, the game is probably not winning any awards for originality beyond its drilling mechanic. Plus, Pepper Grinder is absolutely winning zero awards for its narrative and story elements, as this title basically has none of importance. The idea is that Pepper washes up on a distant land after a shipwreck and soon after some ugly creatures steal her chest of loot, leading her on a vengeance mission to reacquire what was hers. That's it, and that's all communicated within the first couple of minutes. After that, there's basically zero significant and compelling plot developments, meaning Pepper Grinder fails to introduce and lay out who the other drill-wielding character is and who the big-bad ultimate boss of the game is and why we should fear them.

Pepper GrinderPepper Grinder
Pepper Grinder

Sure, the art style offers up a vibrant and pretty set of pixelated biomes, and the fact that there are time trial missions incorporated too means you have something to go back and complete, but I can't help but feel as though this game could have benefitted from a couple of extra worlds to work through and a bit of emphasis placed on narrative and storytelling to help the player become more connected and immersed in the world that the developer has so lovingly crafted.

It's for these reasons that I'm at a bit of an impasse with Pepper Grinder. I don't think the length is its biggest issue, but it's definitely something that stands out when the game lacks narrative, world-building, and complex level design that asks the player to explore. It's a bit of a shame that Pepper Grinder doesn't stick the landing because there are elements of brilliance here, and the drilling platforming, the boss battles, the art direction and the world that Ahr Ech has created is all fantastic, it just needs that little bit extra to take it from being good to being something great.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
+
Drilling mechanic is fantastic Awesome art direction. Well-designed platforming stages. Doesn't require much of your time to play through.
-
Desperate for narrative improvements. Could have leaned into more complex level design. Perhaps too short.
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Pepper Grinder

REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Developer Ahr Ech has looked to up the ante of regular platforming with the help of a drilling system that requires the player to think fast.



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