Pepper Grinder Review – Even Nintendo Could Still Learn From This

The trailers for Pepper Grinder, the new 2D platformer from developer Ahr Ech and published by Devolver Digital, didn’t do much for me. In fact, I wasn’t really interested in the game at all until the demo during the Steam Next Fest came out, and I figured why not try it since other people were speaking very highly of it. As soon as I got my hands on the demo, I realized Pepper Grinder would be something special. It simply felt way too good to play to be anything but a major hit. And having now played the full game… this is one of the greatest 2D platformers I have played in a long time.

Pepper Grinder has the basics of any other 2D platformer; you can walk left and right, you can jump, but the primary way of maneuvering through the levels is by drilling through the earth, making for some of the most fluid movement in any 2D platformer I’ve ever played. Because there’s no way to stop while you’re digging through the earth, only being able to control in which direction you continue moving, there’s constant forward motion, often through entire levels, which are naturally built around this never-stopping, always-moving attitude. Even the simplest passages make you feel good in this, as it unavoidably starts to feel like you’re skillfully chaining movements into one another in a perfect combination of button presses as you glide effortlessly through the levels.

no, I don’t know why there are all these patches of dirt everywhere either

And while at first it is pretty much effortless, with not much of any punishment should you fail to make the right split-second decision, as the game progresses, perfect movement for entire sections of a level becomes paramount; any one mistake and back to the beginning. I’m not going to pretend that Pepper Grinder is the hardest platformer I’ve ever played, but it’s by no means easy either. Some of the later levels and bosses had me struggling quite a bit and needed more than a few attempts to get past.

What makes Pepper Grinder an exceptional game—apart from it feeling just beautiful to play, which for a platformer is of the utmost importance—is that this is the kind of game that will introduce something new in every single level. I kid you not, every single level there’s a new mechanic. I’m not saying that each of them are completely game-changing, but they make sure that every level feels fresh and, even more importantly, fun. From different kinds of substances you can borrow through, to grappling hooks, to attachments for your drill that transform its capabilities, there’s something new and exciting to discover in every single level. In exhange Pepper Grinder isn’t the longest game ever; it took me around three hours to finish the game, but that is ignoring the collectibles, which will add another hour or two. But quite frankly, I don’t care that this doesn’t have the same amount of levels as a Super Mario Bros. Wonder (2023), because this is a much smaller game by default, and who cares when every single level is this good and this unique.

no platformer can escape the moving platforms across lava

There are golden coins to collect, five in every level, which you can use in the shop, as well as the crystals you collect en masse by destroying objects or killing enemies. For them, you get… mostly cosmetics. New costumes and hairstyles for the titular hero Pepper, and stickers that you can play around with in a sort of photo mode. But for enough golden coins, you can also get a key in every world, which unlocks an extra level for you to play. Or if you really struggle with a level, you can also use your crystals to buy some extra HP (but only temporarily until you lose it).

Pepper Grinder goes with a rather simple pixel art style that admittedly didn’t blow me away, but nevertheless looks great and harkens back to an older time of video games, as indie platformers so often do. The soundtrack similarly takes inspiration from some of those older platformers, and it is unbelievable. To go with the nonstop movement-forward philosophy of the gameplay comes a soundtrack that’s bumping beats and electrifying strings to give you that adrenaline rush you need to complete the level. It’s the kind of soundtrack that both goes perfectly with the game it was made for as well as simply sounding incredible that I could see myself listening to later on Spotify or wherever it is available.

big friend is helping

It seems to me that Pepper Grinder was clearly inspired by an older generation of classic platformers, especially the all-timers from Nintendo. But I have to say, Pepper Grinder isn’t just trudging behind in its shadows; it’s a shining example of how to make an outstanding 2D platformer in its own right that could reasonably go head to head with some of those beloved classics. Pepper Grinder is the best 2D platformer I’ve played since Celeste (2018) six years ago, and before that, I’m not even sure the last time I played anything on the same level.

Nairon reviewed Pepper Grinder on PC with a review code.

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