Pepper Grinder Review – Short And Spicy – Gamer fang

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Sometimes, all it takes to get started on a great game is to come up with a compelling mechanic, and Pepper Grinder is a prime example. The titular grinder is as powerful as it is versatile, able to drill through the ground and power all sorts of wacky devices. The difficulty curve can be choppy, and ends more quickly than it should, but that core mechanic builds a sturdy foundation that kept me entertained from start to finish. 

That core mechanic is, of course, the Grinder, a conical drilling device protagonist Pepper uses to burrow through terrain, spin switches, and defeat enemies. Level design is consistently clever, and I won’t spoil anything, but I was impressed by the number of uses the team found for a device that could easily get old quickly. That said, while popping in and out of dirt patches, swinging on grappling hooks, and boosting over gaps is fun, it’s not as easy as it looks.

Don’t let Pepper Grinder’s pixel art and cheery exterior fool you – this game can get tough, particularly in its platforming challenges. Some jumps need to be boosted at just the right time, and if you’re not ready for a certain grapple point to appear, you plummet to your death. The hardest levels are Pepper Grinder’s boss stages, thrilling battles that make creative use of the game’s mechanics. Because bosses have large health bars, these are tests of endurance, but despite that, they manage to maintain the game’s blisteringly fast pace. The arenas and the bosses themselves also look fantastic, showcasing developer Ahr Ech’s talent for pixel art at the highest degree.

While I enjoy being challenged, the difficulty sometimes frustrated me with its inconsistency, with one level killing me repeatedly and the next one flying by without harming me once. Dying against a tough boss was never an issue because their difficulty is well-forecasted and fitting, but some levels have difficult jump sequences or waves of enemies right before a checkpoint, which annoyed me when I had to try again and again. While there are a few reasons this can happen, it’s at least partially a symptom of the game’s length; including fewer levels makes it harder to smooth out the difficulty curve, resulting in spikes like this. 

I’ve alluded to it a few times, but Pepper Grinder is a surprisingly short experience. It only took me three and a half hours to complete the main story and then another half hour or so to go back and collect enough coins to play the locked levels I’d skipped over. I don’t mind short games, but rolling credits on this one caught me off guard. There are plenty of ideas and mechanics that could have easily been expanded, and by extending the earlier part of the game, the difficulty spikes near the end likely wouldn’t be as frustrating.

That said, I do appreciate its efficiency. Ahr Ech had an idea for a platforming mechanic and iterated on it just enough to complete a story – there’s not a wasted moment in the entire playthrough, and that’s more than a lot of games can say. Pepper Grinder is a well-cooked meal – I just wish the portion was bigger.

And there are ways to spend more time with the game after defeating the final boss. In addition to a time attack mode, completionists will be glad to see five collectible skull coins in each level, though they’re worth collecting for more casual players, too. With 10, you can access a locked level in each world, and they’re some of the most enjoyable levels in the entire game, sometimes even introducing completely new mechanics. Skull coins can also be used to unlock hair and clothing colors, but I wish they were separate – it feels odd to choose between playing more of the game and changing my hair color. I recommend prioritizing level unlocks, but I won’t blame you for springing for the pink hair.

Pepper Grinder is an innovative indie experience, packed with tense battles, fluid platforming, and eye-catching visual design. While its short runtime left me wanting more, I’m happy with what it is: a bright action platformer that’s anything but a grind.

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