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Platform: PC

Pepper Grinder Review

A small adventure with a big drill

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It's no secret that the games industry has been going through it over the last few years. From COVID related complications to rising development costs, the industry is as fraught as it as ever been. Now more than even, it's important for fresh titles to stick out to potential audiences. When it comes to eye-catching hooks, a large drill the size of a person is one of the better ones. Perhaps this is why Pepper Grinder impressed from its first public unveiling. Created by Ahr Ech, the platformer has been in the works since at least 2017, but only really burst onto the scene in 2022. It's been a long road to release, but the time has come to find out if this title is worth drilling into.

Pepper Grinder game

The hook of Pepper Grinder reveals itself almost immediately. Utilizing the titular tool, Pepper is able to burrow through the ground across 2D side-scrolling levels. Not all surfaces can be blasted through, but a vast majority are able to be tunneled into. Controlling the drill feels natural once you get the hang of the fact that it always moves forward and that turning can be tough due to the device's large size. By the end of the fist level, though, you'll likely be adept at maneuvering around with it. Later levels introduce jumping, which lets you burst out of the ground with additional oomph. This is key to reaching new locations and clearing chasms.

Besides its use in digging and traversal, the grinder also has other functions for Pepper to use. The large drill serves as the main weapon for dispatching enemies and taking down bosses. The regular enemies come in a few different forms of the same species of narwhal. Some of them have armor that protects a single side, others are carried by balloons that can only be reached by jumping. The bosses require you to combine your knowledge of the game's mechanics in order to defeat them. They're appropriately difficult and will put your hands to the test. Additionally, the grinder can be used to pick-up guns and pilot vessels such as a snow bike or giant robot. I can't say I love these additional systems, though, as they often shy away from the fast-paced platforming the title best excels at. It makes the last world of the game, which has a few levels focused largely on these mechanics, a disappointing final outing.

In its best moments, Pepper Grinder is an intense ride that will shred your nerves. Using your drill to blast out of one land mass into another, while also avoiding the numerous hazards the game throws at you gets very intense very fast. However, as you bounce around each level, you'll enter this flow state where you are bobbing and weaving through them on reflexes alone. It's a frequently tough game, but I loved hitting those moments where I successfully burrowed through a level without getting touched.

Pepper Grinder game

It's unfortunate then that the good times with the game don't last long. It took me around 4 hours to run through the entire campaign, and there's not much to go back to once you hit credits. If you're an obsessive, there are five Skull Coins hidden in each level to be found. These skulls can be used to purchase keys to bonus levels, new costumes and sticker books. The bonus levels are worth checking out, as they are all pretty fun and unique in comparison to the main levels, but the rest of the unlockables aren't worth the hassle. There's a time attack mode that unlocks upon completion of the game, but outside of imposing strict time limits, there's nothing new to be found. As a lower budget game, I get that it wouldn't have the length of a AAA or even AA title. Even at a low price of $15, it's still disappointingly short.

The world of Pepper Grinder is a pastiche of several different styles. When you first wash up on shore, you are going through beach themed levels. Eventually, you'll grind through lava, ice and ghost-filled lands. It's the classics of the platforming genre thrown together into one disparate adventure. It feels appropriate for a game that lacks any kind of a narrative. You're a pirate who needs to recover her treasure after it was stolen. To do this, you'll travel to the aforementioned worlds to take down Narlings and recover your gold. That's about all you really get, so don't expect any storytelling to push you through the challenging moments.

Although the different worlds you travel to don't offer much storytelling-wise, they are at least nice to look at. The pixel art looks fantastic, and the color palette of the game looked eccentric on the Steam Deck. Each level has the personality to stand out from the others. There are elements in each one that differentiate them from others in the same world. For example, in the ice world, there's one level loaded up with cannons that give the game a Donkey Kong Country feel. Another level in that same world has a giant frost giant lending a hand throughout the stage. There's also a ton of personality found in the animations of characters. From Pepper's revving of the grinder to the enemy's frantic reactions to you drilling right at them, there's plenty of charm found in the game.

Pepper Grinder game

For as brief as it may be, Pepper Grinder brings the action. It takes the drilling gimmick seen in something like Mr. Driller, supercharges it, and lets you run wild through a level. The dynamic, fast-paced platforming is sufficiently challenging, but thanks to a generous continue system, not frustratingly so. And while it does feel like the title is running out of gas during segments of the final world, I wish there was just a little more content to be found. Even for a smaller title, a four hour campaign isn't much. Still, Pepper Grinder is an entirely unique little game that fans of unconventional platformers should take a chance on.

Our ratings for Pepper Grinder on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
The colorful pixel art looks great on the Steam Deck, and there's a ton of character to animations. The archetypes used for the levels may be standard platformer fare, but there are enough wrinkles within them to not seem overdone.
The core mechanic of using the drill to burrow in and out of areas is fantastically handled. It feels appropriately weighty, and the levels are designed in ways that really allow you to build momentum. However, side uses such as firearm wielding lack the same high level of quality.
Single Player
There's not a lot of meat on the game - and it can be completed it in roughly four hours. Even for an indie game, this ain't much. The lack of a plot isn't ideal either.
No issues with the game during my time with it.
Pepper Grinder is highly enjoyable, but a touch too short. It's a very unique platformer that manages to stand out in a very crowded genre, even if it fumbles during the final levels a little bit.
Pepper Grinder
Pepper Grinder box art Platform:
Our Review of Pepper Grinder
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Pepper Grinder is ranked #682 out of 1980 total reviewed games. It is ranked #9 out of 34 games reviewed in 2024.
681. Last Train Home
682. Pepper Grinder
683. Yoshi's Crafted World

Pepper Grinder
10 images added 36 days ago
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