2D Platformers have admittedly started to find themselves in a bit of a rut, as of late. There are still some great ones about, with stuff like the recently released (and soon to be reviewed!) Freedom Planet 2 looking especially fine, but they do tend to fall back on the same basic tropes and use the same inspirations. 

How many times have we seen a game inspired by Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man in recent years? How many times have we seen some kind of grapple mechanic? That doesn’t stop them from being great games, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t really feel particularly fresh.

Which is why I was instantly captivated by the preview footage of Pepper Grinder. Whilst the protagonist herself didn’t look like anything special, giving off a Summertime Celeste vibe, that massive drill in her hand not only looked cool, but it also seemed to lead an innovative style of gameplay too. I was excited.

Can it live up to that potential and provide something truly fresh?

Pretty much, albeit with one major caveat.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review code.

Pepper Grinder‘s titular character, Pepper, finds herself shipwrecked at the start of the game, and subsequently gets immediately robbed of her treasure by the nefarious Emperor Naro and his mischievous little Narlings. Fortunately, her bad day suddenly improves as she stumbles across a massive drilling device dubbed Grinder (not to be confused with the dating app), which allows her to tunnel through objects at incredible speeds. With Grinder in hand, Pepper finds herself ready for a journey of revenge as she seeks to reclaim her stolen fortune.


Of course this narrative is just a means of introducing you to the game’s central mechanic: being able to use Grinder to tunnel effortlessly through soft surfaces and leap out with tremendous force. It feels a little bit like the swimming in the Ecco the Dolphin games, albeit without the need to worry about oxygen levels. It can feel strange to use at first, but the game eases you in gently with some rather straightforward tunnels and risk-free jumps, before adding such dangers as mines and burrowing enemies to deal with. The controls are super smooth and surprisingly not as awkward as you may have anticipated; jumps can certainly be tricky at times, especially as you have both shorter and longer jumps to contend with, but the tunneling is breezy and is always an absolute delight.

Combat, in comparison, doesn’t far quite as well as the Narlings tend to be more of a nuisance than an enemy. Taking them out generally consists of drilling into them, although there are others that offer slight variations for a modicum of extra challenge. They’re fine for the most part, as dealing with them rarely gets in the way of the platforming, but encounters with them aren’t particularly memorable. The issues really arise when it comes to the game’s boss encounters, which not only are incredibly difficult to fight due to how much damage they can receive (in comparison to your rather limited health pool), but are also tedious to boot. Fighting them tends to boil down to hitting them with your drill whilst trying to avoid their attacks, and feel more like a test of patience rather than skill. So much could have been done to utilise Grinder in some unique ways, but instead they end up just being a tedious roadblock stopping you from moving onto the next world.


Speaking of which, there are twenty levels in total split over four game worlds and each one features brand new ways to use your drill. Sometimes this may boil down to a stage-specific obstacle, such as platforms for you to flip or lava to navigate around; but other times it may be a completely new way to use your drill. There’s a grapple (not even this game can escape using it), a chain-gun, and much more. I was honestly surprised to see so much depth added to the drill, and the constant stream of fresh gimmicks help to ensure that things never get stale as well as helping to give each stage its own sense of identity. 

Whilst the game’s drilling concept may sound rather straightforward on paper, there’s actually quite a decent level of challenge on offer throughout the game’s stages. Death will no doubt be frequent as you get used to the unusual traversal mechanics, but the inclusion of frequent checkpoints and the ability to buy more (single use) hearts help to keep you progressing. Sure, this is nullified by the difficulty spike during the boss fights (as bonus hearts don’t reactivate after dying), but it’s still nice that there’s some degree of accessibility within the main levels themselves at the very least

If you don’t care much for purchasing assistance, then you can also use the game’s currency and collectible coins to purchase additional items from the shop to help customise your character, or add to the game’s sticker book. Whilst there may not be anything super exciting to buy for your character, the latter is still a nice addition and I always found myself to excited to see what the shop’s gatcha machine would drop next. Usually it would be a repeat of a sticker I already had, but when something new appeared it put a smile on my face.


All in all, Pepper Grinder is a nice little package for a cheap price. It may not take you very long to get through, depending on your skill level, but the quality of the level design and the overall presentation make it certainly worthwhile. Whilst the level theming do follow the standard platforming tropes, the pixel art and character animations more than make up for that. Seeing Pepper land at the start of a new stage with a thud, and then yank her massive drill out from the ground never gets old, as are the animations of the adorably ugly Narlings too. The game does have a couple of bugs that do spoil things a little, particularly a sound glitch that made all the audio disappear when fighting the final boss, but otherwise the game performs at (what seems to be) a smooth 60FPS – which is something absolutely appreciated considering the game is focused on fluidity, speed, and precision.

Even though some awfully obnoxious bosses sour the overall experience, it can’t be denied that the levels in between are platforming perfection. With super smooth, satisfying tunneling, and a constant stream of new uses for your drill, Pepper Grinder is an absolute delight to play.