You know that oddly satisfying feeling when things just happen the right way? Like when you stop the petrol station pump on a whole number without trying or that rare occasion when you cut a pizza and all the slices are are the exact same size? Or when you go the shop counter and reach into your pocket and pull out the exact amount of change you need or when you jump on the train and the door shuts behind you seconds later? Well, in the future, we’ll be able to add “Playing Pepper Grinder” to that list of oddly satisfying things.
Developer Riv Hester (AKA @Ahr_Ech) provided me with the first 2 levels of Pepper Grinder and having just finished them, I’m now officially excited about it. Before I continue – some quick scene setting. Pepper is a pirate. Grinder is her awesome drill. Together they make…Pepper Grinder *cue superhero music*!
Pepper’s ship has been destroyed by a clumsy cyclops and her treasure has scattered across the land. She’s on a 2D action platforming quest to retrieve it all and her trusty drill Grinder will be the way to get it.
Pepper Grinder is a game designed around one incredibly satisfying core mechanic – the drilling. Throughout the 2 sample levels, the ground and walls are made up of 2 substances. One you can drill through, the other you can’t. A single button press and you’re carving through the earth like a jet powered JCB.
The first time I drilled through the ground, moving 360 degrees before popping back up, transferring into a huge jump and drilling back into the ground again, was when I felt “it”. That feeling of delight. It’s almost inexplicable (but I’ll try to explain it). The sound effects, the combination of smooth control but rough feeling, the tunnel that closes behind you, the animation, the effects – it all just combines into something meaty and so very gratifying. It’s like walking on the first crunchy leaves of Autumn. Yes.
The game’s first level is designed with what felt like shades of Sonic’s Green Hill Zone. You jump and drill through the ground, lead by the trail of collectables, around simple platforming to get you acclimatised. Soon you’re pulling off impressive leaps and linking drills to jumps to more drilling – just because you can and the design accommodates that. It lets you stretch you legs without too much danger. It’s a brilliant “first level” because it does everything a first level should do – get’s you accustomed to the systems and mechanics by allowing you to learn rather than shoving them in your face. An example – there are red bug enemies that have a shell which is too hard for Grinder to pierce. Their undercarriage however, is ripe for-a-drillin’.
The first time I came across these enemy types, I bounced off the shell and took a hit to my health. A few seconds later and I’ve figured it out, a quick drill dive later and I’m knocking that sucker into the air. There’s some simple puzzle solving and some quick reactions needed towards the end of the level and I moved onto the next with a smile on my face…
… Which got even bigger when I got to play the second level. Without spoiling any more of the game, Pepper Grinder is well designed. So much so that I audibly said “Woah” after pulling off some audacious, fast paced drilling, jumping and grappling (another mechanic that felt so bloody good. It’s like the Ninja Rope from Old School Worms – Remember that? Well, like that but better) combinations precariously close to some dangerous thorn bushes.
On top of the satisfying mechanics are the art style – bold, clean and instantly appealing – as well as the animation of the world and characters – all top quality. There’s also this really intriguing sense of whimsy about the world you’re in too. At one point you drill to the surface above and pop out a Turnip that a badger-like animal is sitting by, as if he’s been trying to pull it out of the ground.. At another point, the camera pans out half way through a pretty tense section of grappling to see that you’re swinging around in a structure that looks like a face. Little touches like that really start to build up.
So, after trying 2 levels of Pepper Grinder, I’m incredibly optimistic about what this game might become. These sample levels are full of smart design choices that help you flow through the action but keeps you in control. It’s shaping up to be a game that will test your reaction speeds as well as the ol’ grey matter with gameplay that’s intensely gratifying with an art style to match. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Pepper Grinder is in development for PC and you can follow the future development of by following Riv Hester on twitter. Trust me, you’ll want to just to see the gifs he posts.