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Nintendo Switch Just Added the Most Original Platformer of the Year

Short but sweet.

key art from Pepper Grinder
Devolver Digital
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So far, 2024 has been a year when it’s possible to jump from one massive, dozens-of-hours-long blockbuster game to another with no break. With Dragon’s Dogma 2 launching just last week, plenty of players are in the middle of an epic fantasy adventure right now. But if you’ve cleared your plate of the buffet of gargantuan games released lately, Pepper Grinder makes for the perfect dessert.

The titular Pepper starts the game by crashing her pirate ship on shore and immediately having her immense collection of treasure stolen by a band of horned goblins called Narlings and their leader Mint. That entirely non-verbal introduction is all the story you’re going to get from Pepper Grinder, as the game keeps its focus tight on its tight, extremely satisfying gameplay.

Pepper Grinder is a short but sweet platformer.

Devolver Digital

Just like with its story, Pepper Grinder keeps its mechanics simple — to ease you into things. You have a drill, which you can spin up with the controller’s right trigger. You can also jump. That’s it. While the drill can be used to annihilate Narlings, it’s mostly used for movement. Pepper Grinder’s pixelated worlds are filled with patches of dirt Pepper can drill straight through. Jumping into one with the drill running lets Pepper “swim” through with the drill constantly pulling her forward, and pressing the jump button grants a speed boost that lets her jump from one dirt clump to another. It feels similar to Ori’s ability to burrow in sand in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, but expanded across an entire game.

Scattered around each level are loads of Pepper’s stolen jewels, as well as five hidden skull coins. Jewels can buy extra health between levels, as well as collectible stickers, just for fun. Skull coins can be traded in for cosmetic changes to Pepper’s hair and cape, or to unlock a secret level in each world, which are absolutely worth opening and tend to be the best each region has to offer.

More than that, though, hunting down skull coins forces you to search every corner of the level and puts your sand-swimming skills to the test. Pepper Grinder is the very definition of “short but sweet,” clocking in around three to four hours, so any reason to spend just a bit longer poking around in it is more than welcome.

Every level in Pepper Grinder puts a new twist on the game.

Devolver Digital

Despite being such a short game, Pepper Grinder is packed with interesting ideas. Every time you move to a new world, the game shifts in some fundamental way, like when you venture into an icy ocean, where every second spent in the water brings you closer to a freezing demise. Beyond that, nearly every individual level introduces its own twists. Throughout your short time with Pepper Grinder, you’ll ride a snowmobile, launch yourself out of cannons, pilot a mech, and more. And every time the game introduces a clever new mechanic, it spends a few minutes squeezing every bit of joy it can out of it, then tosses it aside for the next one. Because of that, every level feels markedly different, and none of their tricks stick around long enough to get old.

Despite its simple mechanics Pepper Grinder can be a difficult game. While it starts easy enough, the challenge ramps up quickly, both by throwing tougher enemies at you and demanding more complex platforming. Fortunately, well-placed checkpoints are dotted around each level, so retrying sections where you’ve failed never takes too long. Here, too, the game’s short length helps, since levels go by quickly enough not to wear out their welcome even when they’re tossing you around like a rag doll.

Pepper Grinder proves that it’s worth making time for smaller games even if you’ve been busy gorging yourself on sprawling open-world RPGs. Getting to deeply know a world and immersing yourself in its intricacies is great, but so is blasting through one in just a few days and getting every bit of joy you can out of it in that time. The perfect example of a game making the most of its short runtime, Pepper Grinder is well worth digging into for platforming fans looking for fresh thrills.

Pepper Grinder is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.

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