I don't know how Devolver does it, but the publisher is an expert when it comes to scooping up simple but absurdly fun indie titles. As it so happens, one of Devolver's latest published titles, Pepper Grinder from developer Ahr Ech, fits this criteria to a tee.
Pepper Grinder is a Rock Solid Platformer
In this upcoming platformer, players take the role of Pepper, a cute adventurer that washes up on the shore of an island. With a precious treasure chest just within her reach, it's taken by a mysterious villain. After a brief confrontation on a bridge, Pepper falls to the depths, but not before grabbing a very handy and versatile tool.
This tool is a drill called the Grinder. This device can propel Pepper through mounds of dirt and break through hard rock. It's also handy in taking out enemies. Through a short tutorial sequence, I learned the ins and outs of the Grinder and felt like an expert in just a few short minutes, which is a testament to how buttery smooth Pepper Grinder feels.
With the Grinder being so fluid to control, it allows you to navigate through dirt easily and at high speeds. It's so satisfying to use, especially when you activate a boost, fly out of the dirt, and drill through a bunch of enemies. I liked the added touch of having the controller vibrate as you're drilling, just to add a bit of a "crunch" to the action of digging through dirt.
From the three levels I played in this preview, thus far the overall design is excellent and manages to mix the use of Pepper's drill with platforming segments on foot. Pepper can't hop very high, so with the placement of certain enemies, there's a small hint of challenge that will surely amp up as Pepper Grinder continues.
Mixed in with platforming segments are puzzles that show a hint of complexity and offer a taste of what's to come. As an example, there are colored gates that, when hit from a certain direction will all flip in unison, thus opening and closing paths forward.
Hidden throughout levels are golden coins that players will definitely want to pursue. They're found in cleverly concealed spots and require a bit of ingenuity to get. These collectibles don't seem to offer anything but an extra challenge, which is perfectly fine since the way they're hidden reminds me of the way Kirby and Yoshi games handle collectibles.
A Familiar Charm to Pepper Grinder
I mentioned enemies earlier, and of course, you'll fight various monsters and avoid other hazards as you make it to the end of each level. Such dangers range from these goblin-like fellas that shoot fireballs, to environmental hazards such as thorny branches and explosive mines.
I love the little sprites of the enemies and the overall visual style of Pepper Grinder is similar in that it's simple, but so pleasing to look at. Levels are bursting with personality, despite taking place mostly within underground environments.
Adding to the overall playful personality of Pepper Grinder is a world map that shows what lies ahead. There's a big cyclops in one area of the map and these creepy, towering mounds of rock with faces on them. It certainly resembles an overworld map you'd find in some of the more popular 2D platformers out there.
If developer Ahr Ech continues to make each level distinct and filled with unique obstacles and challenges, I can see Pepper Grinder being a real gem of a platformer. Looking at a trailer for Pepper Grinder shows that I've just scratched the surface: the volcanoes and snowy mountains of future levels look especially fun.
Pepper Grinder Preview | Final Thoughts
The more I think about Pepper Grinder, the more it feels as though it's heavily inspired by some of the popular Nintendo platformers I mentioned. It doesn't just feel "Nintendo-like" in concept -- it's Nintendo-like in execution as well. Platformer fans, Pepper Grinder is something you'll want to watch closely.
Pepper Grinder was previewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 30 minutes of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of the preview.