Penarium Review

When a game has achievements based around the player dying a lot, you know you’re going to be in for an interesting time, and to that end, Penarium is an intriguing game. It bills itself as an arena platformer, which feels like the most accurate way to describe it. It’s definitely a platformer through and through, but instead of progressing through a set level from start to finish, one must instead survive a relentless barrage of traps while completing various objectives to succeed.

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In any given scenario, you may be tasked with smashing barrels, collecting falling ingredients, stepping on buttons in a sequential order, or popping balloons, and while that may seem simple enough, it’s the aforementioned relentless barrage of traps that makes this one of the most challenging platformers I’ve played in quite some time. While you jump about completing said objectives, expect to be assaulted by machine gun fire, spinning razor blades, killer bees, rockets, impaling icicles, Chinese dragons, death lasers, and gigantic bowling balls.

Did I mention that the traps all are one-hit-kills? Because all of the traps are one-hit-kills, and since your objectives are always to smash, pop, or collect approximately 15-50 of something, and since dying means you start the entire level over, you’re going to be replaying levels…A lot.

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In a number of ways, Penarium reminds me of Super Meat Boy, both in its visual style, and a demand from the player for perfection. There’s no life bar and no forgiveness. Everything will kill you and then kill you again until you learn how to complete the level. Willy, the innocent young farm boy you play as, can really only run, jump, and double jump (leaving behind a cute little dust cloud in the shape of his body), which means that evasion is the only real key to surviving the madhouse of a killer circus known as Penarium. Thankfully, even though I found the double jump to be a bit flat, the gameplay is both smooth and frantic, making for a fun (but merciless) time. Dying happens frequently, but it’s easy to jump right back into the action and keep trying (and failing) until you eventually succeed.

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The game offers a campaign to tell the story of how Willy came to be trapped in Penarium (with a bit of a fairytale spin to it), an arcade mode with a plethora of replay options, and even a co-op mode so you and a friend can die repeatedly together. In the arcade mode, completing objectives gives you coins to spend in a store to unlock cards, which are game modifiers that change up your experience in arcade mode. There’s a good deal of cards to buy and enjoy, too.

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Some may be tired of games utilizing retro 8bit graphics (not that this writer would be among that crowd), but personal preferences aside, the visual style is charming and crisp, and the music is appropriately playful…in a menacing and somewhat sinister way. The game definitely has a dark, yet still light-hearted, sense of humor.

Penarium is a basic, but rock solid game, and while the difficulty may frustrate some, there’s a lot of fun to be had for those who don’t mind a steep learning curve.

Score – 8/10

Review code supplied by Microsoft Xbox

Written by: Jared Brickey