Pepper Grinder review: You know the drill

This SNES-style platformer exudes retro charm and offers fun, frenetic gameplay in a concise package.


In an era where most video games are created by big teams and even bigger budgets, it is always impressive to see what can be accomplished by a single developer. The latest example of such a feat is Pepper Grinder, a high-octane 2D platformer crafted by solo developer Ahr Ech. The game features fast-paced, satisfying gameplay that is easy to pick up, yet challenging to master.

Answering the booty call

An image of Pepper swimming toward a Narling.

Source: Devolver Digital

Players take on the role of Pepper, a resolute treasure hunter who has amassed a fortune during her time at sea. After a storm causes Pepper to get shipwrecked on a mysterious island, she wakes to discover her treasure has been stolen by several narwhal-looking creatures called Narlings, prompting her to immediately set out in search of her pilfered riches. Luckily, Pepper is armed with her trusty Grinder, a powerful drill that doubles as a weapon. As a retro-style platformer, Pepper Grinder has a pixel art aesthetic that is brought to life by a vibrant color palette and an energetic soundtrack. Pepper’s journey takes her through various environments, from sandy shores and shark-filled waters to lava-laden caverns and frozen cliffs. Nothing that you and your handy drill can’t handle.

Becoming a drill sergeant

Pepper swinging on a grappling hook.

Source: Devolver Digital

The core gameplay involves using Grinder to quickly burrow and maneuver through certain materials in your surroundings. Although the digging mechanic can take a bit of getting used to, it is easy to get into a rhythm with it once you have the basics down. Grinder has an energy gauge that fills as you drill, and you can use the pent-up energy for brief speed boosts. The drill can also attach to nearby grappling points, allowing you to swiftly swing across gaps in between drilling.

When you aren’t dolphin-diving through dirt, you will use your drill to solve environmental puzzles and slay any Narlings that get in your way. Though they can be a tad time-consuming, the puzzles were usually pretty simple and would involve basic mechanics like activating levers or destroying obstacles. Pepper can also attach her drill to objects to temporarily use vehicles or weapons, such as a machine gun or rocket launcher. Although Grinder for the most part makes quick work of enemy Narlings, the sheer variety of different enemies will keep you on your toes.

The game is divided into several regions, each of which includes a handful of levels and culminates with a boss battle. Bosses exhibit patterned behaviors that are easy enough to telegraph. Even after you get down the pattern of a boss, however, defeating them becomes a matter of timing and execution. While the bosses are challenging, they never felt impossible to defeat and each served as a proper end to their region.

Sticker shock

Pepper confronting a large red beetle.

Source: Devolver Digital

As you drill your way through each level, you will gradually recuperate Pepper’s lost treasure, which you can spend at designated shops found on the overworld map of each area. The basic currency can be used to purchase in-game stickers as well as special gems that temporarily increase your maximum health. However, padding your HP in this way tends to be short-lived, as your max health will revert to its original amount once you’ve taken enough damage. While the additional health bars came in handy ahead of boss battles, the temporary HP would rarely last for more than one level before I had to re-up at the shop.

Pepper visiting one of the in-game shops.

Source: Devolver Digital

Alongside treasure, the other currency players can acquire comes in the form of hidden Skull Coins. These special coins can be used to buy gold keys that unlock extra levels, along with sticker book pages and cosmetic items. The gold keys seemed to be the best use for the coins, as you can potentially find more coins within the new levels they unlock.

Pepper Grinder offers moderate replayability, as you can return to any level once it has been completed. You can dive back into previous levels to search for Skull Coins you missed or try your hand at Time Attack mode, which rewards fast times with new stickers and background music. Stickers can be used to create custom images in the sticker book, complete with filters and effects. However, I was not particularly interested in buying stickers or sticker book pages, as I felt there were more efficient ways to use my in-game currency, making the sticker book one of the weaker features of the game.

A three-hour tour

Pepper with a machine gun attached to her drill.

Source: Devolver Digital

While I experienced mostly smooth sailing throughout the game, there were a few sections in later levels where the pacing would slow down significantly. Healing items are scarce and checkpoints are spaced quite far apart, making trickier puzzles take that much longer to complete, especially if you ran out of temporary health. However, accessibility features like slowing the game speed and remapping the controls can help alleviate some of the tedium and pacing issues.

Pepper Grinder is a digestible adventure that can be completed in about six hours. While there is some replay value to be had, the short runtime helps ensure the game does not overstay its welcome, making it perfect for those looking to play a satisfying platformer in manageable doses. Despite its brevity, the fluid mobility provided by the drilling mechanic and overall frenetic gameplay make for an engaging retro romp that will likely tunnel its way straight to your heart.

This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Pepper Grinder releases on PC and Nintendo Switch on March 28, 2024.

Contributing Editor

Larryn is a freelance contributor who creates video game guides and reviews for Shacknews and has more than a decade of experience covering games across various outlets. When she's not gaming, Larryn can often be found watering houseplants, playing D&D, or teaching her cats new tricks.

Review for
Pepper Grinder
  • Gameplay is fast, fluid, and fun
  • Good soundtrack
  • Visually pleasing art style
  • Moderate replay value
  • Cute characters
  • Sticker book is uninteresting
  • Pacing slows in some sections
From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola