Penarium is a brutal arcade-style platformer that will have you laughing on the outside, but screaming on the inside. It’s a game that does a lot of things really well, but is lackluster in some very important areas. Even though I really enjoyed this game, I’m not sure if I’ll be coming back to the killer circus for an encore performance.
In Penarium, you play as Willy, a young farmer boy who is kidnapped and forced to dodge obstacles and escape death itself all for the entertainment of a sadistic crowd. All you do is run, jump, and double jump. It’s a very simple game, but at the same time a very exciting game. They mix in blood-splattered buzz saws and machine guns with bubblegum launchers and giant bowling balls, and it all leads to some pretty hilarious moments. And their “circus of death” aesthetic could have gone from funny and brutal to gross and unappealing pretty easily, so it’s great to see it done right.
Penarium features three game modes, the first and best of which is the campaign mode. It follows Willy’s story in the deadly circus as the player completes different challenges for the sadistic ringmaster. There are thirty challenges in all in Penarium’s campaign mode, each having Willy dodging one or two hazards located at the top and bottom of the screen, all while trying to complete an objective. These objectives vary from smashing barrels, collecting potions, or even playing Simon says with colored buttons. There’s a good bit of variety to the challenges as well as the hazards. Unfortunately, where the game lacks variety is in things like the layout of the platforms in the campaign mode’s three chapters. Each chapter has a default layout of the platforms and rarely mixes it up, which is disappointing because the levels where they mix it up are actually some of the best levels in the entire game. But a lack of levels aside, the game’s campaign mode is still fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it until the end.
The second mode in Penarium is arcade mode. Arcade mode takes the barrel breaking mode from campaign mode and just makes it go on endlessly. Every five barrels you break will randomize the hazards on the stage; this goes on until you die. The arcade mode can be played on any of the default levels from the three chapters of the games campaign. You can earn coins and use them to buy power-ups in this mode as well, but it just wasn’t interesting. There were plenty of challenges and level layouts that the arcade mode could have incorporated, so to see that this mode has it all boiled down so much is a shame, because it makes it a lot less fun.
The third mode is the multiplayer, the mode that I thought was going to be the best part of Penarium, but actually suffers from all of the same problems as the arcade mode. Multiplayer allows a second player to play either versus or co-op. In versus, both players fight to be the first to press a button on the stage, and in co-op the players both have to press two buttons at the same time. This is everything you do in versus mode. And while it was fun for about twenty minutes, we were quickly upset by the lack of any other game types. Oh, and did I mention that it only uses the same three basic levels from arcade mode? Because it does that too.
Overall, Penarium feels like it sold itself a bit too short. It’s a great game that could have been so much greater if it just had a little more in two of its modes. The multiplayer problems are especially baffling. Take one look at a screenshot of this game and tell me that it doesn’t look like it should be amazing with two or more players, and honestly, it was pretty amazing with two players, it was just really short lived! Literally every problem I have with Penarium could be fixed with an expansion pack. It’s a sadistic thrill ride that dies down way too quickly, and unfortunately, I don’t see myself going back and playing it again anytime soon.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Excellent campaign mode.
- Controls feel great!
What I Dislike:
- Weak arcade mode.
- Too few multiplayer options.