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Penarium Indie Platformer Game Review

We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Self Made Miracle and Team17 Digital Ltd for the review copy of Penarium used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.

Welcome to the Big Top! Today’s entertainment will be Willy the farm boy. Willy will be facing off against our circus of horrors where he will be facing many traps that will likely lead to his horrific death. Are you ready to be entertained?

Penarium is a platformer released today (September 22nd, 2015) on Steam that was created by Self Made Miracle. While not highly original, Penarium is an engaging yet challenging trip to the circus.

Circus From Hell

Gameplay from Penarium
© Self Made Miracle

Welcome to the circus from hell. In Penarium you play as Willy an overweight young farmer boy who is tired of being a farmer. When the circus comes to town Willy thinks it is the perfect opportunity to run away. This is not your normal circus though. Instead of your normal circus acts, this circus focuses on gory entertainment. This circus kidnaps people and puts them through murderous trials for the enjoyment of the spectators. In order to earn his freedom Willy must compete in this evil gauntlet while hoping to survive.

If you couldn’t already tell, Penarium is one of those hard platformers where you will die regularly. Unlike a lot of these platformers the stage is stationary. In Penarium you “perform” on a stage while the circus tries to kill you with its’ many nefarious traps/gadgets. Willy can only move around the stage and jump. Avoiding the traps/gadgets is not enough though so to keep the crowd entertained you have to perform various tasks. The game includes several different challenges which include smashing/running into barrels, collecting falling potions/body lotion before they break, collecting balloons before they pop, and even playing a twisted game of Simon where you need to press buttons in the order that they flash on the screen.

These “mini-games” are not highly original but they are still fun. The barrel challenges essentially force you to run to different parts of the stage while trying to avoid the obstacles. The “timed” challenges force you to quickly move around the stage which forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you take risks that you otherwise would not take. The most frustrating but also most creative challenge though is the “Simon” game. While the game doesn’t require you to remember a lot of lights at the same time, it is quite challenging trying to remember a simple pattern while trying to avoid being blown up.

The traps/gadgets are pretty interesting. Penarium really went out of its way trying to come up with creative ways to kill its’ contestants. The difficulty of the different gadgets can vary quite a bit with some being quite easy to avoid while others can be quite a bit of a challenge (I am looking at you heat seeking missiles). Sometimes the game throws two different gadgets at you at the same time which will occasionally present a situation where it will be very hard to survive.

At this time I have mostly played the campaign challenges. While they are pretty hard, I have had quite a bit of fun with them. The campaign doesn’t appear to be particularly long though. At this stage I appear to be on the last group of levels and I have only been playing the game for around two hours. I am guessing that the campaign will only last around 3-3.5 hours.

The main focus of the game appears to be the arcade mode. The arcade mode is essentially a test of endurance. In the arcade mode you need to try and collect as many barrels as you can before you die. The game keeps switching out the gadgets so you will need to keep on your toes adjusting to the new gadgets. While running around collecting barrels you will pick up coins that can be used to purchase cards that provide you special powers/bonuses that will help you survive longer in the arcade. I think the arcade mode will appeal to people that like to go after high scores and test how long they can survive. I had some fun with the mode but I don’t think it is the type of thing that I would play for a long time.

While I had fun with Penarium, other than the premise of the game it is not highly original. The game doesn’t really add any new mechanics since all you do is jump and try to avoid obstacles. If you have played a hard platformer before you know what to expect out of the game.  Penarium does a good job fine tuning its’ mechanics though which makes it a better than quite a few of the hard platformers.

Poor Willy

I have already mentioned that in Penarium you will die a lot. I haven’t finished the campaign yet and poor Willy has probably died hundreds of times already. I would classify Penarium as a medium-hard to hard platformer. While it is easier than some other platformers that I have played, that does not mean that the game is easy. Some of the challenges in particular are an exercise of trial and error as you perfect your path through the stage and you slowly make progress. In a lot of difficult platformers this could be quite frustrating. In a couple of the campaign challenges the game got a little frustrating but at least each challenge is pretty short. Each challenge only lasts around a minute so when you eventually die you won’t lose a lot of progress.

The Big Top

The first thing that caught my eye when I first saw Penarium was the theme. How could you not take notice of a game where you are forced into being a competitor in the most sadistic circus ever conceived. Penarium does a great job with the theme. The nice 2d graphics keep you engaged in the theme of the game. The game’s graphics are reminiscent of many other 16 bit platformers.The music feels like a chiptune take on circus music and is well done.

While the story isn’t very long it is interesting enough that I want to see how it ends. The cutscenes between each stage are well done with some nice voice over work. The story told outside of the cutscenes is only okay. These story bits are mostly about the circus leader taunting you on how your other competitors met their unfortunate end.

Should You Purchase Penarium?

If you don’t like challenging platformers that you die regularly in, you probably won’t like Penarium and I wouldn’t recommend the game to you unless you purchase it on sale.

For fans of more challenging platformers I think you should enjoy Penarium. The game is not highly original but the theme is well done and the game is fun to play. If you like really hard platformers though, Penarium may be a slight disappointment since it is not as challenging as some of the other “hard” platformers. If the theme/concept of the game doesn’t really appeal to you, you may want to wait for a sale. If you like the theme and the hard difficulty though I think you should have quite a bit of fun with Penarium.

Penarium was released on Steam on September 22nd, 2015 and retails at $9.99.

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