There’s a plethora of older games that any one of you could play. Honestly, there are lots. If you’re of a mind to play something with that little bit of a retro feel to it, you’ve got an ever-growing list of willing games on Xbox One. It never fails to amaze me how developers take the awesome power of the One and create some 16-bit inspired goodness.
Penarium is such a title and it will take your 16-bit cravings, swill them around for a while and slaughter them in all manner of cunning and devious ways. The idea behind the game is pretty simple. You play Willy. No, I know what you’re thinking. You play a character called Willy. Kidnapped from the bland farming life, Willy was lured by the bright lights and silver-tongued patter of the director of the Penarium. This arena is run purely for the entertainment of the crowd and the more times the ever-vital Willy dies, the more they like it.
Now, as boring as Willy’s parent’s farm was, he still wants to go home. He’d been hoodwinked into this cage for the benefit of other people’s entertainment after all, so the least he’d deserve would be to escape and go home. It’s not quite that simple though. In this arena of death, there are many, many implements of instant doom, waiting to chop, drown, squash, blast and erm, sting you into non-existence.
You’re introduced to the game mechanics via a tutorial. The graphical method of imparting this information is simple enough and reminds me a little of the dialogue in games like Zelda. There’s some dialogue, you press a button to move it on. In truth, you don’t need to pay too much attention to the dialogue. All you really need to know is that Willy is trapped in the Penarium, he’s there to try to survive as long as possible, or to meet specific goals set by the director. Failure is met the ultimate in punishment, death.
The graphics themselves are a little Steampunk and very retro in a basic kind of way. If you like your visuals blocky and 16-bit, Penarium is your game. It’s fair to say that the game won’t be pushing the One to it’s limits when it comes to the graphics, but then this is all about the gameplay and Penarium has pick-up-and-play in droves.
The game itself is very easy to play then. You control Willy as he collects various objects at the whim of the ringmaster, or simply avoids multiple painful death. The controls are simple enough to master as they’re basic run left or right, jump or double-jump. The director himself will task you with collecting barrels or potions, surviving in the moving torchlight for a specific amount time and other devious tasks designed to push your timing and avoidance skills to the limit. You do have an aid in this though. The arena wraps around, meaning that you can lope off the left side of the arena and reappear, Pac-Man style on the right, or the other way around of course.
This feature of the arena can be a credit, or a curse. There are weapons that are out to end Willy’s existence with homing tendencies and they’ll also use the wrap-around to their own advantage, so be vigilant at all times.
Once the tutorial is out of the way, you can embark on a rather devious 30-level campaign. The tutorial sets you up nicely for this, and you’ll utilise all of the skills you’ll have picked up and more. Yes, Penarium is one of those games that likes to throw a curve-ball or two and usually they’re ticking and ready to explode. The stages throw specific challenges at you, be it barrel smashing, light hogging, balloon popping (in a specific order obviously) or a particularly sadistic game of Simon. All the time, the mechanics of the Penarium are trying to make Willy nothing more than an inconvenient smear on the arena floor. It’s hectic stuff so it’s just a good job you have an unlimited number of lives to try to win your way to freedom. You’re going to need them.
To jolly things along for young Willy, there’s an Arcade mode that is purely endless waves of deadly attacks. The bonus to playing this game is that you get to collect coins and these coins can be used to buy bonus power-up cards that will aid Willy in his quest. Arcade Mode also offers you the chance to climb those online leaderboards and beat your friends.
There is also a multiplayer mode that will give the game even more longevity. Bring your friends, kill your friends in a competitive kind of way or go co-op and activate as many switches as possible. The multiplayer is fun but in a kind of short-lived way. It’s great at first, but the novelty of smacking your friend out for a ten wears off a little after a while. The Arcade mode is where it’s at.
The music trips along quite happily in a chip-tune carnival way and I’m reminded in certain aspects of an old 16-bit game called Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top O’ Fun, Pang and a little bit of Bubble Bobble. Maybe that’s the idea the developer, Self Made Miracle, want to implant. Take Penarium, play it, reminisce and yearn for the games of yesteryear.
Penarium is a 2D survival platformer then, with a lot of appeal. The campaign, while not that long, is more than engaging, and frustrating in equal measure. The graphics aren’t spectacular, but the name of the game is playability and fun, and Penarium has it in droves. It had me in fits of seething expletives and the throes of rapture at the campaign. The sounds are fitting to the title and I’d have personally liked a little bit of digitised speech to make it that little bit more 16-bit authentic. The real replay value is the Arcade though. It has that, ‘have I got time for one more go?’ feel to it. It’s not perfect, I’d have loved a longer campaign and a less challenging tutorial, but it’s certainly a game that every retro-lover should have in their collection. If you’re not a fan of retro? Get it anyway, it’s addictive, it’s frustrating, it’s too tempting not to have another go.
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