You’ll have a barrel load of fun playing with Willy
Welcome, welcome, one and all. The circus is in town but be weary for this is no ordinary circus. It’s a darker, more sinister circus for those of you with a more sadistic nature. At this circus you won’t see any conjoined twins or snake boys and there’s not a bearded lady in sight. Instead its star attraction, the top billing, the one brought to you for your amusement and entertainment, is Willy the farmhand and antihero of Self Made Miracle’s debut title – Penarium.
Penarium is a frantic single-screen 2D arena platformer. It is said that there was a time when people would line up to challenge the Penarium deathtrap circus to seek eternal glory, as only the strongest, dashing and most athletic would make it out alive. Nowadays, to keep the sadistic crowd entertained, the circus has resorted to kidnapping whomever they come across on their travels to recruit/acquire new challengers/victims. That’s where Willy comes in. Plucked from his farm, Willy must take on the Penarium by collecting barrels and avoiding various deathtraps if he is to have any hope of escaping the circus. There are thirteen deathtraps to avoid and these range from death by killer bees and bone crunching spikes to catching a rocket straight in the face. Even a mistimed jump from platform to platform will send Willy plummeting to his death.
Penarium has three game modes – Arcade, Campaign and Multiplayer. In Campaign Mode you are given 30 challenges to complete; these are set in three arenas and as you progress you are told more of Willy’s story as well as the Director telling you about the people who have perished before you. The challenges themselves vary – one minute you may be collecting barrels and the next you’re staying in the spotlight or pressing buttons in sequence in a ‘Simon Says’ type challenge. All of these challenges increase in difficulty as you progress through them. Arcade Mode is where I spent most of my time. Here you have an endless amount of barrels to collect and deathtraps to avoid. For every five barrels you collect the deathtraps change. It’s a very fast paced and unpredictable way of playing that doesn’t give you much time to think, but my god is it addictive! As well as this you can collect coins which can be spent in the shop to unlock various power-ups. It’s all about the highscore in this mode which also has online leaderboards so you can see how you rate against your friends and the rest of the world. Finally there’s local two player couch Multiplayer Mode which offers versus and co-operative options. In both options you play “Push the button” where you must avoid the deathtraps whilst filling up the timers by standing on the buttons. In co-op mode you work together and each have different coloured buttons to stand on. In versus its one button and whoever is stood on it when the timer is full gets a point.
Self Made Miracle have exceeded with the graphics; the colours they have used are spot on. It’s almost as though they have pixelated an entire 1920’s circus or perhaps spent hours watching episodes of the cult TV show Carnivàle. The music in Penarium is also very much in keeping with the overall feel of the game. It’s a repetitive looping carnival tune that will stick in your head long after you’ve finished playing.
As for the trophies it’s an all bronze affair with twenty one of them on offer. In a game where you need to avoid getting killed is seems odd that four of these trophies are for dying a certain number of times, but you shouldn’t have any trouble. I died over 250 times before I’d gotten halfway through the campaign levels. Other trophies are for completing the campaign mode, smashing barrels, collecting cards and having a set amount of coins in your wallet. A little word to the wise – you might want to get all the coin trophies out of the way before purchasing cards.
Penarium is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride stuffed into a circus setting. It sucks you in from the very beginning. The gameplay is so easy to pick up and once you’ve tried it you will struggle to put it back down. Whether you are trying to beat your highscore and top the leaderboards in arcade mode, complete the 30 campaign challenge or delve into the different multiplayer modes it’s just so addictive. The fact that the deathtraps rotate every time you collect five barrels means that Penarium will always feel fresh and you will never tire of seeing Willy perish.
NelMaNo Rating 8/10