Pepper Grinder Review – A bit of spice and everything nice

Reviewed March 29, 2024 on PC


PC, Nintendo Switch


March 28, 2024


Devolver Digital


Ahr Ech

Pepper Grinder is a side-scrolling action platformer that has players digging and burrowing through the world, performing a cross-country journey as pirate Pepper to get back their stolen treasure. With a trusty drill in their possession, they must triumph over cruel environments, tough bosses and action setpieces to get that booty. It’s a fun and joyous adventure throughout, I only wish there were more depth in it. Pepper Grinder needed to dig just that little bit deeper.

The core gameplay is this digging mechanic. With this drill, protagonist Pepper can burrow in different environments. Deep beneath rock and earth, the ocean or sand, through layers upon layers of snow, she can tackle it all. The digging is at its best when you’re gaining momentum, often getting air to careen between one body of terrain and another. It’s this movement that carries you through all of Pepper Grinder, bettering yourself as you go and mastering the loop.

This ends up feeling a lot like the burrowing you’d do in Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Fluidity comes in the form of chaining together leaps of faith and grapple hook sections to have you just thread a gap, moving from one location to another. Backing this is a really unique style of music that incorporates a lot of different genres. Sometimes there are sections where Jazz is present, heavy on the trumpet and brass instruments. Otherwise, there are elements of hip-hop, where a hi-hat is used as a base, then layered with samples of record scratches and the like. It’s a really good and diverse soundtrack that also just holds up on its own as a series of tracks to listen to.

The soundtrack also drives home the intensity of a given level or boss fight. Pepper Grinder has four worlds, each concluding with a climactic boss fight. Both the journey to said boss through a series of levels and the boss fights themselves hold their weight thanks to the incredibly fun mechanic of burying away. Boss fights often thrust Pepper into an arena, where an enemy, often at least double her size is throwing everything at her to take her down. Stomping, firing projectiles and performing grab attacks and the likes, you’re tasked with taking brief refuge in the earth of the given biome you’re in, only to remain safe to careen upwards and sock it to the baddy.

These fights grow in complexity later when fired projectiles can home and burrow and follow you or the earth under your feet is ripped up beneath you, limiting your movement space. This is always thrilling, often having you clear boss fights by the skin of your teeth but, like the rest of the game, this potential and progression very quickly has a ceiling.

You can roll credits in Pepper Grinder in under 2 hours. That on paper isn’t necessarily an issue; I’m often one to prefer things short but sweet. There’s also a means of extending this playtime that little bit longer by going through time trials of all levels. The problem is however that the game never quite reaches its full potential or fully explores all its ideas.

The four worlds are broken up into four biomes. These are a hilly mountainside full of lush greens and rock, a molten lava area, a snow-drenched valley and an urban town populated with buildings. They all at times have their own mechanic or device Pepper can plug into; a snow sled for her to make tidy work of hills, a machine gun to throttle through waves of enemies (often mostly boiling down to these blue monsters with a single horn on their head) or in the last world a mech with a mega drill to work through and destroy buildings and anything else in her path. These are some good means of exploring the drill mechanic as the drill literally powers all of these, winding up to send you on your way. It’s a nice visual flourish, with another pleasant touch in the same vein being that at the end of a level, instead of the 2D Mario tradition of touching a flagpost, you must hoist the flag with your drill.

“…a fun and joyous adventure throughout, I only wish there were more depth in it.”

These are as far as the explored mechanics go with Pepper Grinder. You can squeeze extra juice out of a given level by grabbing all the little gems and coins along the way, but, most crucially, also going after the rarer and more tucked away Skull Coins. Skull Coin collectibles are incredibly valuable and are often a difficult platforming section away or hidden in a corner following a combat gauntlet. These are an excellent test of skill and obtaining enough can net you a golden key used to unlock a bonus hidden level per world. Sometimes, these take you to exciting and newer locations such as a beach. Otherwise, your unlockables are… different hair colours for Pepper or stickers and backdrops to use for staging a photo in the game’s photo mode. Not the most inspiring of things to work towards.

Room for further exploration is also present in the world and story of Pepper Grinder. There’s absolutely no dialogue in-game, instead having occasional interactions occur with vague grunts or shrieks. This isn’t too much of a problem but cutscenes are also very short and you’re often struggling to keep up with what they’re trying to tell you if you’re not looking at the right part of the screen at the right time.

Instead, you’re left to your own interpretation as you make your way through Pepper Grinder’s colourful world. Its pixel art style fixings do well to paint this world, always providing you with just enough curiosity to leave you in awe of what’s going on in the world as you move about. My favourite example of this is in earlier levels where there is a giant monster in the background of all the action, walking along in the distance. This reaches a head when you find out this monster is a friend as in a later level he joins the foreground and in fact is helpful with the platforming. Why thank you, friendly blue man, I will use your monolithic hand as a little boost.

However, this is yet another area where I wanted a little more from Pepper Grinder. Like the story and mechanics, I wanted to know more about the ins and outs of everything that was going on around me. It feels a little paler when Gunbrella, a 2023 Devolver Digital game that also focused on movement and action, has everything going for it from art to story to weird characters to an eerie but wonderful world. Here, you only get a portion of that in the interest of being short but sweet.




  • Burrowing mechanic gameplay is super satisfying
  • Unique soundtrack that incorporates jazz, hip-hop and sampling
  • A weird and curious world
  • Excellent challenge in oibtaining the optional Skull Coin collectables


  • Credits can be rolled in an unsatisfying sub 3 hours
  • Never really builds into anything bigger
  • Unlockables in the shop could be more exciting

Pepper Grinder is a good video game but it doesn’t feel like a complete video game. The mechanic of burrowing away through different biomes is always satisfying as you make platforming leaps of faith between different bodies of ground. What exploration, world and mechanical growth is there is really strong, it’s just limited and brief. Fun throughout but over before you know it, Pepper Grinder is a charming title that is just missing that extra little spice.