Sadistic circuses always make for an alluring theme, and Penarium’s is no different. The contrast between fun and evil spawns a twisted relationship that never fails to create an unsettling atmosphere. Here, I will be reviewing the recent iOS port of Penarium, a 2D arena platformer. Your main character, the chubby Willy, is kidnapped and pitted against a variety of deadly traps in a frantic environment. Passing Willy’s trials is no easy affair, as Penarium is one of the most difficult platformers out there. Obstacles are constantly shifting, and touching anything except the ground will send you directly to the afterlife.
I initially attempted to play Penarium on an iPhone 6, and it was surprisingly difficult. Simply put, the screen felt too small. Having an intentionally cramped setting on an already tight display caused the game to feel like something from the Gameboy era. This is not necessarily a negative, but extra-shrunken pixels aren’t something people are typically used to these days. After switching to a much larger iPad screen, the overall feel of Penarium improved drastically. Movement flowed better, the artwork was easier to admire, and accuracy shot up to a much more acceptable level. If you’re planning to purchase Penarium for non-mobile platforms, this should conveniently not be an issue.
Getting into mechanics, Penarium is your customary arena arcade game with a bit of bonus storyline. A few different level types exist, where some are much more interesting than others. Although the full arsenal of traps the game has to offer is completely revealed within the first couple of stages, level objectives stay engaging as brand new ones are introduced periodically. The main event involves collecting barrels on a stationary map without getting brutally murdered by a collection of traps including, but not limited to — ninja stars, homing missiles, gatling guns, dragons, lasers, and giant bowling balls. Any combination of these will be out to get you, and the screen will be crowded with tons of items that are murderous to the touch.
Penarium is definitely one of the most challenging games I’ve ever played due to the sheer unpredictability and number of obstacles flying around. Think of a shoot-’em-up where you only have one life and have to collect items too. Then, take away all your weapons, and you’ve got Penarium. It’s like Galaga meets Mario Bros. (the original one), without powerups or any type of handicap. Now, I’m not saying this game is impossible; it’s just difficult to the point where you might believe it’s not worth it. Beating it makes you a real champ, and you certainly deserve some sort of reward in addition to the implied satisfaction and relief.
Putting raw gameplay aside, Penarium has a pretty entertaining story about a young farmer boy being forced to endure a deadly gauntlet of circus traps for the entertainment of morbid townsfolk. Although you may have heard a similar story before in a fairy tale or something, it never really gets old. Also, Penarium has a little plot twist in store for those who have enough grit to beat its final level. I really have to give credit here because most arcade games completely ditch story in favor of focusing on more central features. However, a great story can do wonders for an otherwise repetitive genre such as “arcade platformer”.
Luckily, Penarium offers a more forgiving arcade gamemode where you can simply collect coins that nicely carry over after death. Currency can be used to purchase upgrades that apply only to this specific mode. I feel like most people abandon the linear story levels in favor of this extra mode if the going gets too tough. Overall, Penarium doesn’t do anything to reinvent an ancient genre, and it might seem too tough for the average player. A decent story adds some life to the game though, and I feel like it was a smart choice to bring it to the mobile market. Pick up Penarium if you think you have what it takes to win, but you’ll probably end up running to arcade mode in tears to be honest.
Penarium (Reviewed on iOS)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Overall, Penarium doesn’t do anything to reinvent an ancient genre, and it might seem too tough for the average player. A decent story adds some life to the game though, and I feel like it was a smart choice to bring it to the mobile market.