When Willy, a young boy, is enticed to run away to the circus by a mysterious ringmaster, the result is not what he expected. Instead of being greeted by a spectacle of lights, theatrics and high wires, he is instead faced with what the game describes as a ‘sadistic circus extravaganza’ – Penarium, the circus of death and frustration that’ll have you throwing your controller and then racing back to it, determined to not let it beat you.
As a twitch platformer filled with traps and tricks that rapidly go from simple to instant death, the game was actually very enjoyable during my time with it. Developers Self Made Miracle, along with publishers Team 17, have managed to craft a game with a really simple but striking premise and design – easy to pick up and get addicted to.The first puzzle I attempted was simple, just collect coins while dodging balls rolling along the platform, ready to squash our poor hero. One or two levels later I was rapidly jumping between platforms to grab falling vials and drop them at their correctly coloured vats, all the while dodging ice spikes from above and machine gun fire from below. The tasks asked of you are relatively simple, and in any other platformer you’d have them done in no time, but Penarium really manages to challenge at every step.
The weapons and traps Penarium throws at you are easy enough to learn to avoid, generally through a process of trial and error and plenty of deaths, but the game manages to keep adding something new the second you begin to feel comfortable. It usually switches these out every five of the objective you complete, which can rapidly throw your calculated movements out the window. Second guessing instincts often ended in death, and with no checkpoints it’s back to the start of the level for Willy – it may be frustrating but that’s just how the game goes.Challenges aren’t long, so even as you restart you’re never too far set back. One thing that helps keep you coming back is how smooth it controls, with the ability to jump and move with precision at a moments notice. It just felt really nice to play, with your dodging and jumping all rewarded with that satisfying challenge complete page.
The unique style is another aspect of Penarium that kept me interested, with zany old styled contraptions and that bleak colour scheme. It felt like you were playing something right out of the silver screen era, with strong reds and greys giving off quite an unsettling aged aesthetic – mirrored in the creepy circus tunes playing in the background. It really nails the atmosphere, keeping you on edge the entire time you’re playing it.While I didn’t get my hands on them, the game also has a cooperative multiplayer mode and arena mode, accessible from the main menu alongside the campaign. It also has a shop through which to purchase power ups for arena mode, looking to deliver a whole load of new challenges for Willy to face.
Penarium is a game that a lot of people will love, and a lot of people will hate. Either way, both of these groups will probably be hooked regardless, thanks to that ‘if I can just beat this one level’ mentality. With some really clever puzzles, great controls and a larger range of puzzles and modes, if you’re a fan of Super Meat Boy and impressively difficult games, Penarium needs to be on your radar.
Penarium is set to launch later in 2015 on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.
This preview was conducted on the PC build of Penarium at Surprise Attack HQ.