We all love the circus, the clowns, the acrobats, the jugglers, the spinning wheels of death, need I go on? Willy was no different to any one else as he too loved the circus. So when he was offered the chance to be taken he jumped at it, only to find he wasn’t only going to see the circus, he was going to be the circus.
Penarium is a sadistic circus where the audience want to see blood. In an arena filled with traps Willy, for the most part, has one job and that is to stay alive. This is where you the player come in. You control Willy as he jumps about avoiding all manner of death bringing implements in the hope of staying alive.
If I was to describe Penarium to you in just two words those two words would be infuriating and addictive. That is my opinion after a day of playing the game. I do however use the word playing loosely. A better description of how I spent my day would be that I spent it dying.
Upon loading you are presented with a short 2D animation that explains about Willy’s life as a boy on a farm and about the day that a circus caravan drove by and a mysterious man promises Willy exciting adventures, and a trip to the circus. This circus turns out to be the sadistic world of Penarium and the main attraction is Willy himself. You are told that all you need to do is survive. This sounds a little vague at first and you are left wondering what it means to just survive. This all becomes clear very quickly.
The arenas of the Penarium circus are made up of several different platforms and you must jump around them avoiding the weapons thrown at you. Sounds simple enough. It is not. The control scheme is easy to pick up with you only been able to run side to side and jump and this simplicity is one of the great joys of the game. The ring master acts as a kind of tutorial and he explains about your ability to double jump which quickly becomes an essential part of the game.
The first few levels see Willy easily smashing barrels and the game seems like it won’t be too much of a challenge. Then everything changes as rockets fall from the sky and death starts to come rather quickly and rather often. There are five achievements available with a total score of 100g just for dyeing over and over again.
There are three game modes available, campaign, arcade and multiplayer. The main game mode, the campaign, consists of several arenas each with ten levels. At first glance this seems really small and I thought I would be finished in an hour or so. I was wrong. Sailing through the first few levels I thought that my prediction would be correct and I sat back and relaxed a bit. I hit a wall at the fifth level, only about twenty minutes into the game. This wall took me over an hour to overcome and had me almost in tears at points. For that hour I raged and screamed but when I finally managed to get past the level the joy and celebrations were very real.
Eventually I had to stop playing the campaign as my body and nerves couldn’t take it anymore. I moved onto the arcade mode and this was were the real fun began. Arcade mode is very much like the campaign except that it’s one level and it is never ending. Your main objective is, like in the campaign, to smash barrels while trying your hardest not to get killed. To make things a little more interesting the developer decided that inside each of the barrels would be coins that you can then collect. These coins are added to a total every time that you die and these coins can be spent in a store to buy cards. These cards act as power-ups that last a limited amount of time and can include things like a speed boost or a coin magnet. Admittedly these power-ups do seem expensive, costing five hundred coins a time it took me a long time to be able to afford any of them. Better players than me will surely be able to do this much quicker though.
Every time you die in arcade mode your performance is compared to your personal best which means you can see how bad you did that time and gives you a need to have just one more go every time leading to hours lost just trying to beat that personal best. What also adds to this ‘just one more go’ feeling is the lack of load screens. This means that as soon as you die you can start again immediately with just the press of a button. The addition of leaderboards also means that you will find yourself competing with your friends as well as yourself.
The final game mode is multiplayer. To my disappointment I found that it wasn’t online and you could only play multiplayer locally with two controllers and a split screen. This in itself could be a lot of fun. What is not to like having a friend round to jump about on platforms, smashing barrels and dying a lot together.
Penarium is not a beautiful game but it doesn’t need to be. It’s beauty comes from how infuriating it is yet how addictive it very quickly becomes. Can you remember all of those hours you lost to Donkey Kong as a child? Well this is Donkey Kong after far too many espressos.
Penarium is available to download from the Xbox Store from September 22nd and will cost £7. This is very reasonable for a game that will suck you in for more than a few hours. With this game there will be many late nights and a great deal of stress but every time that you complete a level you will know that it has been worth it.
I have a warning for anyone thinking of buying this game though. You will rage quit!