Steam Next Fest doesn’t officially start until next Monday, February 5th, but what the heck, everyone’s putting their demos live early this year, it seems, and another one that’s just popped the cork ahead of time is Pepper Grinder, the excellent-looking pixel platformer where you’re burrowing through bedrock with a heckin’ great drill in your hands as you attempt to steal back your treasure from some pesky pirates. I was instantly smitten with this one when it was first unveiled at the end of 2022, and the more I’ve seen of it, the more it’s risen into becoming one of my most anticipated games of 2024. Happily, its Next Fest demo doesn’t disappoint, as it not only feels wonderful in the hands, but ooof, it really knows how to do a good plinky plink coin jostle. My word.
You’ll be hearing that sound a lot in Pepper Grinder, as the pirate thieves who made off with your stash in the first place clearly didn’t do a very good job of covering their tracks. There are coins everywhere in this game, acting as handy guide markers to help steer you through all the rock, sand and water standing in your way. With just a squeeze of the right trigger, Pepper can tear straight through it with her handy drill, and part of the challenge is guiding her through increasingly tight and tricky passageways to get to the end of each level.
It starts off easily enough, teaching you the basics of boring through dirt and boosting at the right moment so you can leap across huge gaps to continue your journey. But before long you’ll be navigating bristling briar patches that shiver menacingly when you skim too close to them, as well as lots of unexploded war bombs – though watch out for the final stretch of the third level in the demo. It’s quite the spectacle.
That third level marks the end of Pepper Grinder’s Next Fest demo, but there’s also a shop you can hang out in where you can spend all those clinky clink coins you’ve collected on stickers and sticker boards to create fun little dioramas of its characters, enemies and backdrops. But there are also five extra secret coins in each level, too, which will require a bit more detective work to uncover. These can be spend on extra health nuggets – which you may not need at this stage of the game, but they’ll no doubt come in handy later on when the difficulty starts racheting up a notch.
Really, though, Pepper Grinder just feels lovely in the hands – definitely one for game pad rumble fans, this one – and the act of piloting Pepper through each level is just as joyous as it looks in the trailers. The plinky plink sound of the coins helps a lot, too, I should add. Like you’re whisking your hand through a pile of treasure, or (for a more mundane image) a handful of pound coins in your jeans pocket. A truly exceptional bit of sound design from developers Ahr Ech, there.
But enough of me waffling. You should just go and play it for yourself, which you can go and do right now on Steam. Still no word on when Pepper Grinder is coming out in full yet, but it should be sometime later this year.