What's the word for when something's like a dolphin? Dolphinesque? Cetecean? Oh, "delphine" apparently. There you go, we've both learned something today. The protagonist of Pepper Grinder, she's delphine, she is.
That might surprise you, given she (Pepper) is not a sea mammal, but in fact a squat, teal-haired woman holding a drill almost as big as her (Grinder). But the main way you move around in the game is by burrowing into the ground or whirling through water, curving round in a graceful arc, and bursting up into the air—like a dolphin swimming down and then up to jump over the waves. Delphine.
It takes some adjusting, learning to navigate obstacles, leap over gaps, and ambush enemies with this more flowing and momentum-driven form of movement—through most of the first level, I feared I might just be too clumsy-handed for it. But it eventually clicks, and when it does, it creates a wonderful flow state that can carry you through a whole level without ever slowing down.
Speedrunners, take note: you're going to have a lot of fun mastering this game. A time attack mode for each level gives you concrete goals to aim for, but I found myself replaying levels in the demo just for the joy of trying for more and more seamless runs.
That isn't the only way to enjoy them, however. Each level is also bristling with secrets to discover—usually found behind drillable walls—encouraging you to take another slower, more observant journey through them. And then there are the jewels and coins scattered through each level, clearly demonstrating the most ideal path—learning how to grab all of those without stopping is its own challenge, and the faster you can do it, the higher your place on the leaderboards.
The result is that each of the seemingly simple levels is wonderfully layered, a little playground to be poked and prodded at along your way to mastering it. It's not a new formula, for sure—you can trace Pepper Grinder's roots all the way back to Sonic the Hedgehog, and at points it reminded me of the rather more recent OlliOlli World—but the combination of very deft level design with a satisfying new form of movement is an electric one.
Throw in some rather charming pixel art—I particularly like the Narling enemies, little jellybean-shaped monsters that pop out of hanging nests and burrow after you with their narwhal horns—and you've got a really promising platformer, all the more impressive considering it's being developed almost entirely by one person, music and port work aside.
If you like the sound of delphine drilling, give it a try for yourself—the demo is available now and all through this month's Steam NextFest.