by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Fun above all
As a game journalist, I have to ask a lot of questions when I’m playing a game. Does it look good? Does it have any technical issues? How are the controls? Does it tell a good story? But all too often I find myself forgetting to ask the most important question you can ask of a game. Is it fun? I played Penarium at Gamescom this year, and the answer to that question is unequivocally: Yes.
And as with many games which are fun above all else, it’s its simplicity that makes it so easy to like. In Penarium you play as Willy, a young boy who wanted to go and see the circus so bad that he got in line. What he didn’t realise until too late was that the line was to actually enter the circus as a performer. Now, it seems like everything is trying to kill him.
In single player it’s an arcadey survival game where you have to collect coins from barrels and stay alive for as long as possible. It starts out slow. A barrel spawns and you have to jump over platforms to go and grab it. Coins pour out, you collect them, and another barrel spawns elsewhere. As long as you don’t fall off the platforms, you’ll be fine. However, various hazards will be working against you at the same time.
To begin with, a device scrolls across the top of the screen which corresponds to your movements. Every so often it drops a heavy ball which rolls between the platforms and drops off the bottom of the screen. Soon things become more frantic. The device might turn into a gun which sprays bullets. Or maybe it’ll spew forth torrents of water which push you backwards. It could turn into a laser which scrolls across the screen, forcing you to jump off the right side of the screen and appear back on the left to stay ahead of it. Another device might appear at the bottom and fire things at you from another angle. A lot can happen, and you never know what’s coming next.
Single player is an engaging “one more go” style game where you’ll be competing with your friends’ scores on the leaderboards. However the local multiplayer is where the real fun begins. In the co-operative mode, there are two buttons. You must each be standing on your designated coloured button at the same time, which starts a quick timer. When the timer runs out you get a point and the buttons move to another location. Of course, all the same hazards from the single player make an appearance, and you’ll laugh as you watch your friend attempting to dodge stuff to get to his button while you’re safely standing on yours. Then a spike will appear underneath you and you’ll both laugh while you wait for the quick respawn time.
In versus mode, the gameplay switches up again. This time there’s only one button between you, so you’re fighting for space. All the same stuff happens as in the other modes, except here you’re able to jump on each other’s heads to perform a stun for a couple of seconds. It’s hugely satisfying to leave your opponent behind you as you jump on the button, especially if it means they meet their grisly demise thanks to a trap.
Promising multiplayer fun
I played a lot of games at Gamescom this year, but this was the only one where I had a smile on my face for the entire time. Penarium is another game to add to the resurgence of great local multiplayer titles that have been coming out over the past twelve months or so. This one will be out later this year, and you’ll have a lot of fun playing it.