Penarium (XB1) Review

Ken McKown

Cirque du Slay.

I love trial and error games when they are fast and frantic. Super Meat Boy and Trials are some of the best things to come out of Xbox Live Arcade last generation, and now with the new consoles, it is time for a new hero. Penarium looks harmless on the surface, but this twitchy arcade title is quick with punishment. There are dangers all around and completing levels takes skill right out of the gate, but quick restarts and spot-on controls make this an adventure worth having.

Players take on the role of Willy, our pudgy hero who is caged at the beginning of each level. His goal is to survive one of the most brutal sideshows of all-time. Each level begins with the ringmaster giving Willy a quick lesson in what will be required of him, followed by the cage unleashing him into certain doom. Rockets, saw blades, and much more stand in his way of survival in a series of patience-testing challenges.


MSRP: $9.99
Platforms: XB1, PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $9.99

It might look harmless from the pixelated visuals, but this is one brutal game. When Willy collides with a saw blade, bits and pieces of his poor body go flying. Sure it is cartoony in nature, but also gruesome. It is also disturbing when I realized that this was all done in front of a live audience for amusement. I suppose it is kind of like South Park, when it looks innocent on the surface, it is easier to forgive some of its more grueling realities.

The campaign mode in Penarium is actually kind of beefy. 30 levels, each with their own style of play keeps things interesting. While some objectives start to repeat, I did like that it was more than just survive the entire time. There are also things such as staying in a light beam until time runs out or collecting colored items to put into the correct pots. The diversity is appreciated. It is challenging, but even novices can likely best it in around three hours with dedication.

After the campaign ends there are other modes to round out the package. These mostly consist of collecting items or surviving as long as possible. There are leader boards to compare with others, but nothing overly in-depth.

There is also a multiplayer mode for up to two players. This can be played either cooperatively or competitively. It is much more fun to go head-to-head for sure. The chaos that spawns from matches is outstanding. Sadly like a lot of other indie titles on the system, this is all restricted to local play. No online matches are available.


Still, none of this works without precise controls. The team at Self Made Miracle have done just that. While simple, they are spot-on in execution. Jumping feels just floaty enough to require adjustment, but also extremely precise. Willy may be rotund, but he has a mean double jump.

Penarium is a great title that channels that addictive nature of “just one more” in its game play. It is just challenging enough to keep me coming back, and forgiving enough to annoy me at times. I do wish levels were not done in stages, as getting to the final challenge only to have to do it all over again is a pain for sure. Outside of that fans of titles like Super Meat Boy definitely need to check out this quirky arcade title.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.


  • Precise controls
  • Addictive nature
  • Variety in objectives


  • Multi-section challenges
  • No online mode
  • Lack of visual variety


Ken McKown

Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.

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