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Peppino Spaghetti, a stout cartoon pizza chef poses dramatically alongside a cast of unusual friends, including two large sentient pineapples in sunglasses.

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Pizza Tower is paradise for Wario freaks

A frantic, fantastic retro platformer that goes above and beyond its inspirations

Image: Tour De Pizza via Polygon
Patrick Gill (he/him) has been making serious and unserious videos for Polygon since 2016. He also co-hosts & produces Polygon’s weekly livestreams on Twitch.

I simply cannot believe Pizza Tower is as good as it is. I don’t mean to doubt the skill of Tour De Pizza, the small studio behind the wacked-out platformer — it’s just that, in my experience, a retro-inspired indie title of this scope normally has some ambitious element that doesn’t quite land.

But not Pizza Tower. This game reaches for many things: precision platforming, expressive hand-drawn animation, heaps of game-changing power-ups, multiple playable characters, an all-bangers soundtrack, multi-stage boss battles, even a sports level — and its reach never exceeds its grasp. Pizza Tower firmly grips its ambitions in confident hands, and drives them headfirst through a stack of bricks.

Let me back up a bit.

Pizza Tower is a 2D platformer inspired by the Wario Land series, which was a quirky departure from Nintendo’s mainline Mario titles. Wario Land’s levels were less linear — full of switchbacks, gimmicks, hidden rooms, and puzzles. Wario’s move set was all his own. He didn’t have Mario’s ups, but he compensated with grapple attacks and a shoulder charge. He was also invincible (in some of the games).

Pizza Tower is a funhouse mirror reflection of Wario Land, with a Nicktoons-by-way-of-MS-Paint art treatment. Our not-Wario is Peppino Spaghetti: a quivering mass of anxiety and anger on a mission to save his pizzeria from the evil that dwells in the titular Pizza Tower.

It feels very good to play as little Peppino. His primary attack is a grapple with multiple directional follow-ups. He can chuck an enemy at another victim, punt them skyward, or hit ’em with a downright Zangiefian spinning piledriver. It’s a limited move set, but it’s snappy and intuitive, and I never got tired of seeing Peppino’s unhinged combat animations.

Pizza Tower’s movement systems and level layouts complement each other brilliantly. With a bit of a runway, Peppino can accelerate into a dramatic, sweaty sprint. He can clamber up sheer cliff faces, wall jump, use a Metroid-y shinespark to rocket upward, and smash downward with a belly flop. I had a whole lot of fun learning how these techniques could (and couldn’t) be chained together. There are limitations! Even as Peppino blazes through levels, the game rarely feels like it’s on autopilot. Dashing into a wall will bring you to a dead stop, while mindlessly holding the sprint button may leave you scrambling up a dead-end barricade.

Peppino Spaghetti, a stout pizza chef, sprints desperately through a sidescrolling videogame level. Image: Tour De Pizza

Which is all to say that navigating levels requires constant, thoughtful input — not just twitch reflexes. On top of the rock-solid movement system, most levels also throw in some sort of modifier. Maybe it’s a totally new player character. Maybe it’s portals. Maybe it’s a gun. I won’t spoil them all, because they are genuinely delightful and funny. No matter what the wrinkle is, the objective is to reach the end of the stage, knock down a pillar, and get the hell out of there before the whole place collapses.

I love the escape sequences. Each one sends you scrambling back to the start of the level, testing your memory of the level’s layout and your mastery of whatever level-specific gimmick you’ve been granted.

Notably, these sequences are one of the only parts of Pizza Tower that can result in a fail state. I think that’s really cool. Pizza Tower doesn’t have traditional difficulty levels. Instead, its difficulty is almost entirely self-serve. It’s as hardcore as you want it to be. Peppino has inherited Wario’s invincibility, so bumping into enemies only stuns him and hurts his combo meter (yes, there’s a combo meter). Pitfalls are nonlethal. Collectibles and secret areas can be tricky to track down, but they are largely optional. And even those frantic escape sequences give you a pretty generous countdown — but bold players can double down and attempt another lap before the timer expires.

I feel silly using the word “elegant” in relation to a game where a frenzied cartoon Italian uses a corpse as a skateboard — but Pizza Tower does indeed have an elegant-ass approach to game difficulty.

Peppino Spaghetti, a stout cartoon pizza chef, hangs in the air just inches above a mean-looking fish that’s trying to bite him Image: Tour De Pizza

Pizza Tower may be inspired by platformers of yore, but it’s much more than nostalgic fluff. It has sharpened, tuned, evolved, and damn near perfected this odd niche of platforming. It’s the rare homage that is actually better than the things that inspired it, and I think you should give it a try.

Mamma mia.

Pizza Tower was released on Jan. 26 on Steam. It’s not Steam Deck-verified yet, but I played the whole thing on there and it was great.