Pedro and the Pearls of Peril
Pedro and the Pearls of Peril is the kind of game that's likely to appeal to multiple demographics. First of all, there will be those in the mood for a good action-shooter, with some shades of Metroidvania and a masochistic edge of difficulty. Then there will be those who'll be convinced once they see the name of Robot Wants retro-maven Hamumu on the title screen. There will be those Cub Scouts who just happened to stumble over the game on the Boys Life website, and are intrigued by what wacky new adventures Pedro the Mail Burro has gotten himself into this time. And last, but not least, there is the not insignificant group of gamers who have a thing for alliteration. Never count them out.
See, your friendly neighborhood postal-donkey has flown out to the Bermuda Triangle in order to recover the mail recently lost in a barge capsizing. Use the [arrow] keys to swim around and collect envelopes scattered about the landscape. There are also enemies to deal with, and the more envelopes you recover, the more aggressive they get. Aim and shoot your weapons with the mouse. The more you use a weapon, the more XP it gains with upgrades to choose at every level. Floating near clams gives you a chance of discovering a pearl. These pearls can be traded to your friend Ordep in exchange for new weapons (switched between with the [1-5] keys), power-ups and upgrades. Specifically, you'll be required to get some rock-destroying mines or lasers to reach the lower parts of the ocean. There are 49 envelopes to find... and one more that won't be gotten without a fight.
Analysis: Hamumu's other work for Boy's Life, including the previously reviewed Mad Planet, has had that maddening combination of quality presentation and nerve-shattering twitiness. While Pedro and the Pearls of Peril continues that general trend, the difficulty is better integrated into the proceedings giving it a much greater sense of fairness. It does still has the oddity of tacked-on sponsorship: as far as can be told, Hamumu originated the premise in a Ludum Dare entry, with the scuba-diving envelope-collecting donkey a late and not-entirely sensical addition to the premise. That said, one should never look a gift-burro in the mouth, especially when the burro is delivering quality retro action.
The difficulty of Pedro and the Pearls of Peril is indeed relentless, but that itself distinguishes it from other Metroidvania analogues. While buying power-ups makes the central goal of finding envelopes easier, the "more envelopes = more enemy aggression" is a touch of gameplay-mechanical genius that prevents things from ever getting tedious. Even when nearing the end, players will still get that jolt of "Oh crap!" when a pack of piranhas, electric eels, and chompy angler fish descend on the hapless mail-donkey.
The trade-off for this consistency is a steep initial learning curve. When one is told that collecting envelopes will lead to victory, it is only natural that it will become your primary objective. By the time it is realized that the game is practically impossible without certain upgrades, the aggression of the enemies may be too high. With their their random locations and diminution of supply upon death, it can be keyboard-poundingly difficult to initially amass the number of pearls needed to even reach the lower levels of the ocean. Perhaps this is the peril the title alludes to? Combined with how weak the rock-blasting weapons start off as, any first attempts into tunneling will be met by more deadly nautical ambushes than the average film from The Asylum.
While this difficulty spike at the start may be too much for the local Bobcat or WEBLOS, it shouldn't prove too much for the seasoned online gamer, especially one who knows in advance that they'll have to play smart to survive. The combination of gorgeous pixel art, frenetic gameplay, and octopi in pirate hats is just too hard to resist. It just goes to show that Hamumu is the kind of developer who'll never just mail something in.