The phrase “It’s Pizza Time” might elicit a number of different reactions from the average person. Maybe it brings back memories of playing Turtles in Time in the arcade as a kid, maybe it reminds you of Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2, or maybe you’re hungry and it just makes you curious about pizza. But for me, as someone who has just played the eccentric and exciting Pizza Tower, when I listen to Pizza Time my hands start to sweat, my pulse quickens and anxiety creeps in as this music slowly builds in my head .
Developer Tour de Pizza’s debut game could most easily be described as the spiritual successor to the Wario Land series, but it’s so much more than that. Its 2D platforming speed rivals even the fastest Sonic games, and its unforgettable art style exudes love for ’90s Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows like Ren and Stimpy, and it’s absurdly packed with secrets and added challenges. Then there’s the eclectic soundtrack, which expertly captures each level’s unique theme and atmosphere, particularly the fear-inducing main theme that kicks in at the end of each stage as you race back to the start to avoid being killed by a badass pizza -Face. Not only is Pizza Tower an adrenaline-pumping thrill from start to finish, it’s also one of the most creative 2D platformers I’ve played in quite a while.
Pizza Tower keeps things simple as far as its story goes: you play as Peppino Spaghetti, the hapless owner of Peppino Pizza, who suddenly frantically climbs onto the neighboring Pizza Tower to stop the giant pizza in the sky from his shop with one Blow up lasers. The graphics have an intentionally low-quality look that generally looks like it was created in MS Paint, but it all somehow comes together to give Pizza Tower a strikingly unique look. Peppino himself is one of the most hilariously expressive characters I’ve ever seen, alternating between an absolute wreck, a rabid psychopath who picks his way through rows of enemies, and a muscle-bound anime protagonist. It’s absolutely off the charts and does a great job of mimicking the ’90s cartoon style of constantly pulling characters off the model for comedic effect.
Return to Wario Land
While Pizza Tower draws most of its mechanic inspiration from the Wario Land series, its levels adhere to the Sonic the Hedgehog mantra of “must be quick”. Peppino’s main technique is the ability to start a sprint, and once he builds up enough momentum, he can smash his way through enemies, objects, and even walls without slowing down. Wario Land 4 fans in particular will be very familiar with this technique, but the big difference here is that Peppino can maintain momentum even when running up walls, allowing him to navigate through almost every basic element of each level while continually progressing running at full speed. This essentially makes Pizza Tower feel like a modern take on Wario Land when developed by a speedrunner.
Pizza Tower feels like a modern take on Wario Land when developed by a speedrunner
Peppino’s other abilities are all designed to keep his flow going. He can leap out of the air at a 45-degree angle and land with a roll that keeps him sprinting, he can use a Shoryuken-like uppercut to jab for some extra vertical height while also dodging enemies meets, and most importantly, he has a dashing grab attack that he can use to snatch enemies and turn them into deadly projectiles. This grapple attack can also be used to quickly gain momentum for a sprint, so even if your sprint is interrupted by an obstacle or a straight vertical wall, you can get back into full swing almost immediately.
All of this boils down to a game that, when played well, has a speed and pace that rivals that of a Sonic game. But it’s not all about hastily breaching walls and plowing through enemies. Almost each of the 20 levels in Pizza Tower is built around some sort of creative central hook. Whether that’s a unique feature of the level itself – like the Five Nights at Freddy’s-inspired “Don’t Make a Sound” that features enemies that set off an alarm if they spot you, and you with the threat of a really surprising jump scare if you get caught – or a unique power-up that transforms Peppino and completely changes his abilities. For example, in the Pizzascape level, Peppino can pick up a sword to transform into a knight in armor, causing him to slide down slopes, break blocks of metal simply by standing on them, and pierce rats that otherwise could not be killed.
The best trick Pizza Tower adopts from Wario Land is a countdown that starts once you reach the end goal of each level, forcing you to quickly run back to the entrance in a limited time. It’s not easy retracing your steps either – paths that were previously blocked will now be opened up, and the path you originally took will very often be blocked. This frantic race to the start is made even better by the incredible terrifying theme that starts out like a warning siren and slowly builds before reaching absolute fever pitch as the timer gets perilously close to zero. It helps that the stakes are high in those final moments, because if you don’t get to the start before time runs out, you’ll have to complete the entire level again. It’s a punishing mechanic, but one where the intensity and relief of success are worth the cost of failure.
Pizza Tower’s best trick is a countdown that starts when you reach the end goal of a level, forcing you to run back to the entrance.
In addition to the 20 main levels spread across five floors of the tower, there are also a handful of really great boss fights that explore Peppino’s surprisingly deep moveset beautifully in a fun way. His taunt doubles as a parry, which adds a fun defensive element to any boss fight by giving him another way to avoid damage than jumping or running quickly out of the way. Several fights even give him a weapon, like the second boss fight against the vigilante, making them almost Mega Man-esque with the way the boss arenas are structured and the way you have to analyze your enemy’s movesets and patterns.
Pizza Tower screenshots
Pizza Tower isn’t a particularly long game, my first playthrough took around five to six hours, but the levels feel endlessly replayable. This is not only because these stages are just plain fun to beat and shoot for higher scores, but also because each level is full of secrets. Each has three secret bonus rooms, a hidden treasure that requires you to find both a warden and the door he unlocks, and a pizza portal that asks you to do an extra lap of the race back to the start for even more points just to collect. Finding all of these things in a single run will earn you the coveted “P” rank. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a fun challenge that will surely add many more hours to my playtime.