Penarium

Game review by
David Chapman, Common Sense Media
Penarium Game Poster Image
Warped brutal funhouse of frustration tests gamer skills.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Never run off with strangers or run away to join the circus. Learn to think through any given obstacle. Standard "survive against forces of evil" tale.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are two main characters: Willy, hapless kid thrown unwittingly into Penarium deathtraps, and the Director, sadistic ringmaster of the deadly circus. Willy tries to persevere over the odds, but neither character is a positive role model.

Ease of Play

Simple controls; easy to learn. But gameplay is extremely fast, with a massive difficulty curve. Since minor mistakes cause instant death, likely to frustrate players regularly.

Violence

Plenty of blood, gore, violence since point is to survive variety of deathtraps. But highly pixelated style shows death, dismemberment as a few blood-red, flesh-colored squares.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Penarium is a fast-paced downloadable action game that challenges players to run, jump, and dodge to survive a series of carnival-themed deathtraps. Aside from regularly killing the player, the game features a dark humor, often mocking the player for failing a challenge. But though the deathtraps are gruesome, the depiction of the violence isn't; death results in red and flesh-colored squares due to the pixelated nature of the graphics. The game is easy to learn, but the nature of the challenges themselves can cause a lot of frustration because minor mistakes can result in instantaneous death. The game also features both co-op and competitive player for two players in either local or online play; parents should be aware that multiplayer is unmoderated and can expose players to inappropriate content, but party chat during these games is completely optional.

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What's it about?

In PENARIUM, players step into the well-worn overalls of Willy, a young farm boy with big dreams of running off for a life of adventure. When a mysterious circus caravan pulls up and offers the adventure he craves, Willy jumps at the chance to be part of the show. What he doesn't realize is this particular circus is a sadistic sideshow of death and dismemberment -- and now Willy is the star performer. Running, jumping, and dodging all sorts of weird, wacky, and lethal obstacles, Willy must entertain the crowds and hope he survives until the next performance.

Is it any good?

Every kid has dreamed of joining the circus one day, but what if that dream became your worst nightmare? That's the premise behind Penarium. As Willy, players are put through a series of challenges, trying to appease the crowd while attempting not to get chopped into chunks, burnt to a crisp, shot full of holes, or blown to bits at the whim of the ringmaster. Most games have a bit of a learning curve, starting off simple and gradually getting harder as the players' skills improve. Penarium takes a different approach, tossing the player off the top of that learning curve without a parachute.

Calling Penarium "difficult" is an understatement. The fact is, you're going to die ... a lot. The game is so fast and so random, you're forced to rely on lightning-quick reflexes and a lot of luck to progress very far. Even if you think you've learned every pattern of every trap and got your timing down to a science, you're still going to end up a chunky, pixelated mess on the circus floor more times than you'll be able to count. It's a nerve-racking, stress-inducing experience that'll leave you a quivering ball of anxiety in the end, but somehow it's still an addictively masochistic game that's hard to stop playing. Just be careful not to destroy whatever system you're playing it on when you start throwing things.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the potential risks of dealing with strangers. Why should you question the motives of people you've never met? What is the best way to handle being approached by a stranger?

  • How important is it to think on your feet? What are the best ways to adjust your actions based on changes in the world around you?

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