The phrase “It’s Pizza Time” could cause a number of different reactions in your average person. Maybe it unlocks a memory of playing Turtles in Time at the arcade as a kid, maybe it makes you think of Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2, or maybe you’re hungry and it just gets you excited for some pizza. But for me, as someone who just played through the eccentric and thrilling Pizza Tower, when I hear Pizza Time, my hands start sweating, my pulse quickens, and anxiety creeps in as that music starts to slowly build in my head.
The debut game from developer Tour de Pizza could most simply be described as a spiritual successor to the Wario Land series, but it’s so much more than that. The speed of its 2D platforming can rival that of even the fastest Sonic games, its unforgettable art style oozes love for 90s Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows like Ren and Stimpy, and it’s absurdly packed with secrets and extra challenges. Then there’s the eclectic soundtrack, which expertly nails the unique theme and vibe of each of its levels, especially the anxiety-inducing main theme that kicks in at the end of every stage as you race back to the start to avoid getting killed by an evil pizza face. Not only is Pizza Tower an adrenaline-filled thrill ride from start to finish, it’s one of the most creative 2D platformers I’ve played in quite some time.
Pizza Tower keeps things simple as far as its story goes: You play as Peppino Spaghetti, the down on his luck owner of Peppino Pizza, who suddenly finds himself frantically climbing the neighboring Pizza Tower in an effort to stop the giant pizza in the sky from blowing up his shop with a laser. The art has an intentionally low grade look that generally seems like it was made 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, flipping between being an absolute nervous wreck, to a rabid psychopath as he bulldozes his way through lines of enemies, to a musclebound anime protagonist. It’s absolutely unhinged, and does a great job of emulating that 90’s cartoon style of characters constantly being drawn off-model for comedic effect.
Return to Wario Land
While Pizza Tower may get most of the inspiration for its mechanics from the Wario Land series, its levels adhere to the Sonic the Hedgehog mantra of “gotta go fast.” Peppino’s most important technique is the ability to start a dash, and once he builds up enough momentum, he’s able to bulldoze his way through enemies, objects, and even walls without slowing down. Fans of Wario Land 4 in particular will be very familiar with this technique, but the big difference here is that Peppino can also maintain momentum while running up walls, allowing him to navigate through nearly every basic element of any level while continuously running at full speed. This essentially makes Pizza Tower feel like a modern version of Wario Land if it were developed by a speedrunner.
Peppino’s other abilities are all designed to keep his flow going. He can dive from the air at a 45-degree angle and land with a roll that lets him continue sprinting, he can use a shoryuken-like uppercut get some extra vertical height on a jab while also hitting enemies above him, and most crucially, he has a dashing grab attack that can snatch enemies and allow him to turn them into deadly projectiles. That grab attack can also be used as a way to quickly gain momentum for a dash, making it so that even if your sprint is cut short by a hazard or straight vertical wall, you can get right back up to full speed almost immediately.
All of this amounts to a game that, when played well, has a speed and pace that rivals that of a Sonic game. But it isn’t just about hastily smashing through walls and plowing through enemies. Just about every single one 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 Night at Freddy’s inspired “Don’t Make a Sound,” which features enemies that will trigger an alarm if they spot you, chasing you down with the threat of a genuinely startling jump scare if you’re caught – or a unique power up that transforms Peppino and completely changes up his abilities. For example, in the level Pizzascape, Peppino can pick up a sword to transform into a knight in armor, which will cause him to slide down slopes, break metal blocks just by standing on them, and pierce through rats that otherwise cannot be killed.
The best trick Pizza Tower takes from Wario Land is a countdown that starts once you reach the end goal of every level, forcing you to quickly race back to the entrance in a limited amount of time. It’s not a simple retracing of your steps either – paths that were previously blocked off will now be open, and the route you initially took will very often be closed off. This frantic race to the start is made even better by the incredible anxiety-inducing theme that starts off like a warning siren and slowly builds before reaching an absolute fever pitch as the timer gets dangerously close to zero. It helps that the stakes during these final moments are high, because if you don’t reach the start before time runs out, you have to do the whole level again. It’s a punishing mechanic, but one where the intensity and relief of success is well worth the cost of failure.
In addition to the main 20 levels, which are split across five floors of the tower, there are also a handful of truly great boss fights that do a wonderful job of exploring Peppino’s surprisingly deep moveset in entertaining ways. His taunt actually doubles as a parry, which adds a fun defensive element to each boss battle by giving him another way to avoid damage beyond jumping or quickly dashing out of the way. Several fights even give him a gun, like the second boss battle against the vigilante, making them almost Mega Man-like with the ways the boss arenas are structured and how you have to analyze the moveset and patterns of your foe.
Pizza Tower Screenshots
Pizza Tower is not a terribly long game, with my first playthrough running about five to six hours, but the levels feel endlessly replayable. That’s not only thanks to the fact that it’s just fun to try and master these stages and shoot for higher score ranks, but also because every level is packed with secrets. Each one has three secret bonus rooms, a hidden treasure that requires you find both a custodian and the door he unlocks, and a pizza portal that asks you to do an extra lap of the race back to the start to gain even more points on a level. If you’re able to find all of those things on a single run, you’ll gain the coveted “P” rank. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, but it’s a fun challenge to undertake that will certainly add many more hours to my playtime.