[Review] Pizza Tower

Publisher: Tour De Pizza
Developer: Tour De Pizza
Platform: PC (Steam)
Release date: January 26, 2023
Review date: July 10, 2023

Years ago, I watched a guy named Vinny play not one, but two demos for a game called Pizza Tower. I didn’t try them myself, and though they seemed like neat little game demos, I didn’t think much of them. It caught me off guard when the full game released earlier this year on Steam, and at $20 and with all of the praise it was getting, it seemed like it was worth checking out. I’m glad to say that in Pizza Tower’s case, the praise was more than warranted.

The opening cutscene is a little vague, but I’ve tried my best to interpret the game’s plot – Pizza Tower stars Peppino, a down-on-his-luck pizzeria owner in a considerable amount of debt. Suddenly a floating pizza face appears and threatens to blow up Peppino’s pizzeria, leading Peppino to rush into the pizza face monster’s lair to defeat him before his pizzeria gets destroyed. I’m not sure whether Peppino owes the pizza face man money or he’s some pizza god looking for someone to mess with, it’s a little confusing.

Look, the plot’s not important, but while Pizza Tower’s story lacks cohesion, its flavor certainly does not. The entirety of Pizza Tower has a crudely drawn, pixelated MS-Paint art style which, combined with animation reminiscent of irreverent 90s cartoons like Ren & Stimpy, make for a unique and visually appealing game. Peppino and the rest of the cast have a distinct “cheap pizza mascot” feel to them, and the phenomenally catchy soundtrack accompanies the visuals flawlessly. Pizza Tower does a remarkably good job of making me want pizza every time I play it, see it, or hear it, and I consider that an accomplishment.

But style points don’t matter if the game itself isn’t any good, and very good it is. Pizza Tower takes after the Wario Land games, especially Wario Land 4, but that’s not to say it’s a clone – there are definitely bits of Sonic, Metroid, and maybe a little Jazz Jackrabbit in here too. Compared to Wario, Peppino is an olympic athlete. He can run extremely fast, even up walls, can break blocks by running or sliding into them, enabling you to find secret areas and shortcuts, and can even jump infinitely high after building enough speed, like the shine spark in Super Metroid. Although he lacks a direct attack, he can defeat most enemies by grabbing them and pummeling them, or just charging into them, and also has a taunt move that seems useless at first, but is actually a counter attack. Peppino’s controls do take a little getting used to, but they’re tight and responsive, making it very satisfying when you do.

There are about 20 levels in the titular Pizza Tower, and most of them have their own gimmick mechanic, not unlike the Donkey Kong Country series. From eating hot wings for spitting fire, getting squished into a pizza box which you can flap for mid-air jumps, eating a ghost pepper that literally turns Peppino into a ghost, to playing mini-golf for primo burgs, every stage has something new to keep the game feeling hot and fresh. A couple levels have you play as Peppino’s business partner Gustavo (think Mario to Peppino’s Wario) and his giant rat buddy, Brick, who are more bouncy and confrontational than Peppino. Even Mort the Chicken, a failed mascot character from his own original Playstation game, makes an appearance to help Peppino cross otherwise impossible gaps.

Peppino can get hurt, but he can’t die, though that’s not to say Pizza Tower is without any challenge. Each level has five toppin’s, funky mascot characters based on common pizza ingredients, for you to find, giving you $10 each. Out in the hub world, by paying a certain amount of money to a loan shark named Mr. Stick, he’ll grant access to the boss of the current floor. Beat the boss and get the key that unlocks the elevator up. And even though you can’t die, you can still lose – every level has a giant sentient load bearing pillar that must be knocked down. Doing so opens the exit, the same door you entered to level from, but also starts a timer. Run out of time and the pizza face demon comes and strikes you down, requiring you to start the level over again – there are no checkpoints. This mechanic is borrowed from Wario Land 4, but Peppino’s speed and control are what set it apart, and the music that plays during the escape sequences has already reached iconic status.

If you’re feeling especially bold, you can enter a portal to initiate lap 2, warping you back to where the pillar was, which gives you more opportunities to increase your score. When you finish a level, you’re graded from D to S based on your score, but you can also get an illustrious P rank that requires near perfection and memorization of the stage, including doing lap 2 and knowing where all of the secrets are. P-ranking every stage is required for 100% completion, so I passed on that challenge, but I am aware of how addicting that thrill of earning that P-rank screen feels. The alternate ending only requires that you find all of the treasures in each stage, so don’t worry too much about getting 100%. I spent around 9 hours in Pizza Tower, but your mileage will vary depending on your skill and how much you're willing to get 100%.

I had an absolute blast with Pizza Tower - with its smooth, though sometimes finicky controls, excellent level design and mechanics, and catchy music that perfectly compliment the gameplay, it’s a shockingly well-polished game from start to finish. Everything about it exudes quality and is everything I want in a game, and at a budget price to boot. It is just plain fun. Period.