Review: “Pizza Tower” delivers in every way


In the immortal words of Tobey Maguire: Pizza Time.

Peppino breakdances with musicians in The Pig City. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

Something I’ll always miss after deleting Twitter is how easily it lets you discover games. Follow the right gaming YouTubers and journalists who retweet cool indie developers, and you’ll constantly discover incredible game concepts you’ve always wished for – and some you didn’t know you wanted. Around 2018, someone on my feed retweeted development footage of Tour De Pizza’s debut game, “Pizza Tower.” And I’m obsessed with it.

Those who know Wario from Mario spinoffs or the WarioWare series might not recognize the cult classic Wario Land series, which hasn’t seen installments since “Wario Land: Shake It!” in 2008. Since then, fans sustained themselves on games like “Shovel Knight: King of Cards” that take influence from the series’ inventive gameplay and comedy.  I saw “Pizza Tower” fill that void and then some, it caught my attention.

“Pizza Tower” wears its inspiration – specifically, “Wario Land 4” – on its sleeve. If you haven’t played that Game Boy Advance classic, it features Wario hunting for treasure by using his inability to die. You’ll dash, bash and grapple enemies, and even use counterproductive, self-harming “power-ups” like flattening Wario. Levels end with tense escape sequences in which you play the level in reverse. Think Indiana Jones, but as a professional wrestling heel.

Key art of “Pizza Tower” characters. Left to right: Protagonist Peppino Spaghetti, along with two of the game’s bosses, Pepperman and The Noise. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

Got all that? Good. Now, add the high-speed platforming, replayability and ranking system of Sonic games, and top it off with the fluid animation of ‘90s cartoons like “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” plus the attitude and tone of French comics. Substitute treasure for pizza toppings, bake for five years and voila! That’s “Pizza Tower.”

Our Wario stand-in, Peppino Spaghetti, enters the Pizza Tower to save his restaurant from imminent destruction by a giant floating pizza named Pizzaface. On paper, that probably sounds like a simple plot I would’ve written in elementary school when every kid thought “this food has a silly name” was peak comedy. But you’re not playing this for deep storytelling. The game knows this, and it takes full advantage of its stupidity.

Peppino taunts alongside several collectible items. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

Recently, story-driven games like “Forspoken” and “High on Life” have been criticized for painfully unfunny dialogue, so it’s refreshing to see a game that makes me laugh as much as “Pizza Tower” does. From eccentric visual gags to a silly taunt button that parries enemy attacks, it’s a comedy goldmine. At the core of “Pizza Tower” humor is its cast of goofballs, and Peppino himself is the standout.

Peppino is best described as an amalgamation of Wario’s family: Mario’s determination, Luigi’s anxiety and Waluigi’s raw sex appeal. Most importantly, he’s competing with Wario, who is so infinitely hilarious that only the combined powers of “Saturday Night Live” and Elon Musk could make him not amusing. A successful stand-in would capture a fraction of that energy, yet Peppino goes a step beyond, earning the title of Wario’s comedic equal.

Title card for the space-themed area Deep-Dish 9. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

The madcap art style is what truly sells the comedy in “Pizza Tower.” In stills, it looks rough in the best possible way, like when you open MS Paint to make a low-effort meme and get so invested that you make high art. The characters and backgrounds ooze charm from how crude, yet well-made they are. Even the level title cards creatively use negative space, clearly showing artistic knowledge.

In motion, however, the game looks so undeniably gorgeous in a way that text and contributed photos can’t do justice. There’s no reason the animations should be as fast and smooth as they are, from Peppino’s exaggerated movement to the impressive amount of user interface animations, but I love them to death. This aesthetic totally enhances the comedic tone, as well as the velocity and magnitude of players’ actions.

As someone who considers platformers her bread and butter, I’m almost guaranteed to recommend them if moving alone is fun, and Peppino has some of the most satisfying controls I’ve seen in years. It’s really just what would happen if Wario got his hands on the Chaos Emeralds, and the resulting gameplay feels faster, punchier and much funnier because of the absurd amount of movement options at your disposal.

Key art of Peppino’s dash attack. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

Beyond just copying Wario’s movement, “Pizza Tower” stands out for its sense of momentum, as you chain dashes, grabs, jumps and rolls to build up speed and blast through everything. You’ll also use a smorgasbord of ridiculous transformations and weapons, but Peppino’s power level is at its strongest in his default form. Half the game’s comedy comes from the power trip of cheesing levels as the world’s strongest pizza chef.

Of course, what good is a power trip if every obstacle is easily overcome, and you don’t even have the stakes of dying? This is where the game’s Sonic influences pair perfectly with Wario’s game design. Like most Sonic games, its difficulty comes from staying in a flow-state and pulling off insane stunts, so playing better makes it feel better to play.

Sustaining combos by destroying enemies and collecting items in quick succession will boost your rank at the end of each level, up to Sonic’s famous S-ranks. However, the escape sequences won’t let you off easy. You’ll enter Pizza Time – which I can only describe as “how delivering in 30 minutes or it’s free feels” – and your score drains every second unless you continue playing well and raising combos.

Peppino escapes a level during Pizza Time, with his friend Gustavo directing him to the exit. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

You’d think “Pizza Tower” would be complete sensory overload due to its chaotic visuals, pulse-pounding escape scenes and the sheer amount of movement options, but getting S-ranks isn’t as intimidating as it looks. Every move is designed to smoothly transition into each other, and while maintaining speed may take practice, you have a lot of options to regain speed if anything stops you.

Because you only need collectibles to progress, though, combos and ranks are completely optional. This design choice gives “Pizza Tower” one of the best types of difficulty: a low barrier to entry with a high skill ceiling. The game also offers tons of achievements for completionists, and although they’re purely for bragging rights, you can even earn P-ranks for collecting everything in a level and doing a second lap during Pizza Time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sound design. In addition to zany sound effects, the soundtrack is filled with nonstop bangers, with several genres like electronic, funk, metal, chiptune rock and what I can only describe as “music to microwave food to.” Many of the best tracks are, like the art style, influenced by French culture, including French house and one particular song reminiscent of Justice’s “Waters of Nazareth.”

Peppino duels the Vigilante, a gunslinging cheese slime. Contributed graphic by Tour De Pizza.

Saying more would spoil some of this game’s craziest moments. Despite following development updates for years, my five-hour playthrough had numerous left-field surprises, from unhinged bosses to the outrageous variety of level concepts. All I’ll say is that the climax feels right out of a shonen anime, and while it’s blatantly foreshadowed, the final level was exactly the victory lap I wanted (due in no small part to its incredible music).

There really isn’t anything to nitpick due to how polished “Pizza Tower” is. Its gameplay, graphics, soundtrack, difficulty level and humor are cooked to perfection, plus the optional challenges and high skill ceiling make for great replayability. The only thing that really grinds my gears is the absence of the best taunt from early demo builds, but since those demos are still available to play, I’ll live.

My compliments to the chefs at Tour De Pizza for creating not only a serious contender for 2023’s game of the year, but one of my new favorite games. Whatever comes next for the developers after “Pizza Tower,” I say we let them cook.

“Pizza Tower” is available for $19.99 on Steam.

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Managing Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the managing editor and webmaster for the Journal, formerly the opinions editor during the 2021/2022 school year. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.