I can hardly say I knew what I was in for with Grime. This game has a murky and mysterious surface that almost always threatens to lead into the unsettling (and sometimes very much does). However, if you stay awhile, the rough exterior will quickly chip away into something increasingly fun, intriguing, and challenging. Grime is a tough rock to crack, but it’s also an amalgam of solid metroidvania and soulsborne mechanics built into a crumbled and diverse world of living stone that kept me peeling back its layers despite the challenge.
Pristine being in the land of the unclean
Grime’s beginning is a bit wild. Two assumedly almighty beings are cuddling, one breathes fancy magic breath into the other’s mouth, some cataclysm happens, and boom! You come out as a rock being with a black hole for a head. Moreover, you find yourself dumped at the lowest crag of this world. Mind you, you might be a rock being, but you’re not a rock monster (arguably at first anyways). No, “monster” is a title better held for all the other beings around you. You’re a smoothly carved stone Adonis in comparison and nearly every creature wishes they were you, some more aggressively than others. Your very being also apparently signals the possibility of catastrophe for this world. The higher up creatures don’t like that tidbit very much.
Grime’s setting feels unique in that pretty much every being in this world is made of living stone. The sentient ones at the bottom are disproportionate, misshapen golems while the beings at the top are smoothly carved majestic living statues. It’s a world of tiers with each group of rock people seeking to climb the ranks by being smashed to bits and recrafted as “asceneded” forms. Meanwhile, your goal is to fight your way through this tiered world and find your way back to the beings that created you, fighting and devouring the mass of everything that stands in your way to become stronger.
It’s very interesting and often unsettling just how far beings in this world will go for even the slightest chance at ascension, whether it’s appeasing you or, more often, opposing you. For instance, there’s a diminutive golem known as Yon who sees you as beautiful and takes it upon themselves to become your faithful follower, offering you gifts and following your hungry warpath skyward in hopes of gaining their own “beautiful” form. They are silly in many ways, creepy in others, and slightly tragic all throughout. Their story ran parallel to the main character’s and I found myself engrossed in their progress and outcome with each passing. Grime had that way of sinking into me and making me care as I took its journey, even if the story was scattered across long stretches of combat and platforming.
The environments were very cool too. For a world full of living rocks, Grime is extremely varied in its zones. You start in a dark cavern, but it isn’t long before you find yourself in a cave that seems to be alive with eyeballs following your every move. Later, the game has you venture into a desert of colossal crumbling statues and the ravenous beasts that prowl around them. There’s even a living garden of predatory vegetation combined into rock beings to create bizarre amalgam enemies. Grime’s areas are both a gorgeous and grotesque 2.5D cornucopia throughout with a fitting balance of accompanying orchestral music and stark quiet against the backdrop of environmental sound like cave drippings and whispered cries of some unknown being.
Grime’s playable world is vast too, with plenty to explore throughout in both general paths and hidden secrets. The only issue I had in this regard is that the game is very stingy with fast travel and checkpoints at times. In each area, you can find these geode-like slabs called surrogates where you can level up and lock down a checkpoint. You can’t fast travel between them though. That’s reserved for another very limited mechanic for which there are less than a handful of travel points in the whole game. You don’t even get access to it until deep into Grime’s story. Given that you respawn at the last surrogate you used when you die, it can be a huge pain when you’re trying to lock down a checkpoint deep in a new territory only to get lopped and have to go way back to try the journey again.
Squeezing skills from stone
In terms of gameplay, Grime has a very metroidvania style throughout. You will explore environments, discover areas you can’t access without certain abilities, fight your way to enemies that will grant you those abilities, and then be able to open more of the map. That counts for moving the story forward and discovering secrets, too. Grime’s environments are chockfull of hidden walls and obscured paths waiting to be discovered if you can reach them.
It doesn’t exactly go nuts with the traversal skills either. You’ll get a dodge/dash, an upgrade to dash in air, a pull that can yank specific objects and pull enemies off balance, an upgrade to pull on certain beacons to slingshot yourself through them, and, eventually, a double jump. The game drops these abilities in meaningful progression while supplying both simple and extremely challenging environments in which to use various combinations of them. By the end of the game, it will have likely trained you to do precarious jumps, slings, dashes, and yanks of platforms to save yourself from a spiky death in a complicated maze.
One part that drags it down is that if you go splat on spikes, it restarts you at a safe point which should theoretically be where you started platforming. Unfortunately, Grime occasionally has issues recognizing where you started and it can set you far further back in the zone than you might expect at times. In especially tough platforming segments, this can be disheartening. That said, it’s extremely satisfying to string together platforming moves in this game effectively.
Grime takes on a very peculiar tone when it comes to combat. The game is full of discoverable weapons tied to three basic level-up stats: Strength, Dexterity, and Resonance (basically magic), and figuring out how you want to level up for what weapons you want to use is fun, supplying replayabillity right off the bat. However, your basic tools of defense also include a parry and a heal. For most of the enemies, if you time your parry right, your black hole head will suck the essence - otherwise known as Breath - right out of them, killing them and powering up a bar. If you have four charges of that bar, you can heal a portion of your health at will.
Moreover, if you absorb a certain amount of most enemies enough, you’ll gain abilities that can be unlocked with special Hunt Points that allow you to further diversify your playstyle. Each absorbable enemy type has a unique ability tied to them, such as gaining instant health per absorb, increasing your stamina, making your dash do damage, showing you weak walls hiding secrets, and more. I loved the options available here as it allowed for a lot of customization that suited my dexterity-heavy dagger playstyle best.
I mentioned the rocky surrogate checkpoints earlier and if you’ve played Dark Souls, these act as bonfires. You can use the experience you’ve collected as a currency up to level up at these points. While Grime adheres to the Dark Souls style of respawning at the last checkpoint you interacted with, it ditches a soulsborne aspect of taking away your experience if you die. You keep what you collected permanently. What you lose instead is Ardor, which is a value you build up by killing enemies without taking damage or dying.
You can collect up to 100 Ardor and it increases how much experience you get per kill, not to mention increasing damage through some abilities. If you die, you lose it all, but can get some of it back by making it back to where you died. I far preferred this risk/reward scenario to the one Dark Souls uses as it still incentivizes you not to die, but doesn’t punish you drastically when you do fail. And you will likely fail at times.
Grime has some ridiculously tough segments of both combat and platforming. It sometimes feels unfair, and even more so because of the long stretches between fast travel and checkpoints, but overcoming the challenge is delightfully rewarding.
Rocking our way to a higher plane
Grime does a great deal of things in metroidvania and soulsborne gameplay quite well. It’s got an engaging combat system full of customization and fun weapons. Additionally, the ability to absorb enemies for unique abilities is a really great way to individualize your playstyle. It’s also got some incredible environments to explore chockfull of unique enemies and platforming to overcome. I really wish it had a better handle on fast-travel because of how tough and frustrating it can be. That aside, Grime is an invigorating, fun, and challenging journey with a rather outlandish story and a great handle on action-RPG platforming and combat.
This review is based on a Steam digital copy supplied by the publisher. Grime is out on Google Stadia and PC as of August 2, 2021.
- Quirky, grotesque, and also beautiful world
- Vast explorable map full of secrets
- Solid and stylish platforming
- Wide variety of weapons and skills
- Solid soundtrack and atmosphere
- No losing all experience on death for a soulsborne game
- Fast travel comes late and is extremely sparse
- Platforming and combat gets extremely challenging
- Respawns on platform fails are sometimes inconsistent
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Grime review: Chiseled & polished metroidvania
This looks rad, bought! I am a sucker for 2D Souls Metroidvania, $18 at GMG : https://www.greenmangaming.com/games/grime-pc/
Pros: Solid and stylish platforming
Cons: Platforming and combat gets extremely challenging
Damn, you have my interest. I want something stylish that gets old-school hard as time goes on.
You might be in for a treat then. The late game is some straight-up acrobatic wizardry. I wouldn't consider this much of a con if it didn't go hand in hand with the poor fast travel and wide checkpoints making you have to travel back to the spot when you die.
how does it compare to Ender Lilies and Vigil Longest Night, two really good souls-like metroidvanias of late?
That’s three games I haven’t even heard of before now. Guess I’ll have to track them down
And hope not PC only.
I haven’t had a chance to play those, though I see Ender Lilies all the time and really need to play it.
I got very big Hollow Knight vibes throughout my playthrough of this, but the absorb system also reminded me of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow’s soul system, though not nearly as tedious.
did you play Blasphemous?
I'm about 4 hours into it and am underwhelmed.
I'm still in the part of the game where things are moving along the linear path with a lot of doors/paths/items gated off by lack of abilities. It's a repeated death march through a section -> the next save point before a boss -> boss -> repeat.
There was something off about the visuals for me and it took a while to figure it out: the map is not segmented out into rooms with transitions. It's just one big map. This means that all of the samey looking twisty turny tunnels start folding into one another in your brain. To boot, mapping each area is gated by finding a special mapping crystal for that area, similar to Hollow Knight. You're frequently navigating blind or by memorization.
It feels like there is a ton of unused black space on screen at all times, and if the camera was pulled out just a little bit further, the game would be a bit easier to digest visually.
I don't think I've got enough of a stash of weapons and abilities to comment on combat. I will say that the hitboxes for combat are WTF all over the place. Sometimes to your benefit, sometimes not.
Hitboxes for platforming are similarly bonkers. I feel like I'm often getting stuck in the corners of platforms where those corners shouldn't exist. Climbing columns can be unpredictable, where pressing down all of a sudden dumps you into a pit where you just meant to move down a few pixels.
Maybe it's my system, but it felt like the game skips/judders at times, as if it was busy streaming content instead of rendering what was onscreen. I'm on a 3900x w/ an NVME and 32 gigs of RAM, so it's not like I don't have the capacity on hand. TBD on this one.
The first two bosses had some great animations. The third boss (a bird, for me) feels a lot clunkier. I'm hoping this isn't an indication that dev dollars started getting squeezed as development progressed.
There's a roughness and lack of precision that takes the game down a few notches for me. Still playing, but I'm feeling pretty meh about it so far.