How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. The progression is fairly linear with no reason to go back to older areas except to get optional secrets you may or may not need.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~15 hours
Review Info: Grime was played on a Windows PC using the 1.0.4 version on Steam.
Buy Grime if you like…
- Souls-like stamina management
- Parry Systems
- Abstract Stories
- Alternative Platforming
▼ Review continues below ▼
Grime does a really good job selling its premise in its first half hour. I really had the impression I was in for something special, because the game design at work in the first couple of areas was so well done that I couldn’t imagine anything else. After a while though the designer seems to just chicken out, or perhaps they just ran out of ideas and clamored for something – anything else – in an attempt to keep the game interesting. That sentence probably comes off a bit stronger than reality, but nevertheless I found myself generally disappointed with Grime. It has moments where it shines, even in the late game, but thanks to technical issues and dissonant design decisions enough of the game was either tedious or aggravating that it becomes harder to place in same ranks as the great action games.
Something that sticks out about Grime early on is that you don’t even start with a weapon. Instead you’re forced to parry every enemy you come across for about 5 or 10 minutes of gameplay. Parry systems can be a bit controversial since they tend to turn combat into all or none affairs; you either catch the timing window or you don’t. In normal position-based combat a missed telegraph could end both parties trading for damage, and you usually have dozens of options for where you can attack from. The creativity afforded by those options can alleviate the frustrations of playing badly since you always feel like you can try something different when you can’t seem to get your initial strategy just right. When parrying is a dominant strategy, or in Grime it’s often the only strategy, overcoming bad play means putting your nose straight onto that grindstone and keeping it there until it’s the shape the game wants it to be, or until you you just give up and play something else. Grime does a fantastic job at making that grindstone feel good though. By forcing you to only parry for a good amount of time before you can do anything else, Grime gives you a feel for how it all works before you’re thrown into the fire. Most of the early enemies can’t even damage you, so you’re free to play with timing without any risk of being backtracked to a previous checkpoint. Other risk factors aren’t even introduced until after the first boss, and that first boss is a masterfully designed culmination of everything you’ve learned. Grime’s first area is one of the best tutorials I’ve seen in general.
Once you beat that first boss you’re introduced to Grime’s answer to souls-like death mechanics. In Grime, instead of losing your currency on death, which is called “mass” in this game, you instead lose your potential to gain mass. Every time you kill an enemy or successfully parry an enemy you gain “ardor” which increases the amount of mass you obtain from killing enemies by a % equal to how much ardor you have. So for instance, when you first get this ability killing a foe gives you 3 ardor, and this in turn gives you 3% more mass for every enemy you kill from that point forward, i.e. 100 mass from the first enemy, 103 mass from the second, and so on. You can have up to 100 ardor for double the mass gains, so playing well means you’ll be leveling up faster. However, ardor is easy come and easy go. Every time you take damage you lose 2 ardor, and if you die you lose all of your ardor. You can get half of it back if you return to where you died, otherwise you have to start from scratch.
The premise of the ardor system is really quite promising, but I actually ended up finding it more annoying than just losing my souls as you would in any other souls-like game. The reason being is that you also unlock traits by absorbing enemies, and one of these traits gives you a pretty hefty damage bonus if you keep your ardor at 100%. Losing half your ardor to a boss fight makes that damage bonus pretty much impossible to keep unless you masterfully kill that boss on the first try. Even if the damage bonus from that trait wasn’t a factor, bosses give the most mass per kill, so you’re going to want to have that 100% ardor when you kill them anyway. This compelled me to spend a lot more time grinding out regular enemies than I have ever spent in any souls-like game. After a while I just sort of stopped doing that, because it’s boring, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out by not keeping my ardor high – even if in the back of my mind I knew that all the grinding I was doing getting my ardor back was just making me stronger anyway. Eventually you get traits that let you collect 100% of your ardor when you die instead of the 50%, and with another trait you can remove the penalty of losing ardor when you get hit. These traits are nice, but it kind of feels almost mandatory if the loss aversion is as grating on you as it was to me. Being a combat focused game, I think something like souls-like mechanics can help Grime keep its tension high, but the trait-free implementation was certainly not my personal cup of tea.
Combat itself is unusually slow, which actually works when parrying is Grime’s primary focus. When parries are your main tactic, bosses become a puzzle of figuring out which attacks are the ones you can absorb. A successful parry does a great amount of damage and refills your breath meter which is basically how you heal yourself – so it’s doubly rewarding. All other attacks available to you are tertiary to parrying correctly, and that works out great because regular attacking is kind of lame. I don’t say “lame” as in “uncool”, I mean lame as in it feels like your limbs are broken, or like you’re an old man struggling to get up and thwap some whipper snapper with his cane. The main contribution to this feeling is that the stamina system in Grime seems slower than any other game that’s attempted to copy Demon’s Souls. You can hit three or four times with your starting weapon before you have to meander away to a better position to avoid damage while you wait for your stamina to come back. If you’ve depleted your stamina bar then you can’t dodge either, so carefully watching your stamina use is imperative, especially since red attacks must be dodged as they can’t be parried. Managing stamina in Grime is as cerebral as trying to spot an attack that can be parried, and as enemies get faster dodging starts to become very similar to the parry system in the sense that it’s a black and white do or don’t action, except this time with resource management. All of these systems work well in combination with each other – they even add another parry-like mechanic for you to play with later on – so when Grime is at its best it’s an almost musical combination of telegraphs. In these circumstances the lameness of the melee attacks matters very little.
For some reason though, for at least three major areas in the latter half of the game, Grime decides that parrying just isn’t cool enough. Even early on enemies often have stone health bars that you have to break through before you can just suck them up into your black hole. Parrying a stone health bar deflects the attack rather than absorbing it, so you have to deal damage in other ways to make them vulnerable. This can create an interesting trade-off between offensive and defensive play. Later enemies however have completely stone health bars, forcing you to rely on your lame melee attacks entirely. I suspect the reason this was done was to make the leveling system more relevant as mass is primarily spent on making your weapons stronger, but the leveling system is pretty imbalanced overall.
Most weapons have slow wind ups and long recovery frames, and many of them take a ton of your stamina to use. In the absence of parries mixing the combat up, using straight melee attacks can be frustrating unless you’ve picked the right weapons from the start. Thankfully one of the better weapons is the one you’re given in the tutorial, which is good for having a viable fallback in case you’ve made poor decisions on which weapons and stats to upgrade, but it still makes poor weapon choices feel pretty bad. Your stats contribute very little to the actual damage your weapons deal but instead serve as requirement gates to use the weapon at all in the first place. The stat requirements are especially inhibitive, and in my attempts to experiment I was disappointed to discover that most weapons are very samey. You’re almost just better off sticking with the starting weapon and boosting your health and stamina for all of your level ups and relying on traits for damage boosts. Traits can be refunded and respent really easily, but stat upgrades are apparently permanent unless I missed a respec option somewhere. If it is permanent then it’s a major shame because committing to a weapon can be a major gamble. I think it’s also worth mentioning that the game’s highly touted “living weapons” is all empty flavor. The weapon morphing button is usually just a heavy attack, only occasionally breaking that mold with something different and useful. Of course thanks to the restrictiveness of stat requirements I didn’t get a chance to try all the weapons, so maybe some of the other options make the advertised feature more attractive. If I were to summarize Grime’s combat at its worst, it’s an RPG system full of relatively poor choices amid some decent ones, and the permanence of some decisions can make the game more frustrating than it needs to be in the long run.
Hit or miss combat encounters isn’t anything unusual for a combat focused game, but the most baffling thing Grime does aside from drop its best combat mechanics is that once you get a few movement upgrades it decides to focus a lot more on platforming. Grime’s physics just aren’t setup for platforming. Your protagonist is heavy and takes fall damage at small distances. Climbing onto platforms is slow and awkward. Mercifully when you fall too far you don’t instantly die like in other Souls-likes, but you do lose way too much of your health bar to make a platforming focus okay. In the combat sections of Grime, if you get hit because of a missed parry, you can supplement your mistakes by parrying more, collecting more healing breath, and keeping your health topped off. There’s nothing to restore your health when platforming, so failure just inches you closer to death with no way to help sustain your attempts without just being kicked back to a checkpoint. It might seem like this could be solved by just adding enemies to platforming sections, but platforming becomes a focus at about the same time most enemies have rock health bars. So platforming is slow and clunky and failure means you get to start the slow and clunky process all over again. Even weirder still than even trying to do platforming in a game like this is that for the last third of the game it makes up the majority of your playtime. There is a small payoff in the final boss fight that would have been frustrating if Grime didn’t spend the time tutorializing platforming for the player, but I’m still left slightly confused why it felt necessary to focus on platforming so much in the first place.
Exacerbating all other issues in Grime is an utter lack of checkpoints in areas where it matters a lot. Like many souls-likes and Metroidvania games, rather than having a plethora of full-heal checkpoints everywhere, Grime utilizes shortcuts to reuse previous checkpoints instead. Shortcuts in theory can create more interesting level design as you sort of redesign the level yourself as you progress through it. Shortcuts can help make backtracking less tedious when the same level geometry is reused in new and interesting ways. Shortcuts are more neutral when they don’t serve the level design in this way, but Grime manages to prove that shortcuts can be sometimes be downright toxic to an otherwise decent level. The worst example of this in Grime is a level where the main “shortcut” is an elevator that you need to unlock the floors which it can access. Thanks to this elevator the designer apparently decided that one checkpoint was enough for almost the whole area. As you unlock more floors you must ride the elevator up to where you left off when you died. This would be good if the elevator was a rocket ship, but it’s not. To get to the first floor you unlock it takes a around 25 seconds – I timed it – and this adds up quickly if you die more than once. Getting to the top floor after dying takes 65 seconds of doing absolutely nothing but waiting for the elevator to get there. Try not to die 10 times, or keep a cell phone nearby with your favorite websites on screen if you do. Grime’s world can be fun to explore if you happen to be where you need to be, but the distance between checkpoints and the lack of fast travel options makes getting to those places dull and repetitive, which is a real shame.
Adding to the cavalcade of missed opportunities and confusing decisions is how Grime’s main theming is used. Grime opens up with the promise of being something surreal and artistic, and while it doesn’t completely fail at delivering that, the result is something that felt more pretentious than meaningful to me. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of overarching message or abstract symbolism behind it all, but there’s always the chance that it all just went over my head. In regards to the aesthetic level design I wish it was a lot more surreal. Most of Grime’s locales are cave structures or buildings with very few narrative environmental elements. The first area has eyes in the rocks which promises a lot of weirdness as you move forward, but it turns out each zone is more like a Disneyland attraction than a haunting alien location. The tutorial area is “eye town”, and later on you visit “nerves town”, “teeth town”, and “garden town”. You meet a lot of NPCs who have clear motives, but I couldn’t feel much of sympathy toward them. It feels like a lot of the story was left on the cutting room floor, and perhaps it’s because of this that some of the big reveals fell short for me. The ending ultimately left me mostly confused, which is a summary for the whole experience really.
I haven’t been very nice to Grime, but there’s a good chance all of my criticisms will be meaningless in a few years. Even at the time of writing patch 220.127.116.11 just released with more quality of life tweaks that have been continually rolling out since the game’s launch, and there’s a promise for a New Game+ patch and other features in the future. At launch a ton of the game’s content was missable, and apparently this most recent patch removes the last of those missables. I haven’t talked a lot about technical issues in this review because of these developer activities; bugs and glitches certainly affected my experience, but they’re less likely to affect yours since those get targeted by patches first. Game design problems tend to stick a little harder, but then some of my biggest complaints could be resolved with a few more checkpoints added throughout the game. Even as-is, the good aspects of Grime may shine brighter for you than they did for me, and the developer is hard at work making things better. Even just year from now even my mind might be changed with enough patching, and I like this game enough to try it again – and redo this review – once the developer says they’re done. For the Grime that I had played, which was as of Patch 1.0.4, it was mostly a good time with maybe a little too much slime to go with the Grime.
It starts out incredibly promising but then kind of loses its focus less than halfway through the game. There are some amazing boss fights, but a greater amount of tedium due to not playing to its own strengths
The biggest problem with the platforming in this game is that it exists. The controls in Grime are clunky and that's fine for combat, but for some reason it decides to try and become a precision platformer as soon as you unlock enough movement upgrades. When the platforming works well it's more rote performance than an intriguing challenge
If you could teleport to every crystal from the start of the game it would be much better, because it is fun to discover what's hidden in the nooks and crannies. As is, it's just too slow to move places.
It could be argued that piecing together some of the platforming challenges or figuring out some of the bosses is a ''puzzle'' but that is reflected in those respective scores instead. There are no spatial reasoning or logic puzzles in this game.
It feels pretty pretentious to me, leaving me wondering why rather than being intrigued by a smart narrative. But your mileage may vary.
The graphics can be striking at times, but a lot of the times the aesthetic level design is a bit bland, with a lot of cave areas and not enough of the surrealism the game's tutorial area promises.
The music is hit or miss. Some tracks are absolutely amazing, and others only serve to add to the tedium of the already slow exploration
There are a ton of weapons to try and there aren't enough trait points in the game to buy everything, but weapons tend to be a little samey anyway, and you can respec traits fairly easily. But it's still enough to add a lot of replay value if you enjoyed it in the first place.
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