Platforming titles generally have this connotation of being simple, straightforward titles where you simply navigate left to right, clearing any enemies you may encounter and continuing on your path, and never looking back. This has been the general idea until recently, with a horde of newer takes on the 2D sidescrolling genre-redefining the core ideas behind a 2D Platformer. One of these titles is GRIME, a very recent and incredibly well-made title that aims to totally change this perception that sidescrollers are made to be easy.
Developed by Clover Bite games and published by Akupara Games, GRIME is a 2D side-scrolling title which promises to make anyone who plays it yell in frustration, while at the same time make the same players incredibly satisfied upon clearing another piece of this fantastic title. You see, GRIME wears its Dark Souls inspiration on its sleeve, creating a shadowy universe with little light passing through, and unfortunately for the player, this is no mere metaphor. There are parts in GRIME that are so dark that you will need to really squint or move closer to your screen to be able to see more clearly.
Let us proceed with order, however. The game puts you immediately in the action as you are born as a chiselled vessel with seemingly no head, there being a sort of black void. This void turns out however to be a black hole, able to suck enemies inside and steal their essence. This is basically the absorb ability, and is one of the core mechanics of GRIME, apart from being quite a deep and intriguing feature of the game.
This absorb mechanic is the only way you can heal, apart from saving locations. This ability works very much like a parry, in that a well-timed absorb will negate any incoming damage, be it melee strike or projectile, and redirect it at the offender. Some enemies will die instantly if they get parried once, while other tougher enemies will take more hits until the parry will kill.
Finishing enemies off with the Absorb will be beneficial for a number of reasons. First of all, each absorb kill will give you an amount of breath, and once the breath gauge is full, you can hold the right trigger to expend this breath to replenish your health. Second of all, these absorb kills count towards a prey hunt, another very neat aspect of GRIME.
Story bosses are also absorbed after being defeated, giving you a new ability that will aid you on your journey to fulfill your objectives. Once again these enemies are sucked into the void with a very cool transition that shows your character consuming the remnants of what once was the foe standing in front of you and gaining a new power in the process.
A number of enemies which you find in the game can be killed with absorb to fulfill prey hunts, which are a target number of absorb kills. Upon fulfilling this target, an ability related to this enemy just killed can be unlocked at save points by spending Hunt Points, which are a unique type of currency, obtained solely when killing a new enemy for the first time. Hunt Points are few and far in between, and that means that the abilities which can be unlocked with these points have to be thought out carefully.
Luckily, slotting in upgrades can be reverted by using Motley Pearls, another consumable that is found lying around the map. Refunding these abilities is the only purpose of this item, meaning you will not be risking a trade-off to revert your skill tree. These upgrades are quite varied and can really help players formulate a strategy behind their game plan; there are upgrades that increase how much you heal for each bar of breath consumed, some which affect damage inflicted and others that have special effects like leave an echo behind.
These abilities can be learnt at save points, which is also the location where to upgrade your stats. GRIME features five base stats being Health, Force, Strength, Dexterity and Resonance. Health is obviously the maximum HP, and increasing it will have your health bar grow by a little. Force is the equivalent of Stamina in other souls-like games and dictates how many dashes and attacks you can do before it runs out, and similarly to Health, spending points in Force will increase the Force bar.
Strength, Dexterity and Resonance are then stats that affect what weapons you can equip, as well as the damage that these same weapons will be able to deal. Resonance also affects some separate abilities which you can level through Hunt Points, so it is always worth keeping in mind to combine the two if the build is viable obviously.
Ardor is another very well implemented element in GRIME, and can sometimes make a huge difference in combat especially boss fights, of which the game surely does not lack. Ardor is basically gained when killing enemies; you gain an amount if you finish off an enemy with your weapons and get a little more ardor if you deal the final blow through an Absorb parry. Ardor will keep on increasing kill after kill and will get to a maximum of 100, which will then switch the counter from numbers to an infinite sign.
What Ardor does is increase the mass gained from enemies after each subsequent kill. Mass is the upgrade currency in GRIME, and it functions to upgrade stats, weapons and purchase materials, so gaining as much mass as possible is vital in order to progress the game. Ardor can also take up some additional benefits through the hunt upgrades, which can make it a core element of a playthrough. Ardor is all lost upon death, but finding your vessel in the place you died last and breaking it will restore 50% of the ardor held at the time.
The game is not called GRIME for show, as it lives up to its name in full. The English definition of the word grime is of something covered by a layer of dirt, and one can really look at this definition from two points of view which make a lot of sense in the scope of the game. The first is that you as a vessel are incomplete and therefore unclean, and have to absorb all the power that you can in order to get to a complete, clean form and rid yourself of this layer of dirt which is prohibiting you from reaching this form.
The second meaning to this dirt is the atrocities which you will find throughout your experience with the game. Every living thing you meet is designed horribly, almost emphasizing how the design of your vessel was done so elegantly. Beings with small bodies and large heads, warriors in the shape of plants and floating totems which shoot projectiles all roam the land, and talking to some NPCs you realize how the majority of these deformed beings hold a grudge against you simply because of your shape, which drives the enemies even further to try to kill you.
The music found throughout the game is excellent, with different tracks for each location you arrive in. The game features an orchestral soundtrack which really sets the mood going while playing, with intense moments of action accompanied very well by increases in tempo and pitch of the music and dark and mysterious areas shrouded with slow music that keeps players on edge with a sense of uneasiness that will only increase when entering dark, barely lit areas.
GRIME has a great amount of things done right, but it, unfortunately, has a couple of shortcomings as well. The most painfully obvious problem in the game is knowing where you need to go next. Progression is painfully all over the place, with no reference to where to go or what you need to do except for the NPC’s words or an icon on the map. This would be enough, were it for the way map works, since you need to find beacons in order to unlock portions of the map that will then enable players to be able to read the map.
From my experience, I only either found beacons at the very start of a location, which made it all the easier to navigate, or almost at the end of my time exploring, making it quite redundant. Looking for beacons can be a little tricky especially if you have no pointers as to where to search, as these are unfortunately not marked on the map. The map being largely enshrouded in darkness is surely discouraging as well.
The fact that some areas are very dimly lit does not help at all. Exploration is surely a big part of GRIME and it is implemented superbly, yet players will no doubt feel intimidated by the prospect of either falling into the void and receiving massive damage, or even worse fall nearby a horde of enemies ready to feast on you. Combined with the fact that you return to the last save point on death, this can make for an extremely tedious task, as movement is not as fast and getting to walk the same path ten or twenty times trying to progress and dying every time a little further apart, only to get to a dead-end is very demotivating.
Clover Bite and Akupara Games have created a wonderful game that embodies so much of what people love in souls-like games but still shines through with its own unique identity. There are a lot of mechanics familiar with this genre but plenty of new ones that make GRIME its own game, and an extremely fine one at that. Players will surely enjoy their time with GRIME, as in between the screams of rage at each failed attempt, there will be that small moment of satisfaction that will make all the pain worth it.
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