Grime, developed by Clover Bite, is a bit of a contradiction: it’s as much a stereotype of a modern game as it is a creative one. A difficult, Metroidvania-inspired and Dark Souls title, it boasts of a unique absorbing mechanic that distinguishes it from the moment-to-moment action of its contemporaries.
You are a being that is effectively birthed into an unformed world, filled with foul inhabitants. For the story, well, it’s one of those: something has happened or is happening, you’ll find out as you go, with the mystery unraveling itself, in cryptic, overly grandiose ways. Grime is a game that unravels its story exactly like the From Software franchise that spawned these games, as its Dark Souls-esque disconnect between you, the audience who knows nothing and the character, who appears to know exactly what’s going on in the world, but you’ll find out later.
As you play, you’ll absorb different monsters and gain abilities related to them once you’ve hunted enough of them. Every enemy will declare what attacks they’ll use, which you can retaliate by absorbing and blasting these attacks back at them. This move can nearly change the entire tide of battle in most cases, but only if you’re willing to familiarise yourself with the specific animations and timings of every minute detail in battle. At one point you’ll unlock a combo meter which builds up as you successfully absorb attacks, which just adds onto the mild stress that Grime pits you against.
Whilst it is a cool gimmick, it becomes one of those situations that makes me realise that I no longer have the patience to watch and anticipate their attacks anymore. With enemies-as-fodder or giant hands that push you away, I just wished that the game would get out of my own way and let me explore its environments instead.
The sum of its influences
Games like Death’s Door and Hollow Knight are a good example of striking that balance of exploration and air of mystery, as they demonstrate how to make their soulslike games without their mechanical brutality. These ensure that players like myself—who love their worlds, but rarely have the patience to dedicate time to overcoming their meticulous battles—can at least have a shot at completing them.
But Grime insists that you repeatedly fail to succeed. Failure itself isn’t so much of an issue due to the less punishing death cycle than most games, where you won’t lose what you’ve collected to level up. However, what you will lose is the combos to gain more Mass—the game’s currency—that you build up, which increases the more you absorb the essence of your enemies.
At the same time, trawling back through the levels is tedious, as previous encounters will reappear in the world. I wound up getting quite good at jumping over these encounters, just to speed things along.
Allt these are, in part, due to how nondescript its combat is. It’s your typical methodical rodeo; swings take time and knowing the right moment to interject with a quick jab is vital. Combat is demanding, but nothing about it, outside the boss fights, forces me to actually think on my feet.
But when the boss fights came about? Now that’s the good stuff. Colossal enemies that actively use every part of the game’s shtick to force you into beating it brought on nervous sweats a few times.
It’s a shame this spirit doesn’t carry over into the regular enemy encounters, like in its chief inspiration Dark Souls, where each monster you came up against felt like a challenge to overcome, rather than a monotonous hill to climb. A more rapid pace of action with a focus on parrying—and without the burden of the stamina meter—would have been beneficial, as you’ll often find yourself standing starkly still, since the stamina meter runs out absurdly quickly in Grime’s earliest parts.
Yet, what Grime brings to the table is its grotesque setting. The desolation and uncertainty in the world are ones that I’d rather spend more time exploring, instead of actually going through the motions of what Grime expects me to do. It’s its grim world that made me hunger for more than the game’s superficial offerings.
Only for fans
In the end, Grime’s issue is that it’s just one more action-adventure role-playing game with influences from some of the best games of the last decades. It fails to capitalise on its absorption mechanic and the wider world it presents.The various abilities and means of interaction you have with the world as the game opens up injects more variety, but there’s only you can do before it’s back to more of the same routine of hacking and slashing monsters.
In the last few years it’s become a running gag within indie circles that Metroidvania and soulslike games are the go-to genres to build your game around. Unfortunately, Grime wears that on its shoulder with pride, instead of doing anything remotely interesting. In essence, it’s the software equivalent of saying ‘only fans of the soulikes genre will enjoy this’.