I can't imagine a more fitting title than the one the small team at Clover Bite delivered in their first attempt at videogames. Tough and sounding similar to grind, the grime, the slime, the "oil" that comes out when you squeeze the stone, is an allegory for what the player experiences when dealing with Grime. Regular readers will remember that we discovered it quite recently at Steam Next Fest where it was among the demos we featured. Personally I was impressed by the demo which foreshadowed what a promising metroidvania it would be. The release date was somewhere in 2021, but it ended up coming quite early in the summer and we were able to present it in detail.
Already from its intro, Grime shows that it is special. In one of these rare instances where "the clothes really do make the man", its surreal visuals set the tone and style of the game. Relentless in places, with a particular identity, its introduction is as enigmatic as its abstract narrative. The core of the game can be described as an action-RPG metroidvania. We are placed/landed in some undefined underground area. Everything around us is presented in a masterful manner and our character is a "perfect sculpted" body that instead of a head has what looks like a black hole. This is where the game starts, as the central core of the narrative is the inner search and exploration of our own avatar's identity and origin.
The aforementioned "black hole" is the reference point on which most of the key game-play systems are designed. As an example, long before we acquire any weapon we learn the "absorb" mechanism, which is none other than the classic parry in souls-like games. Absorbing enemies (when they're low on health) allows for unlocking the bestiary and certain traits that we can invest points in depending on the play style we choose. Early on it seems that we're playing a character who is more of a "predator" than a nobody, which is notable as we're hunting living geological creatures.
The similarities with Souls are of course not limited to parry. Grime features a leveling system where at checkpoints (the so-called Surrogates, equivalent to bonfires) we can increase our stats (Health, Force, Strength, Dexterity, Resonance) which in turn determine our build depending on the weapon we choose. The range of weapons available is quite wide, for all tastes and requirements: from slow and "heavy" weapons that do monstrous damage (Strength build), to faster and more versatile (Dexterity), to quite gimmicky ones (Resonance). Personally, I opted for a fast dexterity build with a weapon that has a long reach and emphasize dodging attacks like it was pretty much done in Blasphemous.
It's on the weapon system that my only bad impression is found, which seems to be on its way to being fixed, as each weapon has some absolute stats requirements that we have to meet in order to be able to use it. The scoring system (e.g. Dex A+) showing which stat derives more benefit goes against the philosophy of the mechanism, since in the end we are chasing to get the absolute minimum required stat. A system that either allows for normal weapon testing or gives more weight to benefits than stats (like in... Dark Souls) might be more fitting. Still, weapons are the only reason someone might want to play the game again, so such a restriction might be understandable in this context.
The upside is that it doesn't take much grind to get to the desired levels of stats. The considerable amount of deaths is enough to gather the necessary resources to level up. So the question arises "what is the stakes" since we die without losing that resource price. Here Clover Beta introduced in my opinion an ingenious mechanism with the implementation of Ardor (too much nomenclature, I know...). Simply put, every time we manage to defeat/absorb an enemy, the Ardor counter grows (with a final value of 100), which acts as a multiplier for the resources we get from enemies. If we are careless and take damage then we lose Ardor. If we die we can recover our "corpse" to reclaim back half the Ardor we had when we were "knocked down" (and if we get the corresponding trait, all of it).
Dying as in any typical, difficult, self-respecting metroidvania is common. However, after some minor adjustments, the game has become much more plodding in places. Surrogate stones are strategically placed near the bosses (mini/optional or those of the main plot) which reduces the discomfort enough to channel it after each wipe. However, Grime is brilliantly designed and provides the necessary visual cues that make certain battles quite easy, especially on any second playthrough. I admit there were times when I was much more displeased with myself than the infamous Colosseum of Fools in Hollow Knight. But we said it: grime will make you feel like you have to squeeze the stone for its juice. A fitting enough example considering the geological setting in which the story takes place.
And this is where the game shines like carbon arranged in perfect crystalline form. As you can probably already tell from the images, Grime triumphantly enters the exclusive club of those games that are considered not just perfectly artistic, but stand out as visual masterpieces. And while, for example, Ori and the Will of the Wisps adopts a fairy-tale canvas, Grime depicts its different environments in a photorealistic way. Additionally, the level design is extremely thoughtful. Secret passages, multiple passageways and unified areas. The creators made sure to dress up the world and lore with quite a bit of information, and there are several optional areas and mini-bosses! The only negative thing I could add at this point is that the minimap display could have been better, with the connections between different areas being more distinctly depicted.
In conclusion, Grime is a title that every metroidvania fan should consider. Difficult, gorgeous, it gives the impression of a diamond in the rough that captivates you with all the perspectives that unfold before its carving. The small team at Clover Bite should be proud of what they have accomplished. I'll close with what I said in my presentation of the game at Steam Next Fest, now having a complete picture of the whole game: the Grime is already the metroidvania of the year, given that we won't see Silksong in 2021.