In the world as opposed to Grime, being a Sculpted, a square and defined entity, is a stigma. The grotesque creatures that populate it are rough, talking stones that aspire to perfection, but at the same time see their antithetical imperfection as the only acceptable normality, while secretly crawling towards the sky, towards the Palace, where they can be destroyed, canceled, improved.
It is a twisted, intricate world, full of underground tunnels that dig into the bowels and then lead back to the light, before sinking again into the darkest darkness, and this is where thefascinating and punitive adventure di Clover Bite. Tiny Israeli team born within the Tiltan School of Design in Haifa, it is composed, as stated by themselves, by just six big fans of Dark Souls and Hollow Knight: Grime is a perfect crasis, a loving tribute (available on PC and Stadia) but has so much more to say thanks to some brilliant intuition.
Of course, there is no shortage of dark sides, yet to be a first work of a small studio born as a gym for novice students we are on really high levels. Little but sure: we can’t wait to see what these talented promises of game design will churn out in the future. But let’s focus on the here and now, and understand together what works and what doesn’t with this gloomy metroidvania.
Hollow Knight meets Miyazaki games
The masterpieces cited a few lines above are an excellent starting point to tell Grime: it is morbid and cryptic like the works of Miyazaki, with its hermetic narration, which develops its twisted plot through sporadic dialogues, descriptions contained in objects and encounters with totally fortuitous NPCs and in the most disparate places. The level design is also twisted, full of shortcuts, traps, secret passages where objects or enemies lie ready to attack us.
With the jewel of Team Cherry it shares the2D setting, in addition to perennial feeling of groping in the dark, between a perhaps too parsimonious use of lighting (as if to hide the imperfections of the environmental textures) and a total uncertainty about the geolocation of the protagonist, an unknown until a signalman is found by chance who will show the
portions of the map and the single biome explored so far. Grime, however, tries to find its own identity, while borrowing mechanics seen elsewhere, which work thanks to the skilful mix devised by Clover Bite. Starting with one strong emphasis on saves and timing, more akin to a Sekiro than a Souls (to find out more, here is the review of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice). To be honest, this inclination to mixology fits perfectly with the anonymous protagonist, whose head is literally a black hole, and whose mission involves, among other things, absorb mass and skill from the threats that populate the world of the game, to become more and more powerful. If in Dark Souls the empty envelope guided by us must be filled with humanity and souls, in Grime the Vessel is already sentient in itself, but it needs Massa, a real in-game currency with which to enhance it and to trade with merchants and NPCs. offering services.
A Metroidvania with a splash of Souls
It is the Breath that makes it unique, and its ability to absorb it is its most precious weapon: parrying a blow at the right moment allows in fact to suck the vital energy of the enemies, and by filling the appropriate bar, it is possible to turn it into health. Not that this is always the case, between unstoppable shots (to be dodged through a useful shot that makes for a few moments invincible) and more tough enemies that prevent absorption. In short, no Estus flasks or similar, but only your own reflexes will allow you to survive in that inhospitable world.
In many cases this mechanic will be used as a pure and simple parry, even with environmental obstacles, but it should be noted that the surgical precision of the Souls will not be needed, as the action window is generous. In any case, be prepared to master it: both because it is crucial, being the only source of treatment, and because it will guarantee you access to the so-called traits. Traits are special secondary abilities obtained by absorbing a certain number of enemies – of which you will learn unique abilities, in the form of very useful bonuses – and by investing one of the hunting points left by monsters more powerful than normal.
This relationship with the diverse fauna of Grime’s world stages undoubtedly interesting dynamics: we have lost count of the times when a simple parade at the right time has saved our lives or unlocked some precious enhancement, perhaps offering us that amount of breath. necessary to recharge your health before a clash of a certain weight … as well as of the times when the wrong timing has cost us dear, bringing us back to the last monolith of Levolam, the equivalent of bonfires where to refresh ourselves and boost the main stats.
The management and development of the latter are less mind-boggling than the Souls, and in addition to the inevitable Health and Vigor (i.e. stamina, to be kept constantly under control if you don’t want to run dry just before throwing a lethal blow to the boss on duty ), the Grime’s peculiar sidearms require you to upgrade Strength, Dexterity and Resonance in order to be mastered properly. Each of them enjoys, in addition to normal and powerful attacks, unique designs: they are tools to some extent alive, composed as they are of teeth, bones and hands that still move. Weapons with pros and cons, thus leading you to choose what to sacrifice between speed and effectiveness, based on your style of play or who will stand in front of you.
Full action gameplay
Between combos to ring, dodges, unstoppable shots and the aforementioned mechanics of absorption, Grime’s combat system is physical and punitive, technical and rewarding, and among the strengths of the small team’s production. The great focus is reserved for clashes, thanks to the many mobs, but above all to spectacular boss fights: memorable not so much for the always clearly legible attack patterns (not that it is necessarily bad, even if for the most hardcore players it could easily become one), but rather for their brilliant design. Of course, the optional clashes are sometimes much less inspiring to see, but they are still gun battles where the margin of error is very low.
In its cruelty Grime is still very fair to the player, at the limit of compliance, at least for a good part of the trip: the always satisfying shortcuts drastically reduce the path from the checkpoint to the boss, making each new attempt much less frustrating, but above all, it bypasses the classic penalty of losing the amount of souls (or in this case, mass) accumulated, keeping them quietly in inventory and sacrificing only the Ardore, a value that increases with each kill and that affects the number of mass obtained by the enemies – and through special skills, even on the damage inflicted . Furthermore, leaving aside the convenience of being able to spend the currency accumulated up to that moment to strengthen and make the next attempt easier, returning to your body you recover the Ardore and a good portion of health: a useful aid, to be exploited in the moment of need in the case of a problematic boss fight.
Instead, he has been less condescending for about half of the adventure, with the margin of error that is reduced more and more, and the bar of difficulty suddenly rises: the number of threats on the screen increases significantly, as well as the occasions in which the opponent is able to eliminate us with a single blow, found that they do gradually creak overall balance, making the experience more and more difficult and less pleasant, ruining instead the good done in the first half in terms of risk / reward and personal satisfaction of the player. However, the difficulty is an extremely subjective value, and we are sure that players hungry for soulslike and the like will find bread for their teeth in Grime: the warning remains valid in any case for newbies and for the less accustomed to the genre.
But it’s not just the clashes that will keep you busy: there is also one strong platform and exploratory component in pure metroidvania style, with sections accessible only after having obtained a certain skill, and moments where precision and timing become a must, between platforms that crumble under the feet, jaws that suddenly close and teeth to be popped up and exploited as a point of support. The level design is overall not too convoluted, and the moments of pure platforming are functional and calibrated to the right point, ruined in a small part only by some inaccurate collision which from time to time made some steps difficult for us, but nothing really frustrating.
An inspired design
An honorable mention goes undoubtedly to the art design of the game, really inspired: a bit like its mechanics, for the aesthetics of Grime the talented authors have drawn from numerous styles and media, all summarized with the adjective “surreal”, which at times becomes almost an euphemism. The general atmosphere is really disturbing, thanks to the aforementioned use of light, thrifty to say the least, but also to the design of the creatures that will appear in front of us: in the initial sections you will notice a certain obsession of the graphic department for the hands, affixed to vessels hungry for our blood or exploited as obstacles in our path, while going forward the common thread is the aforementioned imperfection, with deformed rock monsters armed with rudimentary weapons, ghostly stylized figures, entities impossible to decipher, busy as you will be to avoid the blows.
Even at the level of settings, the team has surpassed itself: despite the technical sector sometimes tends to sacrifice the quality of the polygonal models, the backdrops offer crazy glimpses, especially in short connecting sections, useful however to get an idea of the structure of the world and the events in the background that are upsetting the bases. Some biomes are leaner than normal, but the team compensates with morbid details scattered everywhere or with the unbridled lust of the Palace, where the ascent to the sky begins (and towards an ever higher difficulty rate). Then it is the bosses and some special NPCs that are imprinted in the memory, as mentioned not so much for the battle itself, but for the inspiration of their appearance, where even simple animals (we don’t go into too much detail so as not to spoilers) acquire, thanks to the Clover Bite treatment, a unique aura.
The interface is less exciting, really cheap both in the HUD and in the menus, as well as bugs of various kinds, including some not very precise collisions (which in a couple of cases resulted in the overcoming of walls and floors, and therefore in a reload ) and pop-ups of entire portions of the map. Yet, considering between the vastness of the world and the small nature of the development team, these are acceptable problems that can be solved with a patch.