rambling

There’s Always Time for Grime

Howdy folks! I’d meant to write this, well, almost a month ago. That’s ’cause a sweet game called Grime released in early August, and I’d been waiting a long time to play it. I’ve been surfing, rather, diving into Reddit way too often throughout the pandemic, and thanks to my Reddit obsession I see a lot of posts regarding video games. Games that look really cool. I usually glean enough info about games from trailers and developer updates to decide whether they’re worth a shot, and well, this interesting game called Grime kept coming up in the Metroidvania subreddit. That was the first indicator that I’d enjoy the damn game: it’s a Metroidvania, which is just a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, which are both series that involve platforming and action-packed encounters and diligent searching to find all the hidden items, and … I could go on forever, but if you’ve read any of my past stuff, you may have picked up on my love for Castlevania, and my appreciation of Metroid. Or maybe you didn’t, ’cause like, I’ve been writing a lot more poetry lately.

Sorry for mansplaining (me-splaining?) Metroidvanias, but I want it to be known that I have a preferred game style, especially these days. Every now and then I go out of my way to play something a little off my personal path, but during these times of heightened stress and tough living, I’ve fallen back on my favorite gaming sub-genre to fill my heart and soul with joy. Which means I’ve been playing a lot of Metroidvanias or roguelikes, ’cause action-packed challenges tend to make me happy. And I found Grime on the Metroidvania subreddit, as I mentioned before. So it had that going for it.

The other thing it had going for it was its unique aesthetic: Grime looks frigging awesome, but also pretty weird. You explore and fight as a statuesque humanoid with a blackhole for a head. You read that right: you have a blackhole for a head. So you’re a statue-person whose head is a blackhole, and you’re slapping the shit out of funky rock creatures and bone-monstrosities and clay bastards and … well, I shouldn’t spoil all of it, actually. This is my weird way of saying that the game looks interesting, in a way that pulls at me … much like a black hole, oh damn. So I got pulled in by the established sub-genre and the unique look.

But here’s the best part about Grime: it was so mysterious beyond the developer updates and rampant speculation that I knew almost nothing going into it. I didn’t know how long it would last, what kinds of mechanics I’d be utilizing, which weapons I’d use to destroy my foes, or what the story would offer … I just knew it all looked cool, and I wanted to learn more. So I put the game on my wishlist, and the moment it went on sale, I bought it. And I played it. And I … eventually became a weird mix of impressed and disappointed.

I was impressed most by the deep lore and emotional pull (there it is again) of the game. The story isn’t spoonfed to the player, but pieced together from item descriptions and area names and NPC dialogue; so the game borrows some storytelling techniques from Dark Souls, and the devs use those techniques well. I want to say quickly that I realize Demon’s Souls was made before Dark Souls, but I think the latter is the one most gamers recognize. So I use it to refer to indirect modes of world-building and storytelling. Anyway, Grime took me a much longer time to finish than I thought it would, but by the time I beat the game, I was nearly in tears. It was an emotional journey, and the game does a great job of layering details and realizations until you have a formidable sense of scope – the world before you is intricate, and your place in it is meaningful.

Another great aspect of the game is its control. Not just the actual controls, but the way your blackhole-headed character runs, and dodges, and swings their weapons – it’s all finely tuned and it feels great. My only small gripe with this is that it took me part of a second playthrough to really appreciate the finer grains of combat, mostly ’cause I made some strange choices with my character build (oh yeah, I forgot to mention: you also level up and allocate statistics in Grime) … long story short, I thought I’d be a badass and ignore health improvements. So my character had base health, and I died in, like, two hits. Sometimes even just one hit. It made combat difficult, but in my second playthrough, I actually leveled health and combat became a much smoother dance. It feels good because any mistakes you make, any losses you suffer, are literally in your hands: none of the fights felt unfair, except for maybe the final phase of one boss … but they fixed that in an update, huzzah!

And that brings me to my small list of disappointments. Grime was lovingly crafted by a rather small development team, and this means that it has some rough edges. One thing I noticed: my first playthrough took FOREVER because, er, I couldn’t fast-travel as often as I wanted. What I’m saying here is, there weren’t enough fucking fast-travel locations in the game. So there weren’t enough shortcuts. And uh, despite the character feeling great in combat, they really don’t move fast … at all. So running from one part of the world to another takes a long time, and without a robust fast-travel system, the game’s length is padded by unnecessary foot travel. Thankfully, the devs added a bunch of new fast-travel spots in updates since the game released, and this change has brought the game much closer to perfection!

Yet more gripes (Grime gripes?) exist. When I really enjoy a game, I take the time to unlock all the achievements to really dig into the experience and do everything that I can. I want to show my respect to the developers and spend as much time playing the game as it takes to really complete it. But there were some achievements for Grime that were legit unearnable because they were glitched, or, in the most egregious case, because the devs forgot to place one item in the game. Naturally, all these glitches and missing items have been fixed, so I now have all the achievements! But you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that I spent a ton of time scouring the game and wondering what the hell I did wrong only to learn that it wasn’t my fault at all. I was pretty pissed at first, but I got over it, and things are much smoother now. I have to give the devs a lot of slack, ’cause they’re a small team.

AND, most importantly, Grime is really good. Like, super enjoyable, and it just feels great to play. The music is fantastic. The sound effects are masterful. The combat is super refined, and the story/lore is just top-notch. I felt something while playing the game, and that says a lot. That’s why I feel so funny mentioning all the rough edges: as of now, they’re mostly sanded off and fixed, but for some reason, I want to record the initial troubles I had. It may not be fair to the state of the game now, but I kind of want to acknowledge what can happen when a stellar game suffers frustrating bugs, and how awesome it is when the creators address their game’s problems and bring it closer to perfection.

I had a great time with Grime, and I encourage everyone to get sucked into its gravitational pull.

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