Grime is a Souls-like Metroidvania that just recently released. Come to think of it, a bunch of Metroidvanias have gone the Souls-like route as well. For instance, we’ve seen offerings such as Vigil: The Longest Night and Ender Lilies. There’s an emphasis on platforming as you go from one room to the next, backtracking to previous areas that you’ve visited once you’ve acquired power-ups, and brutal fights that require you to time your moves perfectly.
So, where does Grime stand among its rivals (and cousins) in the subgenre? Well, it definitely has its appeal and refreshing mechanics to consider. But, there were also some questionable design decisions that became bothersome during the campaign.
A surreal start for a singularity
The Souls-like theme in Grime is present from the get-go because of two words: cryptic storytelling. There’s a short cinematic where your character, a mysterious entity, is created from darkness. Then, you’ll realize that our hero is a disheveled being, a vessel with a black hole for a head. From there, you fall down to a grim world. You don’t really know why you’re there, and the game hardly gives you any clues. Yes, there are snippets of dialogues from various NPCs, but they’re so strange and odd that they might as well be gibberish. This has already been a common trope in the subgenre that long-time fans have just gotten used to it, I guess.
Still, what sets Grime apart from the rest of the pack is the top-notch art and level design. Given that it’s also a Metroidvania title, you can expect different zones. These range from dimly lit caverns and gardens filled with poisonous flowers, to vast deserts with shifting sands, palaces decorated with ornate tapestries, and a central hub that seems to have grown from massive roots. Likewise, this is a world filled with grotesque sights. There are walls with grasping limbs, pillars with eye sockets, lands littered with broken statues, and even a level that’s set in the innards of a gargantuan thing (complete with teeth that’ll clamp down on you if you get too close).
As for the cast of characters, you’ll encounter creepy-looking humanoid entities, a multi-limbed being who upgrades your weapons, and other bizarre and weird stuff. Make no mistake, the sights and sounds of Grime are partly surreal and partly disturbing. Overall, though, you’ll definitely see eye-catching visuals and atmosphere.
Combat: Souls-like parrying and dodging
Another concept that comes to mind when you hear of the term “Souls-like” is that the combat system will probably rely on dodges and parries. If that’s what you thought of when you first heard of Grime, then you’re correct. What makes it unique is that your character uses its head, and not just in the figurative sense.
Because the character’s head is a black hole, the parry button is also able to reflect projectiles and absorb enemy attacks. If enemies (known in-game as “prey”) are defeated via absorption, you can unlock their traits (another term for skills/perks). Some of these help boost your attacks, while others grant healing empowerment or utility usage (i.e., a dash echo that restores force or stamina).
Grime also follows another Dark Souls system, that of stat investment, weapon requirements, and scaling. The hostiles that you defeat let you acquire mass (i.e., experience points or gold), because the game has a theme that centers on an empty vessel’s growth. In turn, mass is used to purchase items or level up your stats.
Meanwhile, the weapons you obtain might require you to put a few points into certain stats like dexterity, strength, or resonance (intelligence) as prerequisites. These can also scale depending on the number of points you’ve assigned into the stats.
The enemies and bosses in Grime
All in all, Grime has bone-crunching combat where well-timed attacks, as well as dodges/backsteps, blocks, absorbs, and reflects are key to your survival. This isn’t an understatement, because regular enemies and bosses can kill you if you’re not careful. Grime has all sorts of dangerous foes, such as rampaging Rockgiants, flying Piercers, insect-lobbing crabs protected by impenetrable shells, odd denizens with bombs on their backs, and Pyramid Head-esque swordsmen that’ll stab and slash you endlessly.
The deadly bosses in the game will also fill you with awe before they kick your butt. Although the first couple of bosses tend to be pushovers, the challenge ramps up considerably. Eventually, you’ll see a vulture that breathes poison, a stag that likes to burrow underground, and a half-woman, half-hand monster who spews fireballs. These opponents have certain “tells” and recognizable patterns, but they can easily annihilate you with a couple of hits if you’re unprepared.
On the bright side, deaths in Grime won’t leave you penniless. You’ll still retain all the mass you’ve earned so far. The only downside is that you’ll lose your Ardor (i.e., combo points that increase the amount of mass you earn from kills). If you do a corpse run to destroy your lost vessel, you’ll receive half of your previous Ardor value, so it’s not a big deal.
Platforming: Metroidvania goodness
Since Grime is, at its core, a Metroidvania or Metroid-like game, you’ll be glad to know that platforming mechanics are common fixtures. There are segments where you need to cross passageways littered with traps like electrocuting vines, barbed wire, and wall spikes. You’ll also gain abilities to help you traverse areas, and these become part of those sections (like an intricate puzzle of sorts).
For instance, you’ll enter a room with disappearing ledges at one point. The trick there is to dash while in mid-air to reach another platform. That platform needs to be moved, but that’s only possible if you use your pull ability to force it. Then, you have to use your pull ability (once it’s upgraded) to grapple onto shadow orbs, while air dashing to bypass pillars filled with spikes.
These areas can be punishing, but you’ll often breathe a sigh of relief once you get past them. Moreover, the controls are quite fluid and responsive (for both combat and regular movement). However, I should note that I mostly played with a Logitech F310 gamepad. Using a keyboard for a Metroidvania game is something I’ve never become used to.
Where Grime becomes grimy
Unfortunately, developer Clover Bite did have a few missteps and questionable decisions. The first is the restrictive fast travel system. For the majority of your playthrough, you’re limited to a Nervepass tunnel that’s connected to three zones (you still need to discover them), as well as a Worldpillar Elevator that only connects two areas. There’s also the Levolam Dust item that allows you to return to the last save point that you interacted with.
It’s akin to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which only had a select few means of teleporting to certain locations. Unlike Alucard’s happy-go-lucky adventure, though, you can’t breeze through most areas in Grime. Because of the aforementioned enemy mobs and traps, you need to stay on your toes even when you’re simply backtracking. It creates a rather tedious loop that wastes the player’s time.
Then, there’s the map navigation system. Several Metroidvanias have followed the clear concept of featuring a map that auto-fills as you explore new rooms. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, like Hollow Knight (look for the Cartographer NPC) or Salt & Sanctuary (no map at all). In Grime, each zone remains blank until you tag the beacon. Sadly, you could pick up various items or spot secrets you can’t reach before you even find the beacon. At best, you could place a few markers. Good luck trying to remember what they were for once the map is revealed.
Let this be the start of something good
I did have a few minor concerns in Grime, such as the inability to respec stats (akin to Dark Souls 1 and Bloodborne). You might invest too much in a certain stat just to equip a weapon, only to realize that it’s a terrible choice. Speaking of weapons and stats, strength-based weapons tend to have slow animations. That’s definitely expected. The problem is that several mobs and bosses have fast attacks, making slower weapons unwieldy in most situations unless you want to risk leaving yourself open. There were also a few technical hiccups, such as framerate drops whenever I reached new zones for the first time. I do have an Nvidia RTX 3080 and an Intel i9-10900K, so these instances surprised me. Thankfully, they were few and far between.
Overall, the pros outweigh the cons. Grime is a stellar first outing for its development studio. Its weird and otherworldly landscapes are disturbing, but still a feast for the eyes. Meanwhile, the platforming sections will both surprise and frustrate you. Likewise, its combat system and difficulty will amaze you, right to the point when it’s punishing and rewarding all the same.
Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the Metroidvania and Souls-like subgenres, Grime will keep you engaged all throughout. A full run can last you roughly 12 to 15 hours (maybe more if you wish to find all of the secrets. If ever you’re keen on exploring this bizarre world, don’t forget to take a look at our guides and features hub.