In the caverns deep under the earth nothing seems to make sense, because human logic is unnecessary where there are no humans. Whatever may be the origin of the life in the caverns of Grime seems to have broken away from human thought at some point in its past, but that only makes it more strange as the bits that are recognizable are twisted into bizarre forms. There’s something going on down there and it’s offputtingly bizarre, but is it actually wrong? Well, the creature looking to leave the pits is born by absorbing its rocky egg shell into a black-hole head, so it’s probably not right at the very least.
The Grime demo hit Steam just a little ahead of the Next Fest and it shows off a strange and brutal underground world where wretched half-rock creatures pray for…something. It’s not clear what but they’re obviously unhappy with their lot in life. You play as a freshly-born humanoid pulling itself together from the materials of its creation, and like most newborns have no idea what’s going on in the world. Fortunately the crawling cycle of life is a little less than a minute, and soon enough it’s time to run, jump and dash while searching out any kind of weapon. There’s a reason it takes a bit to find anything to perform a standard attack, though, and that’s because having a black-hole head is for more than just style points.
A big part of Grime is the counter, which is triggered by hitting the right bumper just as an attack lands. The action pauses for a second as the black hole opens up, pulling in the attacker and any destructible items in the immediate vicinity. An arm attached to a wall may not do much damage when it smacks you away, but the counter is initially the only way to tear down both arm and its wall to open up the passage forward. Even after finding that first weapon, though, the counter is still important due to the Breath gauge. Counter a few enemies and it tops off, enabling the heal ability and making the exploratory run between save points a little more survivable.
Grime is an open-world combat platformer, filled with hidden areas and passages linking areas together in unexpected ways. Some false walls you can just walk on through, with the blackness dissipating to reveal the new cave, while others are blocked by destructible rock that needs a gentle massage from a club to open up. There are a plenty of areas to seek out even in just the demo, and like any good Metroidvania the exploration complements the combat and vice versa, especially when hiding a pickup to make the search worthwhile. Weapons and armor are standard pickups, but the usable inventory items in particular enhance the surreal oddness of Grime‘s world.
A common pickup is Unformed Fingers, for example, which grants fifty mass on the spot. Everything that’s destroyed adds a bit of mass to the nameless protagonist, being absorbed straight into its black hole head. At save points this can be spent to upgrade health, energy and weapon affinities, but there are other ways to get stronger as well. Enemy absorption opens up the ability to invest in new skills, some of which are one-time purchases and others that can be upgraded several times for more powerful benefits. The bulk of them are tied to the counter, with one awarding slightly lessened damage when missing the counterattack while another gains energy on success, but there are other skills such as revealing hidden areas as well. In the demo at least upgrade points are scarce, so it’s best to choose carefully before buying.
It doesn’t take a lot of practice to get through Grime‘s demo, but I did find it well worth going back a second time with a better idea of how its pieces fit together. It’s a surreal, alien world down there, and while the basics of “beat on everything until it stops hitting back” are simple, the terminology for some of the mechanics took a bit of figuring out. The pop-up explanations when a new system becomes relevant are good, but there’s a lot to get to grips with. It wasn’t until my second play-through that I realized mass was the swirling chips from destroyed background objects and enemies, and that’s what is used at the save points to power up stats. It’s not exactly complicated once you get it, but the weirdness of Grime leaves a good half-dozen questions swirling about at any given time: is this a secret passage? Why are there eyeballs on the wall? What is this bloodmetal splinter for? Am I really using a detached finger with an extra-long nail as a throwing weapon? (Answers: probably, creepy factor, used in the full game but not the demo, and of course.) Everything has an answer, but it’s going to take some looking, because it’s not a world built for humans in the underground depths of Grime.