REVIEW: Grindstone (Switch)

I’m tired of your shit Gladys, grind out your own stones

Released: Switch/Apple Arcade
Type: Single Player
Genre: Puzzle Dungeon Crawler
Developer: Capybara Games
Publisher: CAPY
Release date: December 15, 2020

In Grindstone, you play as a StoneGrinder named Jorj. While there’s not much we learn about him, we do know that he’s a family man and is totally done with sleeping under a crack in his roof where snow is slowly, but surely, drifting in. It certainly doesn’t help that it seems like his wife is a blanket hog. Wishing the best for him and his family, and wanting all of them to take a long needed vacation to the Mudflats, Jorj sets off to Grindstone Mountain to gain some Grindstones (this world’s currency). He has a long way to go if he intends to get to the peak of Grindstone Mountain and a seemingly unending sea of Creeps to slice through.

Every level you’ll be tasked to finish is essentially a puzzle. You’ll be greeted by an area covered with a grid with monsters, commonly called Creeps here, of differing colors filling in the empty spaces. The goal of each level is to open the exit, which will require you to defeat a certain amount of Creeps or the odd level here and there requiring you to defeat a number of Jerks (which are the tough variation of Creeps). To do that, you’ll trace a path through Creeps of the same color, which builds up your combo as you go along at the same time. Building up your combo is important. Getting a combo of at least 10 will spawn in a precious Grindstone, with every 5 more Creeps you combo in will level it up and make it more valuable. While Grindstones will randomly drop on, or by causing the Creep standing there to be crushed, the path you just took, there are incredibly valuable to your strategy. Having Jorj go to a Grindstone not only will have him pick it up, but will let you continue the combo to any color Creep.

Not only that, but there are destructible objects and Jerks, which are tougher than the regular Creep. These have a toughness number and you won’t be able to break through or kill them unless the number above Jorj, which increases as the combo increases, matches or exceeds it. Luckily, this doesn’t hurt the overall combo count, so it doesn’t hurt you getting more Grindstones, but it will if you intend on going through more than one of these. Depending on the destructible object, it has a chance in spawning in a corresponding resource in a random space. It may seem weird why you wouldn’t just get it, but you can use these resources to strategically bridge two areas of the same color together or just use it solely to increase your combo number. Jerks, on the other hand, are a different matter. Jerks are neutral, which not only lets you defeat them no matter the color your combo is on, but gives you a nice reward of being able to path through any color you want.

Of course, Creeps won’t be letting you kill them without some dangers. As time goes on, Creeps will become enraged. If you happen to stop in a spot beside them, they’ll attack you. This is also the same with the Jerks, but these guys have a different range of attack, have different attack patterns, and will kill their fellow Creeps. You can only take three hits before Jorj dies so you’ll have to take that into account when deciding where to stop. Is it worth losing health to have that higher combo, or is it in your best interest to stay it safe? There is an option to view all the dangerous spots and even the attack range of individual enemies to help you out.

In addition, there are two wildcard enemies that don’t really fight you. There’s Gladys who’s thief that will take the Grindstones or resources that’s on the floor. Gladys has a high toughness and after a couple turns of nothing new showing up, she will disappear on you, taking everything she grabbed. The only way to get it back is to scare her with the threat of killing her, in which point she’ll abandon her sack of loot. And lastly, there’s Mystic who is friendly and will put you into a bonus stage if you path your way to her with enough toughness so you can get a ton of Grindstones and possibly resources.

One you rack up enough kills, the exit’s lock will break and all you have to do is create a path up there. Though, you might not want to exit the level right away. While more Creeps will get hostile as you linger, there are two other rewards you can grab. Soon after opening the exit, a Royal Slob will spawn as well as a chest and its key. A Royal Slob will spawn in as a random color and you’ll need to get at least a 5 combo to kill it and grab its crown. Now, the reason I didn’t say these were optional is because crowns are needed to unlock the next area. On the other hand, chests require you to first kill the Creep holding its key, or grab the key if it died before you could get there, and get a high enough combo to break it. Chests more commonly hold more Grindstones and resources, but will hold blueprints every couple of levels. While it is best to try and get both of these rewards on your first run, it’s best to assess the level and Jorj and decide if it’s best to get out of there. Sometimes, you just have terrible Creep placement and it’s best to leave with what you have rather than dying and losing everything. Trust me, it’s not fun retrying and wasting resources. You can always go back at any time to replay levels and grab anything you weren’t able to the first time.

Each area of the mountain is 15 levels, with the last level requiring you to defeat a boss. The bosses are a different matter, as each new boss will have their own hazards and way to defeat it. One will have you punch bombs into it, while another may have you whittling the boss’ health down as you avoid their attacks. Each different area will introduce something new to you like a new hazard or jerk type, while also giving you a new environment. Some areas may even have a bonus path which will grant you a special blueprint if you manage to complete all the levels within it, as they are a tad trickier than normal.

Of course, there is even more to Grindstone. Sooner or later, you’ll have to go to the Inn. The Inn hosts various shops that will increase your odds of surviving. Here, you’ll be able to take a break to regain some health (which, while costs Grindstones, you won’t need to suffer with one health if you have none to your name), look at the challenges you can complete to gain Grindstones or resources, and get equipment. This is where you can put in your blueprints so you can make equipment. You can make yourself an outfit and various swords, shields, arrows, and potions to help you. Though, you can only equip three. Each piece will have its own effect, like healing you or poisoning Creeps, which will determine how many uses you can get out of it and if you’ll need to be repairing it. While it is nice having a shield that can basically reposte, it may be best if you need to have resources to keep using it. With a ton of different outfits and equipment that you can mix and match, there is a ton of combinations you can use. And the game does encourage you to change it up if you need to between levels.

The Inn also has its resident record keeper named Helga where you can see all the different enemies you encountered, how many you killed, the short blurbs about the other characters at the Inn, and see what happens to the Creeps you killed. You see, every Creep you kill gets put into a slop bucket. Helga has recipe cards which you can have her make once you reach the requirement to give you certain advantages, though you can only have one in your lunchbox at a time. This can range from changing every Creep to a Green Creep for easy combo-ing, or having Gladys run off immediately.

If you do manage to complete all 200+ levels, including all the rewards, there is still content for you to jump into. Early on, you’ll unlock the Daily Grind building. This gives you two challenges that will put you up against others on the leaderboard. You can do a Quick Grind or a Greed Grind. A Quick Grind will give you a set of random equipment and have you try to get the most points out of 10 turns. While a Greed Grind will have you go through a handful of levels with you picking out a piece of equipment at the start of each level as you try to get a high score. The score is tallied by how many Grindstones/resources you get, how many Creeps/Jerks you defeat, and your health.

Grindstone plays great on the Switch. The only problem that I ran into was at times, the game does take a moment or two longer to think out its actions. Whether it be just pushing the creeps down to the now empty tiles or for certain enemies (like Gladys) when it’s their turn to do their action or attack.

Grindstone also features a wonderful art style and animations. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to Grindstone due to the art style it has. And it even surprised me with the little touches it added in, like Jorj’s face changing as you make a high combo or based on his health, the terrified faces the enemies will take on once they realize you’re going to kill them, and the animations both the enemies and Jorj uses when they attack. It also has a nice touch of putting in Jorj grunting through his attacks to make combos even more satisfying. Plus, after each level, you’re the only that punches the Royal Slobs or the chests open to get the crown or the loot respectively.

Verdict

I honestly did not expect Grindstone to be as great of a game that it turned out to be. It’s a very satisfying puzzle game where you match colors that blended in with dungeon crawling so well that it’s satisfying to play through and is challenging. It also keeps you coming back to it. Despite times when I just got fed up with it, as there are some difficulty spikes that pop up, I couldn’t help but come back and try again after taking a break or letting my Switch charge back up. Not even suffering through the phase where I barely had anything to Jorj’s name kept me away. Not to mention that there are a ton of equipment combinations you can do, the strategies you can take on, and the new hazards and enemies the game throws at you to keep it interesting. Wrap it all with the art style and the soundtrack and you have a must have game for those that find this game right up their alley.

And if you’re someone that takes playtime into account when purchasing games, Grindstone has enough content to keep you going for a long while. I have over 25 hours and I’m just around Level 93 (which also includes any replays to get what I missed and some bonus areas).

Written by
RipWitch
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