The best thing we can ever say about a game is that we wanted to keep playing it on our own time after we’ve wrapped up a review. We wish we could tell you that’s the case with Grime. It should be; there’s a really great Souls-inspired Metroidvania here. But a number of technical aspects turn what should be a chip off the ol’ block into a really rocky time. And not in a fun way.
Grime Definitive Edition is the long-awaited Switch port of Grime, which released on PC in 2021. The Definitive Edition includes all of the previously released DLC, as well as the new, final Parting Shade DLC to cap everything off.
If you’ve never played Grime, it combines the 2D side-scrolling, platforming, and exploration of a Metroidvania game with the structure of a Soulslike. You play as a newly birthed rock creature with a black hole for a head (yes, we’re serious) who finds itself called to the peak of the world. Grime’s story has a simple setup, but it goes to some really interesting places, and doles out more information carefully. We were always pretty compelled by what was happening, which is impressive when your protagonist is a character with a black hole for a head. But we were always on the lookout for the next clue or character as we explored the world.
And what a surreal world it is. Creatures made of stone, mind-bending monstrosities, and lots and lots of weird in a fractured, brutal world with some absolutely crazy environments. All in a day’s work for a Soulslike or a Metroidvania, really, but it’s worth noting how wild, inventive, and often horrifying Grime’s world and the creatures that inhabit it are, whether you’re spelunking in underground caves and fighting a creature that throws its own rocky eyeballs at you or running into odd little rock dudes who just wanna make art so they don’t have to think about The Horrors. There’s a wide variety of Messed Up on display. This isn’t for the faint of heart.
As you trek through the Grime’s ruined world, you’ll battle enemies with a variety of weapons that mutate depending on how you use them. Swords, axes, weird mystical lanterns, we’ve got it all, folks. But what makes your rock creature unique is, as we said earlier, his noggin is a singularity. Killing things in the world sucks up their Mass, which you can spend to improve our rocky protagonist.
But that’s not all! You can use your back hole head to parry attacks, which deals massive amounts of damage, often killing your foes and sucking up their Mass outright. Parrying is essential in Grime because you’ll need it to slip past the defenses of certain enemies, but it also restores Breath, Grime’s Estus Flask-esque healing mechanic, which you’ll need to survive.
Combine all that with the unique aspects of each weapon, Focus (a stamina meter that determines how often you can dash, attack, and so on), and the platforming aspects of a Metroidvania, and Grime sports a fast, flashy combat system with a good balance of risk and reward. Knowing when to dodge and when to parry is essential, but when you nail down each enemy’s unique attack timings, you’ll flow from one enemy to the next like water.
Don’t get too cocky, though. Grime is a punishing game. A single hit from a regular enemy can take a good chunk of your health, and you can’t start rebuilding Breath until you’ve spent it, making it very easy to go from, “I have full health and everything’s fine” to “Wow, I’m super dead” without getting a chance to heal. Grime is also much stingier with Surrogates, big rocks that heal you (and reset all the world’s enemies, known as Prey), so backtracking is also pretty common.
Thankfully, Grime doesn’t take your Mass away when you die. You just pop back up at the last Surrogate you used, no worse for wear… which is good, given how punishing it can be. Leveling up often isn’t enough to easily get you past whatever’s been taking you out — the improvements are usually marginal — but it does help. Success, however, will mean learning the ins and outs of each Prey.
This seems like a good time to talk about Grime’s boss fights, which are unique, expansive affairs that will challenge everything you’ve learned about an area before moving on. These fights can be tough — some of them took us several attempts — but they never feel unfair. And it was usually a lightbulb moment, or a question like, “Huh, I wonder if I can parry that?” that led us to victory.
Grime also nails the traversal and upgrade aspects a good Metroidvania needs, rewarding you with new ways to get around and offering tons of hidden paths and secrets to find. Even something as simple as opening up a new shortcut feels really satisfying. Grime can be punishing, but when it all comes together, it feels great.
The problem with the Switch version isn’t a design issue – it’s a technical one. This port is, to be frank, quite bad. We’re talking frame drops, stuttering, loading mid-combat or platforming, long load times in random places (like opening a menu, switching menu tabs, reviving after death, or using a Surrogate to buy upgrades), muddy or missing textures, entire in-game objects phasing out of existence, and perhaps worst of all, noticeable input lag.
That Grime has this many issues at what looks to be around 720p while docked is simply unacceptable in an action game where a few frames of input delay can be the difference between nailing a parry and dying. We died a lot more than we should have because of these technical issues, and these problems, which are constant, drag down the experience substantially.
Thankfully, we noticed fewer problems while playing the game in handheld mode, where it runs substantially better. The only problem here is that Grime is a dark game, and it can be difficult to see what’s going on, especially if your Switch doesn’t have an OLED screen. You’re damned if you play Grime docked, and damned if you don’t. Ultimately, we’d recommend playing docked unless you have an OLED, but just barely.
Grime is a beautiful, well-designed, challenging game with a ton of content, but it runs extremely poorly on Switch, to the extent that it’s hard to recommend this version of the game if you can get it on another platform. It’s disappointing, because Grime does so much right, and developer Clover Bite has clearly put a lot of love into it over the years. But all of that love can’t save an action game that just doesn’t run well. In this genre, that’s a deal-breaker. It’s a shame Grime’s Switch debut is so rocky, because playing as a rock creature with a black hole doubling as its cranium is really cool. Don’t get us wrong: Grime is playable on Switch, but until (or if) things get ironed out with updates, this brutal world is one you might want to avoid.
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