It may look like just another colour-matching puzzler but the new version of Capy’s mobile hit is one of the best Switch games of the year.
We were very worried about developer Capybara Games for a while there. After spending years making roguelike Below, only to have it flop thanks to its extreme difficulty, we were concerned that they might end up in serious financial trouble. The game did eventually redeem itself when the PlayStation 4 version was released but Capy, as they now refer to themselves. first came to our attention with Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – one of four favourite puzzle games ever. And we can now confirm Grindstone as being added to that list.
We have played Grindstone before, when it launched as an Apple Arcade exclusive last year, but a while after it was released and never got around to a full review. But now its exclusivity period is over and before it even gets a chance to appear on PC it’s arrived on Nintendo Switch, and we’re beginning to worry we may never stop playing it.
Grindstone is a colour-matching puzzle game. You’ve probably already glimpsed at the screenshots and dismissed it as yet another derivative match-three puzzler and while that’s not technically how it works it’s not a million miles away either. But that would be like taking a look at a single screenshot of a first person shooter or open world game and dismissing it because you’ve already played too many games that are similar, especially as Grindstone is not quite what you think anyway.
In Grindstone you take the role of Jorj, a simple barbarian trying to earn a living to support his family and earn enough money to go on holiday. We don’t want to stereotype barbarians but you can probably guess what his primary job skills are, although rather than just fighting random monsters his goal is to ascend to the top of Grindstone Mountain, which is infested with colour-coded monsters called creeps.
Similar to puzzlers like Candy Crash Saga, Grindstone is divided up into individual, single screen levels which constantly fill up with creeps – and other more dangerous categories of monster – in grid style arrangements. Killing creeps is easy but the most effective way to do so is by creating huge combo chains where you can wipe out any other nearby creep as long as it’s the same colour.
Get up to 10 in a row and they’ll drop a gem (the titular grindstones) which allows you to switch colours and carry on your combo until you’re wiping out half the screen or more in a single turn.
Each level has a requirement for you to beat it, usually either killing a certain number or specific types of monster, but it can go on for as long as you like, as you try to earn more and more rewards. Monsters get increasingly agitated the longer you hang around though, so that more of them get aggressive and attack you if you end your turn too close to them.
This sets up a great risk versus reward dynamic, especially given that items such as locked chests or special crown-wearing enemies usually only appear after the exit to the next level has opened. Plus, there’s the fact that the game has a number of different resources, such as wood and precious metals, that are needed to craft extra items back at the local inn.
Many of these items can only be used once per level, or need to be repaired once exhausted, but they can be extremely helpful and include everything from a long-range bow and arrow to shields, different kinds of swords, and the ability to jump. There’s also an armoury that opens after a little while, that offers Jorj a range of additional outfits that all have their own benefits and drawbacks.
There’s a lot more to Grindstone than you initially assume, with an in-built achievement system, the ability to turn creeps into dubious-looking lunch meals, and a daily challenge leaderboard. The most important element though is simply that the core gameplay is satisfying and fun.
Unlike most Switch games you are allowed to use the touchscreen for all the controls if you want, just like the mobile original, but if anything using a controller is even more satisfying as you get a little rumble effect as you snake around the map trying to take out as many monsters as possible in one long ribbon of violence.
The game’s also highly tactical and while the learning curve is agreeably smooth it gradually becomes more and more difficult to perform an adequately long chain of combos (which are often needed to destroy specific enemies or obstacles) and not end up in an end position where you’re going to get hit. This is where items become increasingly important and you’re continually forced to expand your range of tactics beyond what at first seems a very simple premise.
It’s very hard to fault anything that Grindstone does, although at times it is a little too obvious that the game was originally a mobile app, with the interface feeling slightly clunky if you’re only using a controller. It’s also rather expensive for a game that was originally available as part of a subscription with dozens of other games for £4.99 a month, but it’s absolutely worth it (and currently 25% off on the eShop).
With a winning sense of humour, great animation, and the constant need for ‘just one more go’ Grindstone is a near perfect puzzler. We hope it doesn’t get overlooked because it happened to come out at the same time as Among Us (we really don’t know who these surprise launches are supposed to benefit) because this is a real gem of a game that deserves to be celebrated as one of the best of its genre.
Grindstone Nintendo Switch review summary
In Short: One of the best puzzle games of the last decade and a perfect fit for the Switch, with its mix of tactical puzzle-solving, extreme violence, and charming visuals.
Pros: Great premise and stage design with a very simple concept that gracefully expands into something surprisingly epic. Enjoyably addictive, with great presentation and fun sense of humour.
Cons: The price may put off some and the interface can be a little clunky when using a controller.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), MacOS, and iOS
Release Date: 15th December 2020
Age Rating: 16
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