US: 17 Dec 2012
Grimind feels like an unfinished game. There’s a jarring lack of technical polish that makes its core gameplay feel awkward, but even worse, a lack of fundamental design polish that’s just inexcusable for a game asking you to pay money for it.
Grimind is meant to be a horror puzzle platformer, but none of these elements gel together. Grimind mistakes obfuscation for horror as its “horror” descriptor mainly stems from the fact that it’s a visually dark game. The environment appears as one big silhouette, so the ground is covered with hundreds of little spikes, the silhouettes of grass, and long tendrils of plants stick up in the background and foreground. Every colored light is dimmed, so you still have to squint to make out any details. The game’s love of dynamic lighting means there’s a lot of pitch black areas waiting to be lit by a portable light source, but even when things are lit as brightly as they can be, the multitude of background and foreground silhouettes makes it hard to tell where a platform ends and a pit begins. Dangerous spikes blend in with the tendrils of grass and vines; you’ll come to what looks like a vertical wall, but there’s actually a platform there you can jump on. Grimind is a platformer that literally hides its platforms and tries to justify this by calling itself “scary.”
It seems to have ambitions of being a moody puzzle platformer ala Limbo as its puzzles also revolve around physics, but the game is so strict with its physics-based solutions that you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t get things perfectly right. It’s too bad that the solutions are so dodgy because the fundamental design behind many of the puzzles is quite clever.
Grimind could have been a mediocre puzzle platformer if this was all there was too it, but the game goes that extra frustrating mile by adding a time limit to everything in the form of little red-eyed creatures that kills you on contact. When you’re faced with a puzzle, these buggers swarm out of a hole or break through a door if you don’t solve the puzzle within seconds, so there’s no time to tinker around and actually ponder the problem before you.
There are also chase scenes in which you have to run away from the creatures, and they ruin the platforming just like they ruin the puzzles. Exploring is hard enough when the game actively hides its environment from the player, but forcing me to run through the world at top speed just compounds all the problems even more. And making things even worse, usually the creatures kill you in four hits, giving you a bit of breathing room if they catch up, but sometimes they kill you in one hit. Just cause. It’s this kind of arbitrary design that makes Grimind feel less like a finished game and more like a prototype.
A lack of technical polish adds to that feeling. There’s a painful lack of animation when running, jumping, and climbing, so there’s very little visual feedback as to how your character is interacting with the world. Climbing is the worst offender. The character sprite just stands next to the vine, hovering in midair, as if the game glitched and somehow stuck you onto this piece of the environment. Climbing is thus made harder than it should be since you’re never quite sure if you’re actually hanging onto something or not. Aesthetically, the lack of animation goes a long way in killing the supposedly scary atmosphere.
Grimind feels like an unfinished game because it’s constantly at odds with itself. It’s a platformer that hides its platforms, a puzzle game that doesn’t give you time to think about its puzzles, and a horror game that thinks arbitrary spikes in difficulty are what makes games scary. Its platforming interferes with its puzzles, its puzzles interfere with its platforming, both interfere with its horror atmosphere, and its horror atmosphere interferes with both. I could forgive the technical flaws as mere development limitations if Grimind felt like a cohesive whole, but it doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole. It feels more like an experiment, a playable prototype meant to determine what works and what doesn’t work about a particular idea. Turns out, none of it works.