Capy Games return to what they do best for the launch of Apple’s game subscription service.
Developer: Capybara Games
Platform: iOS (Apple Arcade)
After a spell in the shadows making their long-awaited and much-delayed passion project Below, Capybara Games return to more traditional fare with Grindstone. A colour-matching puzzle game for Apple Arcade that recalls their earlier achievements with games like Critter Crunch, back when the App Store was in its infancy.
As with the best mobile games, the premise of Grindstone is deceptively simple at first but gets gradually deeper and more complex as you progress. Assuming the role of “Jorj”, you are tasked with reaching the peak of Grindstone Mountain. This is acheived by clearing areas filled with ‘Creeps’ so a gate at the top of the screen can be opened and your climb continued.
Creeps are laid out on a 7×7 grid and the aim is to trace a path through those of the same colour to build up an attack combo. Reach a combo of ten or more and a Grindstone is released and dropped somewhere onto the grid. Once a Grindstone is in play, you can use it to string together combos of different coloured Creeps. So for example six red Creeps, then a Grindstone, followed by nine blue Creeps, for a total combo of sixteen.
This becomes increasingly important as later levels introduce mini-boss style enemies who have health points, requiring combo scores of five, ten or twenty before Jorj can attack them. To provide more resistance to Jorj, there are also a number of Creeps on the grid who are in an enraged state, and although these can be defeated within a normal attack chain, finishing a chain on a tile directly next to one results in Jorj being attacked and losing a heart.
Stringing together large combo chains and watching as Jorj tears through the crowds is endlessly satisfying.
Jorj has a maximum of three hearts at any one time, and these can be replenished at an Inn from the main menu by trading Grindstones. The Inn is also host to a blacksmith who sells a steadily unlocking set of items which can also be purchased using – you guessed it – Grindstones.
Now, if these last two statements set alarm bells ringing for those who have endured the stream of manipulative free-to-play games on the App Store over recent years; fear not. Grindstones are plentiful, they are released at a fair rate, and you can only ever carry three items at a time anyway. Crucially, these unlockable items do not break or need to be repurchased. They have a certain number of uses per level, and then magically reappear at the start of the next.
Its refreshing stuff. And it feels great to be playing a mobile game again in which progression is entirely linked with the mechanics of the game, rather than to a monetisation model. If anything, the item system is arguably the most underdeveloped feature of Grindstone. The first few items you acquire could feasibly be enough to see you through the majority of the game.
So to recap; Link together Creeps. Kill mini-bosses. Acquire Grindstones. Exit level. Buy items.
Well almost. This simple premise is of course complicated by some additions that introduce a brilliant risk/reward mechanic into the mix. Firstly, once the exit to a level has been opened, you don’t actually have to leave. You can stay in the level, ploughing through more and more creeps and collecting Grindstones to your heart’s content. Also, most levels have optional items (treasure chests, crowns, and blueprints used for new items) which can be collected but often don’t appear until the exit has been opened.
Well not quite. The Creeps don’t take kindly to you hanging around and freely mopping up missed items and extra Grindstones, and as such the frequency in which they turn into enraged Creeps starts to increase at a frankly terrifying rate. This leaves the very real possibility of becoming stranded in a level with no safe space left to move to, and no path back to the exit. It’s a wonderfully devious mechanic that plays on the predictability of human nature to always try and push things just that little bit too far.
Capy know that the secret to a compelling touchscreen game is all about the feedback. And the way Jorj tears through enemies and items, sending chunks of cartoon flesh flying across the map remains hugely satisfying throughout the game. The solid ‘thunk’ and split-second hit-pause present with each attack is delightful, and the way Jorj speeds up as more enemies are chained together is almost reward in itself for thoughtful play.
Add this to some predictably characterful visuals, brilliantly squelchy sound effects and an almost overly generous amount of content and Grindstone deserves a permanent place on mobile devices for years to come.
Easy to learn but full of deeply satisfying complexities, Grindstone repeats Capy Games’ early App Store success by providing Apple Arcade with a genuine mobile classic right out of the gate.