Review: Grimvalor

By Jarrett Green 22 Oct 2018 1

Review: Grimvalor

Released 10 Oct 2018

Developer: Direlight
Available from:
App Store
Reviewed on: iPhone 7+

Mobile games are often given a lot of slack because of their medium. We judge them in a vacuum. Maybe not intentionally, but we really don’t expect certain types of games to translate well on little screens, if they make it there at all. The dream of getting “console-quality” experiences on your phone died in darkness under the heel of free-to-play a while ago.

So when one of these gaming anomalies show up flaunting some features you don't see much on phones and tablets, we learn to make some concessions when justifying it. Enter Grimvalor, a metroidvania that is great in the absence of the sort of ecosystems that produce great metroidvanias.

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A huge reason that you never see these games developed for mobile is the limited capacity for complex and responsive control schemes. Grimvalor attempts to make up for that by replicating some of the more complicated tropes of action platformers with simpler inputs. Your main attack combo can be completed and looped by just holding down the attack button. Tapping gives you slightly more control over there cadence of the four hits, allowing you to jump at the end of a combo to get height before it begins again, for example.

The major majority of the enemies you face will wilt under this barrage with ease. A dash, that doubles as a dodge roll in the presence of attacks, will make you basically invincible to non-boss types. You eventually gain a heavy attack, which added things like guard-breaking lunges and ground pounds, but very few of the enemies you face during your travels through the labyrinthine map require anything more than the basics. Ironically, in some cases your heavy attacks can trap enemies in loops, making sure they never stand to swing on you again.

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This sort of makes the Hunter sub-bosses - encounters that crib the Bloodborne/Dark Souls gimmick of a sudden outside entity coming to get you - a more congenial experience than they were designed as. Not to mention that they are rarely more than just bigger versions of normal enemies.

Simplifying the hacking and slashing is a fine gesture, though. It’s better than trying to fumble over flat tap points with no tactile response without the alternative. But to make up for the lack of challenge in any of the individual monsters, Grimvalor often resorts to overloading your screen with the beasts. Getting hit by a thrown axe from someone you didn’t even see spawn off screen is a bitter experience you’ll always keep in the back of your head. Enemies will spawn seemingly endlessly during some sections, which is a prompt to just leave as fast as possible. But it also feels like a choice to make something difficult in a way that doesn’t feel very rewarding. Occasionally, the sort of breathless transition from dodge rolling, into furious combat and out into the clear can be fun. Maybe just as often, it feels like a claustrophobic mess.

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Boss fights throw a wrench in your previously established “mash until they die” strategy. Sometimes, especially at first, they feel completely over-tuned, like they are compensating for how generally harmless the standard mobs can be. As you gain new abilities, level up your character, and find new trinkets and items, boss fights start to really make sense. They become a test, where the answers involved finding ways to string all of this swipes and taps together to get the most out of the openings they give you. If Grimvalor ever comes close to providing that gritty, AAA action-RPG vibe, it’s during some of these fights.

Another mechanical concession is the platforming. Platformer staples dashing and double jumping are here. Wall running is an option, but like combos, it is semi-automated. If you jump into a wall, you can just run up it for a short period of time. Many levels are designed around this fact, so spaces tend to be wide and tall so there’s plenty of ground to cover. But some jumping puzzles, like one in the second act that involved interacting with elements in mid-air, can feel janky and broken because of all the wall running. You can ignore paths and make your own in some instances, and you can still make it through fine. In a way, it’s offering you a sort of mutable space for creativity. In another, Grimvalor doesn’t take its own design seriously enough.

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The world of Grimvalor leaves some to be desired. Even when travelling to different regions, through giant doors or magical mirrors or massive elevators, they all look and feel the same. Cracked up stone from abandoned and blown out buildings are the back drop for every zone in some form or fashion. The color scheme doesn’t seem to vary much from grey and brown, though the occasion greens of Earth’s possessive overgrowth can be seen.

It takes a too long of a time to see something different in the environments. When you do run into something unique, like a world overgrown with massive roots and thorns, it can be fascinating. But I wonder how many players are willing to stick around till act three or so to get something truly special.

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Characters themselves are sparse, and they’re designs also range from generic soldier guy to striking magical beings. Again, Grimvalor’s more inspired stuff doesn’t show its face until later than it should. It’s a shame because the concept art and stills are great. Up close, even many of the textures of some of the mightier foes are well detailed. Some of the camera cues when you’re traversing long halls or staircases really convey that sense of you-versus-the-elements scale and isolation. Short of some awkward times with some of the stranger creatures in the game, the game looks great in motion.

When they were Touch Foo, the team that is now Direlight was the only people out there still trying to make the mobile platform’s first Symphony of the Night. Grimvalor is absolutely leaps and bounds better than Swordigo, their previous attempt at this genre. If we narrow the discussion of Grimvalor simply to a in comparison to other action platforms you can play from your pocket, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better, more intuitive option. Move that conversation out of the shallow pond of the App Store, and into the general gaming arena at large, then it would be very easy to find a game that does everything Grimvalor does, but better.

Grimvalor is the best Metroidvania you’ll find on a mobile platform, but doesn’t move the bar for the subgenre at large.

Review: Grimvalor

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