Grindstone Review

The best that mobile gaming has to offer.

Capybara Games first released Grindstone nearly a year ago as a debut title on Apple’s game subscription service, Apple Arcade. Nearly a year and two expansions later, it’s even better. The premise is simple: kill waves of enemies by streaking through foes of a same color. If it sounds similar to Candy Crush, it’s because it is—but with all the signature quality of Capybara Games, and none of the overbearing microtransactions.

The game starts off with a series of animated comic book panels that show Jorj leaving his family and home to go work at the mountain. There isn’t much else to the story, and that’s fine: story isn’t the motivator here. Other than that, you’ll meet a handful of colorful NPCs that’ll help you on your journey with heals and new equipment. This aside, Grindstone is all about the gameplay, with almost no pause between each different room.

There’s plenty of tools and weapons that’ll let you solve the different puzzles in creative and unexpected ways.

Jorj’s quest is to ascend the mountain and collect the game’s titular Grindstones, which serve both as a type of currency and allow you to continue your attack streak through enemies of a different color. The grindstones, as well as the other materials you find—wood, skulls, stone, etc.—can then be taken back to the Howling Wolf Inn and converted into new equipment (which you first have to find the blueprints for). The game is generous with its rewards, to the point that after thirty or so levels I never really struggled to buy whatever I wanted to. Like with the story, that’s fine: it’s not the promise of rewards that kept me coming back, but the superlative gameplay loop.

Grinding for the sake of grinding

As mentioned, Jorj must clear out a number of foes by linking together those of a same color. But there’s a catch: some enemies get enraged and attack the surrounding tiles (and Jorj if he’s on them). The longer you stay on a same level, the angrier they get, the fewer safe spaces you’ll have to navigate Jorj to. Well, just kill the required number and bounce, right? If only. You could do that, of course, but the longer you stay, the more rewards you can reap.

A growing trail of corpses was a better reward than any grindstone or crown could ever be….

For starters, the Grindstones are generated when you link together ten or more enemies (and the higher you go, the more grindstones you can get). There’s also the chests and unique enemies, each containing different types of crafting materials, and that tend to show up when you’ve already spent a few rounds in a level. The game’s easy way out wasn’t enough to shake off my greed: maybe if I stayed just one more round I could line up a big, fat streak that’d net me plenty of Grindstones.

As your streak goes up, so does Jorj’s speed and brutality: watching him tear through 32 enemies, smashing through two Jerkers with vigor, was rewarding enough without the accompanying streak’s gems. A rotating list of challenges encourage you to try increasingly harder things, from giant streaks to killing two unique enemies on a single round. Push too far, however, and you’re left penniless and have to start over.

The game keeps things interesting by progressively introducing new elements: new enemies, tiles and resources, each with their own rules and particularities. Complete fifteen levels and you’ll face a boss, which adds some new or unique mechanic that you’ll need to deal with. After you beat them, a new zone awaits. This cycle keeps things fresh enough without ever changing the gameplay loop in any significant way, and again, that’s fine. After the expansions, Grindstone now has 180 of these micro-puzzles that you can rip & tear through, enough for hours of entertainment.

Grindstone’s unique artstyle also stands out, and I could find no fault in it. From the quirky character designs to the cartoonish animations and Sam Webster’s great soundtrack (proof of quality: I almost never listened to a Spotify playlist or podcast while playing the game), everything in Grindstone oozes with style. Watch the trailer below to see what I mean.

I’ve never been too keen on mobile gaming, but Grindstone showcases it at its best. Its short, engaging gameplay loop is good enough to never get boring, no matter how many times I went through it. As I got further into the game and things got harder, I could always take the easy way out and just do the bare minimum—I could, but I never did, because Grindstone’s true joy lies in aiming for the skies, even if it means falling and failing.

You can get Grindstone for iOS by subscribing to Apple Arcade.

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