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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Direlight
Developer: Direlight
Release Date: April 7, 2020

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Switch Review - 'Grimvalor'

by Andreas Salmen on May 13, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Grimvalor is a hack-n-slash action-platformer with compelling combat mechanics and exploration.

It's time for the hard truth: The Nintendo eShop is bloated with shovelware, low-effort games and lazy ports. There's an abundance of ports of mobile titles with an inflated price tag. It's no wonder that I'm suspicious of any title originating on mobile and coming exclusively to the Switch. Grimvalor is a 2.5D action-platformer from developer Direlight, and the title started on the mobile but is now available on the Switch. Surprisingly, it proves that not all mobile ports should be written off.

Grimvalor is a mix of several different genres. It's a platformer at heart with a hack-and-slash combat style and distinct Dark Souls and Metroidvania influences. We control a nameless hero, either male or female, and embark on a quest to find a lost king. The quest gets more complicated with every passing second until we're armed and knee-deep in a horde of gruesome monsters. There is a forgettable plot, which is one of Grimvalor's shortcomings.

Thankfully, the game holds its own ground in every other way. If you've played an action-platformer before (especially Metroid or Castlevania), Grimvalor is self-explanatory. The game feels somewhere between the very fast-paced and fluid Rayman Legends, the challenging Dark Souls, and Blasphemous. The map for every act of the story is comprised of self-contained adjacent rooms that contain both secrets and hidden items, much like a Metroid game. Areas are gated away or require skillful platforming to reach, and progress is tied to some skill, key or item opening up the next level. It's simplified compared to its role models, and the level design is more restrictive in some spots, but it still rewards some exploration if you're a dedicated completionist.

What impressed me was the fluidity in the game. Dashes, double-jumps, wall jumps, and wall runs have relatively tight controls, and once you get the hang of it, they flow into each other at top speed. Combined with some decent platforming mechanics and level design, the traversal is fun and satisfying. Within a short period of time, it feels like we're flying across the map with little resistance to trip us up. Animations aren't always great, and some corners were cut, but that doesn't matter in the rush of everything. Occasionally, we need to stop pressing forward so we can end the monsters that don't want us in their homey ruins.

If you're more into bludgeoning than collecting and jumping around, Grimvalor has you covered. The combat is relatively simple, which likely stems from its mobile origins. We start off with a sword but soon get a second weapon slot. We have regular attacks and charged maneuvers; the former is freely available, while the latter requires additional energy that's refilled by killing foes. We can keep pressing the attack button, and our character continuously attacks whatever is within reach. Our regular dash, if timed correctly, is useful to evade attacks. We can gain additional skills to launch enemies into the air, but the general gameplay loop usually consists of dealing as much damage as possible while evading like a madman.

It initially seems easy, but the challenge ramps up rather quickly. Our protagonist usually lunges at an enemy for an attack, and the evade window is generous, but bosses and an increase in enemy density and variety quickly ramp up the difficulty. Early bosses and enemies feel almost like a pushover — until they're not. Enemies can be avoided in small quantities, but if they hit you, you'll feel it. The game can become chaotic in later stages when we're barraged with enemies. The bosses can become a test of skill, with some devastating attacks that can end you in a few strikes if you're not careful. The game does as much as it can to clearly signal enemy attacks, but it can be overwhelming to follow. Grimvalor has a good balance of progression and challenging encounters that may stop you in your tracks until you figure out how to push on.

As we move through the game, we collect souls of our enemies, which can be used to upgrade our character at shrines. Every level grants us three skill points across four areas to upgrade critical rate, damage, energy capacity, and health. It's a streamlined experience that makes player skill more important than leveling. Enemies do respawn, so grinding isn't out of the question if you need a damage boost for the next boss. Additionally, there is a merchant who sells trinkets and energy flasks to replenish health, and we can use collected resources at the forge to create more powerful weapons.

While Grimvalor is a solid and satisfying experience in most ways, it just cannot hide its mobile roots. The visuals, while upgraded for the Switch, are decidedly blocky and low in detail. The environments and enemy do vary, but things can be a touch bland. There are only a few models and characters that truly stand out among the enemy hordes, and most of it feels largely the same. It does its job, but it can be boring to look at. On the flip side, it runs incredibly well and only eats up about 1GB of storage. It's also reasonably priced at $12.99. Sure, that's double the price of the original mobile game, but the slightly upgraded visuals and an exclusive New Game+ mode more than make up for that.

I'll be the first to admit that Grimvalor surprised me with both its platforming and combat. It's a challenging and addicting action-platformer experience that was easy to get into and satisfying and challenging throughout its 10- to 15-hour run, depending on your play style. Some streamlined elements and visuals are evidence that it's still a noticeably mobile experience, but it is a fun one at that. If you don't care much for bloat, plot, or elaborate displays of visual fidelity, Grimvalor is absolutely worth a look.

Score: 7.2/10

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