Grindstone — Razor Sharp puzzler

Grindstone is a puzzle game where chaining attacks on colored creatures allows you to destroy them to move around the room.

If you were to tell me that in 2019, I would be playing a game that has mechanics similar to a cross between Critter Crunch and Puzzle Quest, I’d question the very possibility. But as it stands, Grindstone really does exist, and it might be the most addictive puzzle game I’ve played since ever.

Gameplay is very straight-forward: swipe through and create chains of the colored enemies — or creeps, as the game calls them — to attack, which will send our hulking viking hero Jorj to rip them to shreds with his sword. You can create paths in any direction, including diagonal, and this often leads to more opportunities to extend your violent reach.Grindstone

The key component and the game namesake, grindstones, allow Jorj to switch to different colors during his maniacal onslaught and keep the chain going. Creating a grindstone takes large chains of ten or more to begin with, so it’s a matter of planning out your attack, using what abilities you have equipped and then weaving your path of carnage to maximize its effectiveness. As you defeat creeps, the ones above them drop down, creating new paths and new opportunities or challenges to overcome. The enemy spawns, which come from the top, that fills the rest of the space are also random, so it’s mostly a matter of making do with what the game throws at you and figuring out how to use it to your advantage, and that takes a lot of skill.

This might seem overall like an easy task at first, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you wish to keep Jorj alive. Creeps get aggravated at random after each turn, which means that if you find yourself near one — in the path of their attack pattern — then they will attack you, and unless you have a shield active or proper armor, you’re going to get hit. Jorj only has three hearts before he keels over, so it’s important to plan where you’ll end up after your attacks, as you might find yourself in between a heap of angry creeps, ready to pounce. You can revisit the Howling Wolf Inn at any time between levels to replenish your health, but it’s going to cost you precious grindstones to do so.

Abilities make the task at hand easier, but only if you plan them wisely. You’ll unlock all kinds of weapons and skills that will not only help you against the increasingly difficult levels, but keep Jorj out of harm’s way. One of the most effective skills I’ve found is an arrow, which simply allows you to target one creep on the playing field and destroy it, dropping the rest of the creeps in that column down by one. This simple tactic may mean bridging colored foes or opening up a new path for you to escape from the creatures that just became enraged this turn, making it a useful tool in many different scenarios. Additional abilities for your sword that allow you to take out an entire row or column of enemies or swing it around you, essentially eliminating any enemy in your radius, can really change the situation you find yourself and allow you even more strategy to your play.

Enemies in Grindstone come in all shapes and sizes, but with all the larger enemies having combo requirements to defeat, you’ll often find yourself avoiding them until you get a clear path of foes to defeat them with. There are many stages that contain gravestones, which can possess creeps, turning them into skeletons.

Skeletons will slowly stalk you and, when defeated, can turn into a pile of bones that, if unattended, will turn back into a skeleton. This adds a bit of a rush to defeat them and can hinder your focus on other tasks in the level. Conveniently, when using the skeletons or their bone piles in your combos, they provide you with the same colorless power that grindstones do and allow you to switch colors, extending your reach. 

After slicing through a set number of critters, you will unlock the door to the next level. Sometimes getting to the exit itself is a challenge, but there are additional things to keep your attention and lead you away from immediately dashing towards the doorway the second you’re able. Treasure and crowns await your discovery, with treasure chests requiring you to defeat an enemy holding the key and crowns requiring you to defeat what the game affectionately calls a ‘SLOB.’ The slob enemy type requires your combo chain to be the same color as it is, or rainbow, as it may be. Defeating him gives you access to his crown, and you even get to stab him in the face multiple times at the end of each level — with your finger — to relieve him of his golden crown. It gives you reason to risk the danger till the very end if just to give you the satisfaction of beating the level, fully.Grindstone

Collecting treasure as well as various pieces and parts of monsters would be great, but there’s purpose behind the reaping: health, blueprints, and refills. Grindstones can be used to refill health at the Inn, but blueprints require additional creep parts — such as bat wings, guts, and glowing skulls — to construct new equipment. Some of the abilities have charges which wear down after each use and take parts to refill, so revisiting a level to grind for parts may be a requirement for you down the line if you run out, but I never found myself in such a predicament. This odd ecosystem seems a bit overwhelming, but if you maintain a steady reaping in each level, you’re bound to have the goods when you need them.

With 150 levels in total, Grindstone has a lot to offer. Each level feels dynamic and challenging and the simple act of hacking through hordes of ravenous creatures never gets old. The crunchy sounds as foes are diced into piles of gelatinous cubes combined with Jorj’s manic screams as he delivers blow after blow scratch a carnal itch deep within. Not to say it doesn’t have an excellent soundtrack — it does — but the sound effects sometimes made the bigger impact for me, adding to the enjoyment of racking up killer combos.Grindstone

Grindstone’s amazingly addictive puzzle gameplay makes the recommendation easy. While levels get progressively harder, the ‘simple to understand’ nature of play and cathartic destruction of mass amounts of foes make it easy to give a level “one more go.” Capybara Games may have created a phenomenon with Critter Crunch back in the early days of the App Store, but they absolutely perfected the crunching of creatures in Grindstone that makes it simply a delight to play, if only to relieve stress after a day of grind at the office. 

Grindstone is available now on Apple Arcade.

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