Fewer things have given me a greater sense of satisfaction over the best few weeks than returning to Grindstone. That can be primarily put down to the way that Jorj, the hulking hero of this puzzler-brawler, rhythmically dissects his way through the cutesy monsters that clutter his path to the top of Grindstone mountain. His swinging starts slow, but the longer you can build up a combo, the more frantic his sword swipes get. It sort of goes like this: Chop. Chop. Chop, chop,chopchopchop, and… CHOP.
Now, you might not be a stranger to Capy's colourful slaughter head-scratcher, but its re-release on Nintendo Switch should be a celebration for all. Missed out on it the first time around? Great, get ready to wile away evenings by craving through legions of adorable beasts. Caught it on Apple Arcade when it launched? Then you'll already know why a return trip - now with added rumble support thanks to the Switch's Joy-Cons - is more than worth your time.
For the uninitiated, Grindstone's allure is simple. There are over 200 levels where you need to clear a set amount of grinning gremlins by drawing a line through ones which share the same colour. Create a line of 10, and you'll earn a Grindstone, which will drop onto the board for your next turn and allow you to change your combo to a different colour. If that sounds like a spin on Bejeweled or Zoo Keeper, that's because it dips its toes in that pond, except the monsters are cleared by Jorj slashing his way through them. As previously mentioned: chop, chop, chop.
Now, on a surface level, this is great fun. The late '00s Cartoon Network art style of Grindstone means that it never feels anything less than winsome, even though you're constantly cleaving through imps. But the real exhilaration of Capy's caper comes from the plotting beforehand. Surveying the scene, figuring out the best possible route that can lead to harvesting more Grindstones, and setting up paths for the turn after. As you start to scythe your way through levels, and up the mountain, your ability to see past the most obvious paths feels like some Matrix-level ascension.
Scaling the mountain
Now, if this was the extent of Grindstone's core loop, then it would still be worth recommending. But, like any great puzzler, it knows how to add little wrinkles that make you consider how you approach each level. As you start working your way up the mountain, you'll encounter different types of enemies, who you can only tackle if you build up a big enough chain. While early villains might only need a dinky combo of 5, you'll soon be tackling lairy lads who have some hefty hit points or challenge you in different ways.
It's just one of many ways the game sprinkles in some light role-playing mechanics that add another compelling hook to the core puzzling. From combat that requires a little planning, to spending your grindstones on unlockable items and armour sets that offer special abilities, Grindstone's crafting and RPG elements complement, rather than overpower, the main hook by giving you more ways to tackle its bite-sized conundrums.
When it launched alongside Apple Arcade, it was arguably the most convincing case for Apple's nascent service. Here was a mobile game that made sense for the commute - one just as playable in sharp bursts as well as longer stretches - shorn of the usual freemium models you'd expect to see bolted onto them. In truth, it's the only reason I kept my subscription going after the free trial, and now it's on the Switch, it feels like it's found an ideal home away from Apple's platform.
While the portability of Apple devices and Switch is the easy comparison, Grindstone also benefits from the HD rumble offered by Nintendo's Joy-Cons. Jorj's assault through the throngs of Day-Glo monsters now buzzes away in your palms, a slight touch that nevertheless adds just a tiny bit more to your returning adventures. Add on the Switch's pick-up-and-play focus, alongside the ability to let me play Grindstone in bed, just sweetens the deal.
But whichever version you grab, Grindstone is the complete opposite of its title. Figuring out paths through the various levels is never tedious or monotonous, while the explosion of colour, hummable tunes, and screwball humour feels like a warm and cosy embrace at a time we could all use one. This is the puzzling obsession you deserve to start 2021 one with. So, what are you waiting for? Chop chop.