In development for just over five years and in Steam early access since 2019, Grim Earth is a cute little hand-drawn 2-D platformer brought to us by George Allen, who also designed the recently re-released Zool. This man has been working on games since the nineties so he certainly knows what he’s doing.
So what exactly is Grim Earth? Well it’s a story about… the Earth. And it’s kind of… grim. Waking up from cryosleep after who knows exactly how long, your memories missing, your little spacesuited character must navigate the post-apocalyptic landscape aided only by your talking watch called “Hub” who needs you to come and find him. You do this by navigating your way through the different levels, solving some basic puzzles along the way, while also trying to avoid getting stabbed or shot to death by the assortment of gooey things that inhabit the landscape, all of which seem to have a personal issue with your continued existence.
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You’re far from defenceless though. In a twist worthy of a song about Hollywood Superstar Shia Labouef, you can do ju jitsu! Well, okay, karate, and can punch your way through enemies. There are various weapons you can pick up as well, from your standard pew-pew gun to a burst gun to a shotgun. As well as these, there’s an assortment of powerups that can help you jump for longer, glide, double-jump and the like, all necessary in navigating the somewhat maze-like levels of this lush and overgrown world. The game is voiced in the same way as titles like Banjo Kazooie, with characters talking in gibberish which is then translated on-screen. There are even occasional conversation options to spice things up, but they don’t directly impact the story or gameplay as far as I can tell.
Gameplay wise, this is a really well-made little title. The movement feels precise, the character’s jump neither too floaty or too heavy, though some of the jumps do require you to be REALLY precise to make them properly. It’s a game I would strongly recommend playing with a controller rather than a keyboard and mouse. You can play it WASD/cursor keys but you’re going to be making life really difficult for yourself. There’s also the weird fact that the jump button doesn’t come mapped to the spacebar, as is pretty much the default for games these days, it’s set to Z instead. You can change it, but it’s just sort of an odd decision to make.
There are a couple of things I’m really not a fan of. Some of the deaths feel a bit cheap. It’s a little too easy to get stun-locked and killed by enemies if they knock you the wrong way or pin you against the scenery. The biggest sin the game commits, however, is FALL DAMAGE. Fall damage in a platformer is just… evil. There was one level, for instance, where I literally had to sit and wait for my health to be absolutely full before I made a specific jump or it would kill me. I’m not sure what the point of fall damage in a platformer is, unless it’s to justify the existence of some of the power-ups or puzzles.
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The biggest problem I have with Grim Earth is that it just didn’t really grab me and that’s a real shame. This is not a bad game at all. It’s well made, reasonably priced, runs smooth as silk on my PC with no crashes or glitches, the hand-drawn art style is cute and distinctive (also holy crap, that must have been so much work) but when it came to the gameplay hook it just… didn’t. I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of platformers, so perhaps I’m simply not the target audience but the further I went into the game the more I questioned why I was playing it. I think I need more of a narrative to my games and while Grim Earth does have one, it just never quite managed to get its hooks into me.
All this said, Grim Earth is a game that definitely does deserve to find an audience. As a product of one man’s work, it’s a damn fine little game that puts a lot of big budget releases to shame.
Grim Earth is out now on Steam.