Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!
Puzzle games are no strangers to rage. They are bedfellows. It’s slightly perverse, I think, that you can avenge a family member or push back alien forces threatening the entire planet without ever needing to leave the bubbly realm of pleasing busywork in some games, but puzzlers? These abstract voids of blocks and shapes and colours and numbers? These are the games that make you angry.
Grindstone is excellent in this regard. And I think there are (at least) two reasons for this.
The first is that this smartphone match-em-up seems particularly focused on creating blood lust. The point of Grindstone is to connect objects of the same colour by drawing a single unbroken line between them. The more you can connect, the higher your score, and then there are stones that allow you to switch colours if you pass through them and keep the chain going. The game’s a bit more complex than that, but this is the basic gist of it.
Anyway, these items could be anything. They could be candy or fruit and veg or flags or whatever. But they’re not. They’re grumpy, addled monsters and as you push through them you get the fighting game’s classic hit-pause, that tiny hang in the action that conjures images of blades going through flesh, seismic ripples shattering bones. And in their wake you get little cubes of monster hide, blubbery and glossy and ready, one suspects, to be eaten alongside tempura veg at LA’s hottest sushi bar. Grindstone turns a prolonged finger maze into carnage, tasty carnage. There is no need for the game to do this, but man in works: it drives everything onwards. Rage makes it personal. Grindstone is a puzzler that seems – in its animations and its sound effects – to think it’s a fighting game.
But the more I play, the more I start to think that you might be in a rage anyway. Here’s the second thing about Grindstone. In the early hours, at least, it’s not actually that hard to beat each level. You have to hit a certain target number of critters, and then you have to make it to the exit once it’s been unlocked by hitting that target. This isn’t very difficult until the game really ramps things up.
But what makes it feel difficult even early on is your own greed, your own desire to hit the biggest chain possible, to clear dozens of monsters in one go, an entire screen even! This is why, even once I’ve unlocked the exit door and collected plenty of other optional doodads, I will keep plugging away at a level I have all but beaten until it tires of me and finishes me off and I leave with nothing. And if I was angry before, by that point I’m properly furious.
This is so clever, isn’t it? If a game makes you angry at it, you give up after a while. But if a game makes you angry at yourself you’ll probably play it forever. So long, 2019.