Yesterday Planetary Annihilation released a standalone game that completely replaces their older product. The game was successfully Kickstarted and went through Early Access where it attracted endless negative reviews; missing features, promises that weren't kept and deadlines that weren't met. The cynical among us might suggest a completely new product means a fresh slate for Steam reviews - but it's a damning indictment of a company's misuse of Early Access.
It's a shame because, for the most part, Early Access has been a phenomenon, allowing games to grow and developers to get real feedback on what's working and what isn't and make changes based on those player responses. Secrets of Grindea has recently hit the Early Access scene and, after a successful demo launch earlier in the year, stands out as a shining example of development done right.
Secrets of Grindea is a 2D RPG in the vein of the older Zelda or 'Of Mana' titles. it has the same charming art style but has a quality of animation that gives the whole game a modern feel, that unfortunately doesn't translate especially well into screenshots. The game focuses on a young boy leaving his village to become a man (stop me if you've heard this one before) and to do so he must first collect his sword and shield and make his way to the nearest town.
On the way you'll learn the basics of combat and get a real feel for how exceptionally well animated Secrets of Grindea is. The sway of a cloak as you dash, the hunched shoulders of a defensive position and the theatrical swirl as human enemies pirouette to the ground in defeat.
The premise of the game is, aside from killing and leveling up, that you are a collector. A type of champion who's tasked with chronicling and cataloging things within Grindea's gorgeous and vibrant world. There's a hint of Pokemon about it all, but Secrets of Grindea wears its influences proudly; and why not? This is an excellent reimagining of some classic ideas and franchises.
The levelling up system itself is more reminiscent of Diablo than any other franchise. As you level up you get skill points which you can put into various areas; magic, defense, skills etc You can unlock new, castable abilities which subsequent points will improve, or level up several of your passive skills. It's adequate, though I'm yet to come across a level up system that I could ever describe as anything other.
I've finished all the content available in Secrets of Grindea's Early Access build outside of the game's Arcade Mode which I'll delve into when the full release arrives. As it stands, though, I would have no reservations about recommending Secrets of Grindea to anyone. It's been a while since a game has been so whimsical, light-hearted and, as simple as it sounds, fun. It's gorgeous, colourful with a stellar soundtrack and is more than an homage to 16 bit classics. This is a faithful re-imagining of the tropes of old with a modern shine and it does it so much better than everyone else.