Ever heard of neo-pagan synthwave? Alright, I made it up just now. Trying to describe my experience playing Grindstone puts me in an out-of-the-boxy kind of mood. „Oh, please not another subgenre!” you cry from your 15-minute ‘loo break’. Well, don’t look at me – Blame Sam Webster, whose composing debut with Capybara Games sees him mashing together influences like he’s got a high score to beat.

Grindstone puts me in an out-of-the-boxy kind of mood.

And do you know what? It works! Webster’s eclectic approach is well judged and executed with skill. A tactile rhythmic underlay fuses synth beats and folk percussion together with a touch of distortion. ‘80s-style basses intone a steady pulse beneath rough-hewn pads as a heathen choir chants away in grim modal harmony. A wacky blend of the electronic and the mythic, it’s a fitting background for our move-busting barbarian Jorj to get his groove on. ‘Big Chains’ exemplifies this; beginning with folkish bells and drums not out of place on a Viking longship, it moves seamlessly into a punchy trap beat. Give it a listen – we all know you brought your headphones in there with you…

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Colourful and imaginative, the music matches the game’s eye-popping visuals and offsets its intensity with a healthy sense of humour. It’s a great fit for a straightforward but compulsive arcade puzzler, but don’t confuse simplicity with a lack of depth. Webster works an impressive amount of detail into each track; listen to the atmospheric delays in ‘Grindstone Mountain’, which reinforce the snow-ridden title screen’s spooky desolation. Sleigh bells manically keep time in place of the usual hi-hat, casting Jorj as a sort of barbarian Santa.

Now make sure your cubicle has a working lock, there’s more to say. I would have liked a little more interaction between music and gameplay, especially within levels themselves. Granted, there’s a definite ramping up of intensity when Jorj hits the kill count required to progress; shifting the emphasis from melody to rhythm is a smart way to signal the mounting difficulty curve post-level, but there is scope for smoother implementation here. Tying the shift to the number of hostile enemies on the board would subtly dial up the tension from start to finish. Of course, I’m nit-picking here. There’s no lack of inventive implementation elsewhere. Leaving the inn where Jorj can craft upgrades and restore his hearts, a muffled version of ‘Drink’ can still be heard over the roaring wind. It’s lovely details like this that give Grindstone a genuine sense of heart.

Webster’s eclectic approach is well judged and executed with skill.

If Grindstone is anything to go by, then we have much to look forward to from Sam Webster, who has put together a coherent imaginative world from seemingly contradictory styles. Until the release of Skies of Chaos, I’ll be bobbing my head up and down as I try to tear myself away from one irresistible puzzle after another. Go on, have a go yourself. They won’t miss you for at least another five.

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Pearch Charlie

I wanted to write symphonies, now I design music systems. As a composer, my interest lies where music meets narrative; video games take this meeting point to the next level.