Love him or hate him, you still have to respect American McGee for sticking to his convictions.
October 7, 2008
American is convinced that most children’s literature has been Disneyfied, that is, the more gruesome parts have either been removed or toned down for today’s namby pamby children who are so fat and lazy that they eschew playing with real Legos in favor of playing with virtual ones.
In fact, it is stated rather explicitly at the beginning of each Grimm episode that,“Once upon a time fairy tales were valuable cautionary yarns filled with dire warnings and sage advice. However, over time, the stories have become so watered down with cute woodland creatures and happy endings that they have lost their true meaning and purpose.”
Now why this upsets Mr. McGee so much I’m not sure, especially as today’s precocious tots are much more likely to be watching Director’s Cut, hi-def Blu-rays ofSaw IV or blowing away hookers in Grand Theft Auto IV than they are reading a smelly, old book.
American McGee’s Grimm is a collection of fairy tales on Gametap with a new episode available every week. To date, there have been eight installments - A Boy Learns What Fear Is, The Fisherman and His Wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, The Girl Without Hands, Godfather Death, The Devil and His Three Golden Hairs and Beauty and the Beast. The entire series is to be comprised of twenty-four episodes broken into three segments of eight episodes apiece.
Each episode opens with the excellent Grimm’s theme song and then our narrator, Grimm himself, relates with sputtering venom the ‘watered-down’ version of this week’s fairy tale. The story is nicely presented by strange string puppets that jiggle about like they are having an epileptic seizure. The voice acting, for both the opening and closing story, is splendid all the way around. These wrap-arounds for Grimm and his puppets are voiced by voice-over veteran Roger Jackson whose industry credits go all the way back to Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride in 1994. Each story then concludes with a satisfied Grimm retelling the story in its original form.
The character of Grimm adds sort of a Fractured Fairy Tales feel to the game, though in a much more ominous manner than those classic Jay Ward cartoons. It seems that both Grimm and Fractured have the same objective in mind – to unobtrusively encourage reading – but Fractured accomplished its goal through inspired silliness while Grimm is more attuned to the modern sensibilities of violence.
We are then inserted into the story, playing as Grimm, our goal being to destroy each chapter of the diluted fairy tale by darkening the land/story with our foul smell. This is done by scurrying about the landscape and turning everything dark. There are some humorous bits scattered through the different stories – grandfather clocks wind down, flowers wilt on bushes and so on. In some areas, happy people and fluffy creatures will follow behind cleaning-up your dirty work and requiring a butt-stomp to stop the cleaning.
At the top of the screen is a dark-o-meter that ranks your progress from smelly-stinky-gross-foul-rotten-nasty-disgusting-repulsive-putrid-rancid-vile (can’t help but wonder what the board meeting for determining the levels of disgustingness for the dark-o-meter must have been like). At the beginning of each chapter you are given a smell to achieve before you can butt-stomp your way to the next chapter.
Navigation is a breeze as either your mouse or keyboard is used to guide Grimm through the land. To jump is a left click and a butt-stomp is a double left-click. Butt-stomps are used to open gateways to new areas or to sometimes clear an area of vicious plants or other items relatable to that story.
If you stand in one place too long Grimm will begin to pee. Your urine (well, Grimm’s urine) can be aimed to determine how far you can jump to a given area.
Was this necessary? It really cheapens the entire experience (look everybody, Grimm is showing his willy wonker, tee hee) and smacks of a ploy to attract negative attention from the mainstream press. In keeping with the gross-out aspect of the game, why not just have Grimm squeeze a pimple until it pops to mark an area?
The graphics – well, they’re pretty cool. Think Gahan Wilson meets Charles Addams meets Tim Burton. If you like this kind of demented, over-the-top imagery then you’re in for a treat.
Now, the first few episodes seemed to consist of nothing more than a lot of running around and to be honest, were just a casual game in sheep’s clothing and I was getting bored. Nor was I interested in bettering my time in blackening an area or comparing my time to do so against other players. Just not my cup of tea.
But somewhere around the fourth or fifth episode, the tone seemed to darken; the humor blackened. Babies started birthing out of mother’s wombs like jet rockets, psychotic bunnies that would scare a pellet out of Max (of Sam and Max fame, of course) had to be butt-stomped to death and even the eternal motto of every diehard gamer was to be heard – All your base, are belong to us.
Power-ups such as super speed and super butt-stomp were added and instead of just running from scene to scene, many scenarios have been modified with platform-like game elements. Suddenly, the week long wait between episodes became unbearable!
Is each episode worth the $3.99 price tag? Not when you consider that an episode can be completed in under an hour. But if you were to purchase a monthly subscription to Gametap - which would then allow you to play through their entire catalogue of hundreds of games – then they could be considered a real bargain.
Everything here is top-notch – the voice-acting, the music, the graphics (though it is unforgivable to have misspelled words in the subtitles. It cheapens the entire affair). One would even be hard-pressed to find fault with American’s goal to have children read the real deal (though in the interest of fairness, the first volume of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812 was criticized as not being suitable for children due to the subject matter and some sexual references).
So before we tuck this review in for the night, I must ask one last question, and this is for Mr. McGee. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, what fairy tale version do you read to them before they close their eyes for a good night’s sleep? The sanitized Red Riding Hood where she is saved by the hunter before being eaten by the wolf and everyone lives happily ever after, or the original version where the wolf swallows both the grandmother and Red whole until a hunter comes to the rescue and saves them by cutting the wolf open and then killing it by filling its body with heavy rocks?
Final Grade: B+