American McGee’s Grimm: A game where you transform happy saccharine fairy tales into darker versions more closely resembling their Grimm roots.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Who doesn’t love stark reimaginings of old favorites? The cinema was exploding with them for a while and tv series like Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, and Sleepy Hollow have done exceptionally well with starker retellings of the classics. If that wasn’t enough to sell me, it has the “American McGee” seal slapped all over it, and I loved the Alice games!
The voice acting is pretty well done, with most of the dialogue originating from our diabolical little narrator, Grimm. He delivers a gruff, exceedingly accented account of each fairy tale and excels equally in dripping disdain for the cheery originals and reveling in the revolting results of a reimagined story.
The art style is also engaging, and is actually one of the aspects that drew me to the game. From the cutscenes to the graphics in actual gameplay, everything looks like a mixture between paper puppets and pop-out books. The darker characters and settings are striking, stylized, and exactly what I expect from American McGee, master of the macabre.
So what’s my hang up?
Well peeing on everything, for one.
Yeah, you heard me.
Oh wait. I forgot. You can “buttstomp”, too.
These are the game’s main mechanics, I shit you not. You turn the world dark not by some evil masterminding. Not by cleverly planting seeds of dreariness. Not by sabotaging plot points….but by urinating and smashing things with your ass.
I can only assume I’m not the target demographic.
What makes it worse is that you somehow manage to convince yourself that you’re not in fact the wonderful whizz-ard mid-game, that voiceover I mentioned earlier will butt in (excuse the pun) and command that you “make it nasty,” “make it smelly,” and most nerve gratingly to “buttstomp it!”
It gets old very, very quickly.
Based on the first two stories, I can also say that the platforming is very, very limited and not at all challenging, which left the game feeling very repetitive and, well, boring.
The only pay-offs for all your bladder-emptying, bottom-bruising efforts are the revised cutscenes at the completion of each episode, and the transition animations your rampage creates. The former take more effort than they’re worth (and we’ll get to their worth in a moment), and the latter quickly become repetitive as well.
Now before apologists get their panties in a twist, I am no stranger to dark humor. I downloaded this game looking for dark humor. I know dark humor, he’s a friend of mine, and this is not dark humor.
This is peeing and making violence, and if that sounds dumb it’s only because it is.
There is, to corrupt a phrase, no meaning to the madness. No reason for the mayhem.
As a player, I have no reason to make these stories awful, and believe me–I tried!! I tried concocting my own backstory for the awful, dirty goblin I was controlling in order to make what I was doing have some sense or meaning. Maybe these protagonists had shunned me after their happily ever after. Maybe for every light, happy thing in their world, my horrible goblinkin suffered and died offscreen. Maybe I was jealous of the sunshine laden, happy-ending fairy tales because I had found myself (perhaps for good reason) forever alone! Maybe I was the force of yang to their yin, balancing out light and dark for the sake of the universe!!
Honestly, if I could have bought any of that or if the game had even tried to extrapolate on my motivations, I might have stomached another story or two.
As it was, I just…didn’t get any joy from my own actions. If violence was my reward, if these grim re-imaginings were supposed to compel me to make more…it failed.
Let me give you an example:
In the first story, there is a chapter where the titular boy who didn’t know fear is confronted with the case of a stolen bell. The teacher decides that all the children should get a whipping for taking it when the boy points out that green corrosion from the bell is on the schoolmasters hands. In the original tale, all is forgiven and everyone goes their merry way.
…The game decides we should change that and so we begin peeing all over the school yard, eventually transforming the lush, happy landscape into one rife with bodies. Yes, call me a prude, but I’m really not jumping for joy over dead kid bodies. Especially when I have no indication that I have any reason to want to see them.
I will remind the game now, as I did when playing, the kids did nothing wrong in the original story. If anything, I was making them vengeful little moblets…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyways, once you build up your Grimm power or whatever, you can eventually turn the mobile children into matchsticks. Once you’ve gotten them all, the matchsticks gather around the schoolmaster, now tied to a stake. You are commanded to buttstomp the site and by doing so compel the incendiary childsticks to burn the bell thief alive.
The moral? People aren’t forgiving and mob mentality ends in a punishment far more severe than the crime.
I could go on about why the story and lack of motivation kills the game for pages, but beating a dead horse is what it would want me to do, so I won’t.
See schadenfreude is a thing and so is catharsis. However for the first to be effective in a game, you have to enjoy the suffering. In order to enjoy suffering, most non-sociopaths need to feel that the sufferer has it coming. Slasher movies tend to do this very well. They pick a cast of unlikeable assholes and we, as an audience, revel in watching them get their comeuppance. In order for catharsis to work…well, to cut out a lot of verbiage, your general audience won’t get much of that out of vicariously acting like a malicious douche-nozzle for no good reason.
I…like the art of this game. I really tried to like the game itself because I generally like the genre.
Mindbogglingly enough, there are 3 seasons of 7 or 8 stories each in this series. Old news as the last season launched in 2009, but still…
The bottom line is that I don’t get this game. I don’t see any joy in it. I don’t find it fun or even challenging. I can only assume that it’s acheived success on the coin of eight year old boys who think they’re edgy because it’s so horrid.
If you like it, more power to you. I judge only a little and I judge only because, for me, this game did the opposite of what games are supposed to do. It didn’t entertain me, it vexed me. It didn’t leave me feeling good, or even wondering why I wasted money on it… It just left me feeling awful for peeing on all those birds and making them split into quarters.
So after so much ranting and raving, how to bring this sordid tale to a close?