American McGee’s Grimm

So far I’ve had the delight to try out - for free, if I may add, the defining characteristic of this endeavour - the first and fourth chapters of American McGee’s Grimm, the new episodic series published on GameTap. To get the monkey off my back, both episodes, Puss In Boots and A Boy Learns What Fear Is, have felt perfectly fine to me. In the answers section of his personal forums, McGee writes that

[Grimm] was designed to be played by people who’ve never played a game before. Of course this means that hard core gamers are going to literally *hate* the experience. But that’s OK.

Though I full well understand the defensive attitude, and considering I would probably have to label myself a “hard core” gamer, it’s somewhat surprising that my biggest (sole!) gripe so far would be that I keep on forgetting when a new episode is released. I’ve therefore missed the more platform-oriented, sea-scaped The Fisherman and His Wife and the classic Little Red Riding Hood.

GameTap offers you the possibility of downloading the first episode as a stand-alone installer, subsequent episodes will have to be downloaded via the GameTap interface or through the recently introduced TryGames. The fourth episode racks up around 300mb. Though McGee promises more download services (I’m sure some users are “Steaming” by now) shortly, it remains to be seen what will happen to Grimm and GameTap now that Time Warner have decided to sell off the service.

Well That's a Bitch

How Grimm.

The basic starting point for the game series is that the team reimagines an old Brothers Grimm story. Check out the pictures and the rest of the review after the jump.

Grimm is a “transformer” game where your objective is to grim-e the landscape better to Grimm’s liking; McGee himself compares the game mechanics to that of Katamari Damacy. There is very little to say of the gameplay, which is gun’n’run - granted, if ‘gunning’ denotes urinating… the urinate-o-meter actually designates where your player character lands. Very, err… creative!

The idea of the player having an empty canvas, albeit one that is filled with beautiful landscape, to play with may not be original but retains a very simple dogma. The same can be said of the game mechanics, which are simple to the bone, but something about the game nevertheless manages to maintain your interest.

When the game tells you to mess up, it feels compelling enough to buttstomp your way to the next objective. Naturally, it should not come to you as a surprise that gameplay comes perfectly secondary, or even tertiary; McGee himself states that their focus list went “#1 Narrative, #2 Art, #3 Gameplay”.

The TV-influenced episodic format is focused on ‘delivering’ story though a pieced narrative. Well, that’s not altogether true, as the episodes are stand-alone, with the only constant being the aforementioned angry little man, Grimm, who is hell-bent on ruining the already macabre stories even further, pushing the envelope, if you will.

What’s important is that the writing is delightful, the voice acting top-notch (my favourite so far is the Puss, whose actor does a perfectly bone-chilling meow). The game’s look, surprisingly realized with the UE3 engine, comes with a delightful, carefully constructed and unique visual look, one that consists of cleverly utilizing pastel colours, a pop-up book look combined with rag-doll animation, and by this I mean the real kind! The jittery, jagged feel has clearly been influenced by puppet theatre and this fact lends itself to the storytelling just like it does in real life.

It may be worth mentioning that both episodes have suffered intermittently from bugging voices: Sometimes the voice is too low, sometimes played too fast - sometimes the voiceovers simply disappear. This is a big complaint as the voice acting is a large part of the game.

The interesting question that everybody likes to mention with these episodic games is that, to the general populace, the episodic model is still unproven; We Slowdowners were all delighted to notice, however, that Mr. American is very approachable in his production blog and seems to gladly answer any questions directed at him as well as take in gameplay feedback. He’s very passionate about what he is doing and Grimm certainly follows a Paul Heyman-esque mantra of “accentuate the positives and hide the negatives“.

It must be exciting times for McGee, as it’s only a while since I read an article that basically equated Uwe Boll’s name value with that of McGee, and though that strikes me as unfair, Scrapland and Bad Day L.A. did not exactly set the world on fire either. After one very well-received project and two less so, McGee is in a position where the world expects him to prove himself, perhaps clean up his name and confirm to us that he deserves to have his name tagged to his productions.

The initiative to buy an episode or two is there, certainly. The whole volume?

I’ll let you know when I see the “flaming pee” power-up.