American McGee's Grimm


My fifth-grade social studies teacher, a skinny Leonard Maltin lookalike, will always be remembered by me for two reasons: his tradition of rewarding class participation with Jolly Ranchers, and his post-lesson readings of the Grimm Fairy Tales. Not the saccharine, Disney-fied versions, but the old-school vicious morality plays that your parents would never have let you read. We would sit quietly, a gaggle of gorehounds, as he told us in an oddly dispassionate voice about wicked stepmothers being crushed under grindstones, Cinderella's stepsisters mutilating each other's feet in order to fit in the glass slippers (and the resulting arterial spray that tipped the none-too-bright prince off to their ruse), and countless other acts of torture, violence, and mutilation. Great stuff for ten-year-olds, no doubt.

Review by Carl Lyon

It's in this spirit that American McGee, creator of the classic Alice and two other games nobody cares about, brings us Grimm, an episodic foray into these days of gore'er, yore. You play as Grimm, a hirsute troll with a massive beard, a constantly full bladder, and the ability to corrupt everything within range of your rotund frame. As Grimm explains in the charming theme song, he's sick and tired of his stories being softened up, so he travels through them, slowly turning everything back into the tales of terror they once were. The gameplay is ridiculously simple: at the beginning of each segment, you're given a target to transform, and a sizable playground to run around in, filling up a sort of 'nasty meter' as you revert the candy-colored landscape to a pain-soaked hell. When you hit the appropriate level (smelly, nasty, vile, etc.) a quick butt-stomp on the target keeps the fairy tale moving down its nastier path. Unfortunately, the game itself provides almost no challenge. Grimm himself cannot be killed except by falling, and the few 'enemies' that wander the landscape cannot harm you, only scrub down the areas you've already corrupted, until you fill up the meter enough to taint them as well. It's a cycle you'll repeat ad nauseum throughout the game's bite-sized episodes, which take only a few minutes to complete, anywhere from less than 10 minutes to half an hour.

But the formulaic, simplistic game is really just the delivery medium for Grimm's real appeal: its acerbic adaptation of timeless tales. Grimm's cynical narration is a true delight, dripping with nihilism and an oddly charming sense of justice, and provides an excellent counterpoint to the game's art direction, which mixes puppet like models with thick lines and garish texturing, making the game resemble a kitschy retro children's book come to hideous life. It would have made an excellent web cartoon delivered in Flash, but the gaming wrapper adds a little more fun.

Grimm releases a new episode every Thursday on Gametap, and is free for the first 24 hours. After that, it becomes a part of Gametap's Gold subscription plan, which costs 10 bucks a month. Not really worth it for those coming in late to the Grimm game (Episode 5, 'The Girl without Hands,' has just been released as of this writing), but access to the Grimm archives, as well as a treasure trove of horror gaming delights (Vampire Savior! Typing of the Dead! Sweet lord YES!) could very well be worth the subscription fee.

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