It’s difficult to find games that are suitably dark, and the usual macabre fanatic has little to sate themselves with in the modern palate of gaming, except for when one company is involved; American McGee’s Spicy Horse is a bit of a marmite subject with some gamers but an episodic series released a few years ago has just seen release outside of its GameTap fortress. American McGee’s Grimm turns happy fairy tales into dark, bloody, grotesque nightmares in a deeply satisfying and cartoony way.
Whilst there are three complete volumes of Grimm, Volume 1 consists of a mix of classic and obscure tales with the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots and Beauty and the Beast, compared to the slightly more unheard of Boy Who Did Not Know Fear, the Fisherman and his Wife, the Girl Without Hands, Godfather Death and the Devil with the Three Golden Hairs, each is a Brothers Grimm tale that has lost its dark nature through centuries which he seeks to put right, just don't expect them to be quite so perverse as the original spoken tales.
In each episode you play as Grimm, a pretty grumpy little dwarf that is sick of the bright and colourful spin fairy tales have gotten and wants to take them back to the dark and macabre version of the old days. Grimm accomplishes this by spreading darkness across the fluffy clouds and hoppity bunnies of the fairy tale kingdoms by simply walking, running, jumping and butt-stomping around, allowing his disgusting aura to physically change his surroundings.
The stories are told by way of a Puppet theatre that consists of two worlds, the light and dark, before you embark to ruin the saccharine sweet tales, you are shown the story as it is most well known, before you reduce it to a dark and twisted parody of its former self. These segments are a little jarring and unfortunately the wooden -get it?- acting can get a little annoying episode after episode.
Despite the game being released four years ago, the chunky delightful art style will never grow old, and it has definitely stood the test of time. This may be because of its twisted visual mix of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and the work of Edward Gorey, and similar to Gorey's work whilst the game does looks very childish from the outside, it has a seething dirty underbelly that will find its way out one way or another.
So it looks like a kids game, don’t be deceived however, and by no means seek out this game if you are easily put off your dinner, whilst it is a cartoon masterpiece, some of the finer points can make your stomach churn, such as exploring the spotty pus-infected body of the Devil, or being made to watch a particularly gruesome and bloody birth. Just don't go expecting a gore-fest, whilst the game is a little much for a child, you won't find your limits pushed as an adult.
The highpoint of the game is the fantastically macabre transformations that take place when you infect the goodness of the land, and altogether it looks like something out of Beetlejuice or Jan Å vankmajer’s Alice. Innocent swings turn into twisted rusting frames, flowers to grabbing undead hands, and the likes of blood, guts, severed heads, dead animals, contorted bodies and plague-ridden peasants are just a few of the things that will transform before your eyes with glorious vibrancy.
It isn't just the visuals that tick all the boxes, audio design in the game is top notch, and we aren't simply talking about the hauntingly off key toy box themes throughout the tales, the sound effects in the game are spot on, cries of anguish and terror as you run amok all build on the terrific character that the games' environments evoke.
The first volume consists of eight tales that whilst not overtly connected to each other, do form an overarching slope of difficulty. The first few tales are fairly straightforward, and the level of gruesomeness is fairly tame, however as the volume progresses you'll find yourself creating rotten, rancid and eventually vile scenarios (the most horrid on the dark-o-meter) and areas will become more tricky to master.
The one downfall that many will see in the episodes and indeed the series is its gameplay, there's not much to it, and on a scale of linearity your path is about as a straight as an arrow. Gameplay consists of walking around infecting the fairy tale lands with your Grimm quintessence turning the light and colourful to dark, dingy and downright depraved.
It’s not exactly that simple though, and the game works similarly to the ever lovable Katamari Damacy, and certain objects will be just too good for you to blemish and until you have perfected your Grimm-ness they'll stay that way. Your handiwork will also be prey to a series of antagonists throughout the series and the bright and colourful populace will always attempt to clean up the mess you leave in your wake, but as you increasingly infect the land with your putrid presence you will find your effigy so infectious that even the strongest of men will fall ill of your bad deeds.
American McGee’s Grimm is not for everyone, the lack of gameplay will turn many away, however the games delightful intro song, macabre storytelling and striking transformations will glue yourself and any onlookers as you ruin the beautiful fairy tales of yore and twist them into darkly depraved shadows of their former selves. If you didn’t know about American McGee’s Grimm in 2008, you need to know about it now!
American McGee’s Grimm is available now on Windows PC from the Spicy World website for $1.30 an episode, $8 a volume and $20 for the whole set!