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Joystiq hands-on: American McGee's Grimm


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After playing his latest creation, we're beginning to suspect that American McGee – whose previous work includes American McGee's Alice, Quake, and Doom II – has a bit of a fascination with the macabre. Grimm has its basis in some of the darker fairytales on record, and McGee has certainly milked them for every last, inky drop of blackness.

As we reported earlier today, American McGee's Grimm is GameTap's first weekly episodic game. We plunged into the twisted depths of the first episode – "A Boy Learns What Fear Is" – to bring you the hands-on impressions you'll find after the break.

Gallery: American McGee's Grimm | 18 Photos

We've come to refer to Grimm as "Katamari Darkmacy" due to its simplistic (yet addictive) gameplay and – at least to begin with – simple pastel visuals reminiscent of "It's a Small World." Starting up an episode, players get to watch a "light" version of the fairytale narrated by Grimm. The puppet-show-like vignette tells the tale from with a mostly lighthearted slant. After it's finished, Grimm invites you to make it dark. Very dark.

Gameplay, as we said, is simple. In this case, "simple" means that navigating your character (Grimm himself) is a matter of moving the mouse and holding the left button to run. Jumping is performed with the right button, and clicking it again while in the air performs a butt-stomp.

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Apart from some basic platforming, that's as involved as the game gets. It's mainly about the experience of slowly corrupting the candy-coated fairytale. Everywhere Grimm goes, the world around him becomes dark and twisted. In order to progress through the episode, players must "darken" enough on an area to satisfy Grimm's requests to "make it stinky!," "make it gross!," and so on.

These requests actually correspond to a meter that spans the entire top of the screen. At the absolute right – the darkest of dark – is "vile." Along it are stops for "stinky," "gross," "putrid," and the like.

Life as a Wario-esque anti-hero isn't easy. There are those who'd like to keep the fairytale spic-and-span. So there's strategy introduced in darkening the land while these do-goodnicks attempt to sanitize it. Thankfully, once you've made things suitably gross you can turn the cleaners into dark beings that no longer pose a lemony-fresh threat.

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Although it runs on Unreal Engine 3 tech, Grimm is decidedly simple in its presentation. It's nonetheless effective, though. The game oozes style (among other things) and is packed with clever visual gags, such as bluebirds turning into vampire bats. In fact, the world transforms seamlessly from light to dark, which is visually striking in and of itself.

GameTap reckons that each episode can be completed in as little as 30 minutes, but may last up to an hour and a half if players wish to earn a gold star for making each level as dark as possible and find every hidden secret. Once you've played through an episode, you're treated to a decidedly darker "puppet theater" version of the fairytale – just the way Grimm wanted it.

We found the game charming, if simple, during our hands-on time with episode one. It's definitely something you'll find yourself easily lost in. Plus, although each episode will be free of charge for the first 24 hours it's available, the game certainly doesn't have a that certain (bad) free game "feel." (We're looking at you, Yaris!)

The entirety of Grimm is broken up into 24 "episodes," with three sets of eight planned as "volumes." Volume One will begin on July 31, with "A Boy Learns What Fear Is," followed by "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Fisherman and His Wife," and five more tales. GameTap tells us that the second volume should kick off around Halloween.

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