The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy Review
Usually, whenever they attempt to turn a television cartoon into a video game, the results are either mediocre or disastrous. It seems like every popular cartoon over the past decade has spawned a video game, and oftentimes, even the most hardcore fans of the show won't touch the game once its released. Very rarely do they get real game developing talent for such titles, and due to the overall lack of budget and motivation, the cartoon-turned-game is rarely a good idea.
Up pops The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, a game based on the Cartoon Network show of the same name. It's actually a pretty funny show, and held quite a bit of potential as a game. After all, we're talking about a format that includes the Grim Reaper, and that alone presents the interactive world with a ton of intriguing possibilities. Of course, we didn't expect much from the game, but we did hold out some hope...every once in a while, you get lucky with these things.
Right off the bat, we notice something truly bizarre regarding the graphics: unlike most games, where the cut-scenes always look better than the actual gameplay, this one reverses that rule. The game uses a vibrant cell-shaded presentation throughout, but it's much cleaner and prettier during gameplay. The cut-scenes look rough and unrefined in comparison, which just isn't something we're used to seeing. On the whole, the style fits the game perfectly, and the visuals are well designed and quite pleasing to the eye. It's hardly a technological triumph, but it works.
The sound is a little less satisfactory due to some erratic effects in battle and a borderline annoying soundtrack. However, the regular voice actors for the show are all involved in the game, which is a definite bonus; because it just so happens to be one of those programs that excel thanks to great voiceovers. And despite those very average combat effects, at least there are a large number of them, and they do add a bit of diversity to the game. While the graphics surprised us a bit, the sound is exactly what we expected...which is both good and bad.
Rather than setting up a 3D free-roaming action game or quasi-3D side-scroller, the developers decided to capture the cartoon in an all-out Battle Royale. Basically, you just select a character and enter either Mission Mode, Versus Mode, or Story Mode, and get to fighting. Each character from the show has his or her own combat moves, and you're often paired with an ally in what turns out to be 2-on-2 competition. The action is fast and furious, and there are even a bunch of nifty weapon pick-ups in each level, which is one of the biggest positives in the game.
Treasure chests will appear frequently as the battle rages, and you can pick up everything from giant hammers to flamethrowers to swords to exploding barrels. The mechanics are straightforward; the Square button is used for any melee attack - you use whatever the character's default attack is if you haven't picked up anything - the Circle button picks things up, the X button jumps, and the Triangle and Circle buttons can also be used for the character's more powerful, yet slower, melee attack. The control isn't perfect by any means, but much like the graphics, it works.
Each character starts with three lives and a full health bar, and once you're given the opportunity to finish off an opponent, you break into a separate screen where you can deliver the "deathblow." It's similar to the context sensitive attacks in God of War, where you hit whatever buttons pop up on the screen in order, and within the time limit. This is exceedingly easy to do, provided you're not taken by surprise, but it's still not a bad feature.
These battles can actually offer a surprising challenge here and there, but once you've got the hang of things, you probably won't be dying that often. You just might lose interest very quickly; the repetitiveness of the game is almost mind-numbing despite the initially high entertainment factor, and everything starts to grow tiresome and tedious all too soon. The other strange aspect of this game is that the story mode doesn't seem to jive with the battles. We have no idea why we're fighting who we're fighting, and we have no idea what the ultimate purpose is, so we were permanently confused.
But the game does retain the cartoon's charm and attitude, so that's certainly a bonus. And the battles, while repetitive and apparently meaningless, can be really fun, especially multiplayer. There's a bit of slowdown and as we said before, the controls really aren't perfect (there's some delay issues goin' on), but for what the game is designed to be, the presentation is better than average. We just wish they had done more with the idea behind the show rather than just bury it beneath constant combat, and a story that wasn't so unbelievably predictable and lame would've helped, too.
That story mode, by the way, won't take you any longer than 45 minutes to complete, if that. That's right, you read correctly. You can unlock a bunch of new characters once you complete the story mode with either Billy, Mandy, Grim, or Irwin, and you will find new battles and new levels by playing through with different characters. However, that extremely short and silly story is the same each and every time, and given the repetitiveness of the battles, you likely won't play for very long before dropping the controller.
Overall, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy isn't some atrocious failure, and in many ways, will actually surprise you. The graphics during gameplay are wonderfully stylized, the voiceovers are great (as expected), the controls are better than average, and the combat is shockingly fun...for about an hour or so. The story mode is really just a joke, the battlegrounds are too small, and unless you're under the age of 13, you probably won't be amused beyond an hour or two. But then again, the game is designed for kids in the first place, so that's not a totally crippling factor.
Fans of the game won't like the lack of a faithful storyline, but they'll also like a lot of other things the game has to offer. In the end, this title really isn't half bad. If only beating Billy senseless during the end credits wasn't the most fun we had with the game.
11/22/2006 Ben Dutka