As I said before, the game’s protagonist (antagonist?), Grimm, is one creepy little guy. Not only does he exude an odor so foul that it blackens the surrounding landscape, he also has the questionable habit of stalking young children just to give them a fright. This is where A Boy Learns What Fear Is’s story begins, presented similarly to a puppet show.
An unnamed Smith’s son has heard talk about a foreign emotion referred to as ‘fear,’ which he has never experienced due to the perpetually happy surroundings his peaceful village provides. Determined to find out exactly what fear is like, the boy first asks his father about it. Unfortunately, his father is likewise clueless about the ways of terror, and suggests he leave the confines of town to try and discover it somewhere out in the wider world. And even though the boy travels through such locations as execution grounds, graveyards, and haunted castles, he never does come to find what true fear is. Heck, he even ends up marrying a princess.
Grimm, of course, doesn’t plan to stand for any of this. Going back to the beginning of the tale, he tries his darndest to give the boy a true taste of fear -- with your help, of course. The story itself is made up of six scenes, each of which can be completed fairly quickly (around three to six minutes), which means the whole thing should only take about half an hour to complete. When Spicy Horse says episodic, they mean episodic.
In scene one, Grimm shows up in the smithy while the boy and his father are having their initial discussion about fear. Thinking that some less hospitable surroundings might give the boy some insight, he starts running around the small enclosure to begin corrupting everything within reach. The way Grimm darkens his surroundings is simple: all you need to do is move him around with the QWEAD keys or mouse (I preferred using the mouse), and his evil aura will do the rest.
Whenever you start a scene, Grimm’s aura will be “smelly,” its weakest state, meaning that he can only darken smaller objects. Moving around an area and corrupting the ground, walls, objects, and living creatures will slowly fill up a gauge -- referred to as the Dark-O-Meter -- at the top of the screen, increasing the aura’s potency once it reaches a certain amount. The stronger Grimm’s aura gets, the more stuff he can affect and the larger his range becomes. In order of weakest to strongest, the states his aura can reach are as follows: smelly, stinky, gross, foul, rotten, nasty, disgusting, repulsive, putrid, rancid, and vile. As an aside, the Dark-O-Meter never went above disgusting at any point of my playthrough of the episode, which would seem to suggest that future scenes will be longer and have more stuff to darken.
Of course, the inhabitants of these fairytale worlds won’t just let you corrupt their surroundings willy-nilly. Certain people such as guards or servants, and animals like field mice or dogs, will start cleaning up the objects you’ve darkened once they notice them. This means that you’ll need to keep moving, or the Dark-O-Meter will start to drop. Once your aura reaches a certain point, you can also darken the creatures themselves, thereby keeping them out of your way.
In the smithy, there are two assistants and a chicken that will start counteracting your corruption, but once you raise the Dark-O-Meter to ‘stinky,’ the game will allow you to open up another area by moving next to a gate and buttstomping. A buttstomp is performed by hitting the space bar or right mouse button to jump and then hitting it again while in midair. Aside from affecting certain objects, Grimm can also use the buttstomp to corrupt distant objects and momentarily stun cleaning creatures.
After Grimm corrupts most of the town and raises his Dark-O-Meter to ‘nasty,’ he can buttstomp next to a large house and fountain. Doing so will transform the house into a much scarier residence, while the fountain will overflow with lava that quickly fills up the middle of town. Grimm will then need to jump across some roofs while avoiding jets of flame coming out of the aforementioned lava. Yeah, there is some platforming in Grimm, but it’s all pretty easy. Even so, Spicy Horse implemented an aiming system for people that have trouble jumping from object to object. Just let Grimm stand still for a few seconds and he’ll start issuing forth an endless stream of urine. Aim the yellow geyser where you want to go and hit the jump button; Grimm will then leap to that spot automatically.
After crossing the lava, Grimm will use one more buttstomp to darken the boy and his father. The now much rougher smith will punch his son in the face and (literally) throw him out of town. Ah, fond farewells.
As far as replayablility goes, there doesn’t look to be a whole lot. You can go back through scenes to try and beat your previous times, or try and darken everything in case you missed something the first time through. There are also hidden coins in every scene that Grimm can collect. If you find all ten in the episode, a gallery that shows the light and dark version of every object and creature in the game will be unlocked. More stuff could be added in future episodes, though.
You too can experience the unique joy of turning small young children into matchsticks so they can burn their teacher alive when American McGee’s Grimm: A Boy Learns What Fear Is releases on GameTap on July 31. The Grimm series currently has a season of 23 episodes planned for release, so if it turns out to be your cup of tea, there’ll be plenty more to look forward to.
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