Developer: High Voltage Software
Release Date: September 25, 2006
One of the Cartoon Network's original shows, "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" is a strange show that chronicles the adventures of Billy, a Stimpy-esque fool and Mandy, his misanthropic friend. Due to a strange turn of events, Mandy and Grim had indentured the Grim Reaper (or Grim) into being their "friend" for the rest of eternity. Naturally, having the Grim Reaper for a friend is going to make your life significantly more interesting. However, despite being a children's show, The Grim Adventures tends to be rather dark, with many characters dying each episode; the show parodies subjects that would seem rather out of place for a children's show, such as The God-Emperor of Dune.
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy video game keeps with the tone of the show, for all the good and bad that implies. Some ne'er-do-well has snuck into Grim's magic trunk and unleashed all of his Mojo, which are massive balls of supernatural energy. Any human who touches Mojo goes into an unstoppable fit of rage and attacks anyone nearby, so naturally, it is up to Bill, Mandy and Grim to get the Mojo back before the world falls into eternal chaos.
At heart, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy is a 3D beat-'em-up in the vein of Power Stone or other similar games. Players pick from a cast ranging from titular characters such as Grim or Mandy to obscure fan favorites, such as Dracula or Fred Fredburger. Up to four players are tossed into one of 20 different areas which are based on various episodes of the show, and they proceed to fight it out until a victor emerges. Combat is, however, increasingly dull.
According to the game's biographies, each character supposedly plays differently but balanced – Billy is fast but not particularly powerful, Mandy is strong but has terrible reach, and Nergal Jr., has incredible reach but can't take a hit. In actuality, some characters are just significantly better than others. The Grim Reaper's incredible reach with his scythe and Billy's speed tend to cause them to dominate everything around them. Meanwhile, Mandy's short reach means that hitting foes is frustrating, and she doesn't do significantly more damage to make up for it, and Nergal Jr., is almost unplayable due to his low health.
To make matters worse, once you've gotten into combat, there isn't much to do. There are "strong" and "weak" hits, but there is only one combo that is at all efficient. A combo of weak hits causes the enemy to fall and then instantly get back up into a perfect position to return damage while in an invincibility window. However, ending a series of weak hits with a strong hit does massive damage and sends the enemy flying away from you. There's no reason not to repeat this combo ad nauseam unless you get an item.
When a character's health runs out and he reaches the end of his final life, he become dizzy; whoever next hits the dizzied character enters into a "finishing mode," almost Mortal Kombat-esque, although minus the gore. By following the prompts onscreen, the player knocks the enemy out of the arena and the game. Failing the prompts gives the defeated foe an insignificant amount of health and a second chance at life.
Sadly, the items are as lackluster as the combos, and they function in one of three ways: melee, beam or throwing. Melee weapons, such as Thor's Hammer or a spiked bat, simply function as stronger versions of the regular attacks. They rarely have special effects, and when they do, they're quite boring, such as beam weapons firing shots from a distance. However, these shots are so fast and powerful that anything hit by them has no chance of getting out of an infinite combo of hits unless something else hits the attacker from behind.
Throwing weapons are items such as basketballs or radioactive waste barrels that can be thrown for damage. A few of these items have elemental effects, which are as poorly designed as the items themselves. Ice freezes the foe in a giant block of ice, which just leaves them a giant sitting target for a surprisingly long period of time, even if they mash the Square button to escape. Lightning is simply a different damage effect, while fire is more of a threat to you than to the enemy because any character set on fire runs around wildly, and anyone they touch catches on fire as well. (Naturally, a character set on fire runs directly toward the person who set them on fire.)
Beyond items, each character also has a "Mojo Meter," which can be filled by collecting Mojo Balls found on the battlefields; collecting enough Mojo Balls allows a character to use their Mojo Attacks. Level-one Mojo Attacks are functionally the same for every character: a single-target combo that takes away all of the life bar. Second-level Mojo Attacks are a bit different in that each character has a unique attack that basically clears the entire screen of enemies. They're amazingly powerful, so don't expect to see them often. Mojo Balls are rare, and collecting enough for a second-level attack is often impossible in many stages, even if a character gets every Mojo Ball available as it appears. The attacks themselves are often uninspired and terribly animated, and due to their rarity, they feel more like a pointless extra rather than a major game mechanic.
One aspect of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy I do have to praise is the level design. While I'm not overly familiar with the show, the levels themselves are shockingly well designed. Each stage evolves and changes as combat progresses, and the level of detail is really amazing. As an example, one level opens up with the fighters battling in a laboratory atop a volcano. When enough time passes, one of the laboratory's mutant creatures is released, and the fighters flee to the "safety" of the volcano's interior. There, the fighting continues as lava quickly fills the level, and then that volcano explodes, sending the fighters flying to yet another location … a school bus being chased by the aforementioned mutant experiment.
It all feels very natural, and each level is significantly different from the previous ones. Beyond that, the stages themselves are full of great detail. Knocking an enemy against a house will smash the windows, breaking vials in a laboratory will release toxic chemicals, and an Egyptian tomb is full of countless deathtraps. While the rest of the game may be lackluster, the stages themselves deserve a lot of credit.
Beyond the main story mode, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy also offers mission mode. Unlike the usual gameplay, mission mode forces the players to perform specific tasks in order to complete the level. Missions range from simple task, such as defeating foes with a particular character or defeating certain enemies, to the more unusual, such as playing basketball with an eyeball, beating coins from your enemy or destroying a certain amount of the stage within a time limit. Completing these missions unlocks new costumes, characters and various other extras. However, the missions themselves feel very forced. Most are either single-player versions of versus modes or simply just ideas shoehorned in to a game engine that can't match them. While a few are surprisingly fun, only the most diehard of fans will grind their way through every mission in order to unlock concept art.
Versus mode, on the other hand, appears to be the bread and butter of the game. Up to four players (with the PS2 multitap) take on one another in a variety of game modes. Beyond the classic modes such as Team or Last Man Standing, there are also a number of unlockable game types that add a good amount of replay value. Sadly, even with the surprising number of modes, the versus gameplay is just not very deep or fun. Beating the crud out of your friends may be enjoyable for a few rounds if everyone is a Billy and Mandy buff, but it quickly grows tiresome. Once you've seen all of the stages, there's nothing left to do.
What can I say about the graphics? The stages, as I mentioned, look great. They have surprising amounts of detail, terrific design and overall are just top-notch, but unfortunately, the actual characters don't live up to that standard. The models are jaggy, lacking in detail and deform constantly, and the cut scene characters barely resemble their animated counterparts. The animations are lackluster and few in number, and watching fights quickly grows boring. Even the Mojo and finishing moves are canned, and after you've witnessed them once, you'll never have a reason to watch them again. However, at least in the case of the finishing moves, you must view them every single time you defeat a foe.
The audio aspects are quite a bit stronger than the graphics, although how you'll feel about them depends on your enjoyment of the characters. Each character has a unique "win phrase" he shouts when defeating another specific character. It's a nice touch, but since every character has only one phrase for each enemy character, you'll hear it repeated a lot. However, the voice acting itself is fairly high quality, if filled with annoying characters, and overall doesn't detract from the experience. It also features one of the strangest cameos by Weird Al Yankovich in recent memory as the Narrator, whose only job appears to be shouting, "Player one needs ham badly!" Bizarre.
In the end, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy is a title for fans of the show. With the only unlockables being stages, characters and concept artwork to appeal to the fans, those who couldn't care less about Fred Fredburger will see no reason to play the game more than once. Too simplistic for most gamers, it is a good choice for those who have friends who also are Grim experts. Anyone else is advised to avoid this game like the plague, and seek out one of the many better party games available on any system.
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