Hot on the heels of the hit feature film, Universal Interactive and Konami have brought The Grinch to Sony's PlayStation game console. If you're not familiar with Dr. Seuss' tale, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps the best way to think of the Grinch is as the anti-Santa. Instead of delivering presents, he destroys them. Instead of decorating Christmas trees, he causes them to wilt. Standing in his way, however, are the happy residents of Whoville, a civilization of people whose sole mission in life is to celebrate holidays and bring cheer to the masses. As the Grinch, your job is to use your dastardly inventions to undo the Whos' holiday preparations once and for all. Unfortunately, after a few hours of play, it quickly becomes apparent that the only thing undone by the Grinch is your own personal satisfaction.
At the outset, The Grinch appears to be a decent game. It's a 3D platform game by nature, and your goal is to wander the land in search of blueprints so you can build your twisted inventions, while simultaneously ruining Whoville's Christmas celebration. There are four huge environments - Whoville, Whoforest, the Dumps, and Wholake - each with its own distinct features and goals. While acquiring the pieces to the Grinch's octopus climbing device in the dump, you'll also short-circuit the electrical system and poison the mayor's house with toxic gas. In all, there are 24 missions to complete, 3000 presents to destroy, and 68 blueprint swatches to collect. You can play as either the Grinch or his faithful dog, Max, swapping between the two with a quick tap of the select button. As the Grinch, you can run, jump, expel your rotten breath, and make use of an ever-increasing gadget collection that includes a rotten-egg launcher, a Grinch copter, and even a submarine. As Max, you can't do anything other than scamper about, but the little guy more than earns his keep by squeezing into areas the Grinch can't reach. Just don't let the Whos hug, sting, or trap you, or you'll begin to fill up the Grinch's exhaust-o-meter. Lose consciousness, and you'll find yourself back at the beginning of the level, but with your progress intact. Therein lies a hint of problems to come: You can't ultimately fail. Just like Nintendo's Wario, the Grinch is basically invincible, meaning that the game's missions have to compensate for an inherent lack of difficulty.
Once you're knee deep in The Grinch, three things become readily apparent: Missions are poorly designed, item dispersion is haphazard, and exploration is the antithesis of fun. Between destroying presents and sabotaging ski vacations, The Grinch faithfully adheres to Seuss' vision of the character, but since you're never really given any directions or hints on how to accomplish such tasks, the vision is quickly replaced by boredom. There's just no merriment in wandering around Whoville for hours searching for a cloak, only to find out it's hidden behind a rather generic-looking door. If the game's collecting and power-up aspects alleviated some of this torturous ennui, some leeway might be warranted. Unfortunately, you'll spend the majority of your time smashing presents, searching for tools, and hunting down blueprint segments - all of which are scattered about willy-nilly, as if no thought whatsoever went into designing the game's levels. Once in a while you'll have to perform Grinch gymnastics to reach a cleverly hidden power-up, but such instances of cool are few and far between. In light of all the game's disappointments, the least the game's designers could have done was make The Grinch's environments a joy to explore, but such isn't the case. Except for a few ingenious mountain-climbing expeditions in Whoforest, the rest of The Grinch's levels are plain enclosures stuffed with repetitive scenery, cookie-cutter enemies, and recurring obstacles. It's as if half of the development team set out to design a gleeful kids' game, while the remainder sought to produce the most mentally taxing puzzle game ever created. As a whole, the equation fails miserably.
In the dog-eat-dog world of children's games, developers can compensate for problematic gameplay with charming visuals. On a static level, The Grinch seems pleasant, but a number of harsh realities come to bear once you actually start moving. First, the draw-in plane is too close. Nearby structures are vibrant and full of detail, but those off in the distance lack texture and definition. It's a great way to maintain a solid frame rate but a horrible way to design an adventure game - especially since half of the game's puzzles involve seeking out structural landmarks. Once you get used to the scenery popping up like a David Copperfield magic trick, you've got to acclimate yourself to some rather brutal slowdown. Everything is fine when the Grinch is the only character on the screen, but as soon as another polygonal character or object appears, the game chugs horribly. Seeing Whoville brought to life is a heartwarming experience, provided you don't move. On the bright side, the game's soundtrack and voice acting make a respectful attempt to mimic the attitude of the feature film, even if the rest of the presentation falls flat.
It's hard to believe that this is what Universal Interactive and Konami had in mind when envisioning the Grinch, a poorly animated game that's far too complex and tedious for its intended audience. As Dr. Seuss, may he rest in peace, would say: The game's been Grinched.