|The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2006)
Available for: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Kudos to the folks at Cartoon Network for creating their own stable of original cartoons that are a hit not only with the kids but with the adults as well (and that’s not even counting the Adult Swim toons). When you have a track record that includes such faves as “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Johnny Bravo,” “Ed, Edd, and Eddy,” “Camp Lazlo,” “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” “My Gym Partner’s a Monkey,” and so forth, you wind up with a slew of characters that have embedded themselves well into the American pop culture scene in just a few short years. Considering the track record for many Saturday morning cartoons (when Saturday morning was still “Saturday morning” before being deep-sixed by the progress of cable TV), Cartoon Network has been wildly successful with their own creations.
Of those creations, one of the best and oddest is certainly “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.” Created by Maxwell Atoms, the show centers around two kids, Billy and Mandy, and their control of the Grim Reaper (which they gained through a bet in a game of Limbo - see here for all that info). Wacky hijinks always ensue, whether it be due to Billy’s completely idiotic nature or Mandy’s desire to control everything she encounters; and not in the nicest way, either. Grim is always caught in the middle, satisfying the whims of both while wanting nothing more than to be rid of his predicament for good.
So now the cartoon has landed its own video game, and while I wish I could say that it is every bit as enjoyable and hilarious as the cartoon, sadly this isn’t the case. Oh, all the characters from the show are here, including Eris, Irwin, Fred Fredburger, Dracula, Hoss Delgado, and the like, with all the original voice characterizations supplied. All these characters are eventually unlockable and playable as well. But we all know a game is made up of more than just its characters, and this title only manages an average status in the end.
The premise is simple enough; someone’s broken into Grim’s treasure chest and unleashed his Mojo Balls. When the balls come in contact with anyone, it sets off a reaction within that causes them to attack anyone within sight. Therefore, Grim, Billy, Mandy, and Irwin set off to find just who opened the chest and to defeat them once and for all. So what should be a great old time turns out to be yet another exercise in so-so button mashing lunacy. You see, this is a “battle game” in which up to four characters are loaded up onto a playing field and must then beat the hell out of each other, either with their fists or with objects that pop up randomly, until only one is left standing.
Simple enough, but the problem is there’s so much going on at one time that it’s easy to lose sight of your own character. This is largely in fault due to the game’s camera that automatically zooms in and out over the action. Then there’s the whole problem of not having a block button and having to just deal with being beaten up more times than not. Still, the game’s just not that difficult all-around and gamers will find themselves beating the story mode in less than an hour.
That’s fine and all, because it seems the game is geared toward a younger audience, but I daresay even they will find the need to play through the mode again as different characters, in order to unlock other characters, not all that thrilling. Still, there’s the Mission Mode broken off into different tiers that unlock more costumes, weapons, and the like for multiplayer games that are more enjoyable than the main story mode and give the game a little more longevity. Though there is no online multiplayer, there is room for up to four players to hack it out amongst themselves, so it’s possible that you could chalk this up to a party game in the end.
Then there’s the problem with the graphics. The player models look like misshapen clones of how the characters should look. The colors are a bit washed out on the models, and overall it just doesn’t look right. This is a game where cel shading could have been the way to go and made everything look just right, but for some reason the characters look dopier than they need to. Mandy looks absolutely pasty and half-finished, whereas Billy’s nose doesn’t look as huge as it should because the rest of his body is oddly in proportion in the game.
Yet for all the game’s faults, it still has a sense of mindless fun to it, no matter how easy it may be. It’s just a shame that cartoon tie-in games often have to be so much less than the cartoons they’re modeled after. Just ask anyone who’s ever sat through a “Powerpuff Girls” game and you’ll see what I mean. Still, there’s enough here to dig into for the younger crowds, and the game does feature “Weird Al” Yankovic as the announcer (Al’s last name is sadly misspelled once again in the credits as “Yankovich”), so it’s not a total loss. It’s just that Billy and Mandy deserve better. Even Grim deserves better.