A Lights, Camera, Action Button Christmas Special: The Grinch
Lights, Camera, Action Button! is a series exploring film-to-game adaptations in regard to their faithfulness, quality and value long after the original film may have passed into nostalgia. In this special Christmas edition Jack Ford looks at The Grinch.
Why are there so few Christmas-set video games? Perhaps publishers are opposed to the idea as there is only one time of year to put them out – a highly competitive time for retail, which would require a lot of marketing to guarantee big sales. There’s also the fact that any Christmas game wouldn’t be played long, their appeal soon lost when January comes around.
For one reason or another, the list of notable Christmas games only extends so far. One such example gained its Christmas setting as the tie-in game for the 2000 film The Grinch.
Ron Howard’s live-action adaptation of the much-loved Dr. Seuss book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, opened in December 2000 to a mixed response. While there was plenty of praise for Jim Carrey in the title role, and his makeup created by renowned prosthetics artist Rick Baker, the more character-driven and serious treatment of the story some found an uncomfortable fit.
Still, The Grinch went on to gross $345 million at the box office and is now a staple of the Christmas TV rotation. Around the same time of its theatrical release, Konami brought out the video game version of the film for PlayStation and Dreamcast. Does the sixth generation outing of the beloved curmudgeon do him justice?
“Here’s your motivation.”
The Grinch himself is the playable character, though this iteration has a slightly different arc and motivation. At the start he is in his mountaintop home on Mount Crumpet, plotting to spite the Whos he hates by stealing Christmas, but can apparently only do this with an array of specially made gadgetry, which he first has to construct.
To do that he has to travel to four different locations and retrieve the lost blueprints for each gadget. Aiding him on the way is his trusty dog, Max, who can reach obscured areas accessible only through small holes, as well as the Grinch’s own ability to temporarily incapacitate enemies with bad breath.
Building his gadgets increases his abilities and make it possible to complete all story tasks. His expansive arsenal gives him the ability to reach high places using a jet pack and hurl rotten eggs and slime at the unfriendly Whos and creatures that mean him harm. Should the Grinch takes too many hits, the game cuts to the death movie: a close up of him, falling to his knees, holding his head in his hands and screaming “OH NO!”
“It’s because I’m green, isn’t it?”
The first of the game’s four locations, Whoville, will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film. Arriving there as he is, though, the Grinch comes under attack from the inhabitants and has to collect the Who disguise, worn by Jim Carrey in the live-action prologue, in order to move around without hassle.
Now incognito, the Grinch can get to finding his blueprints as well as cause plenty of mischief in the town. Some of what he gets up to in Whoville are recreations of those seen in the film – messing up mail in the post office and scaring Cindy Lou Who – and others invented for the game.
In all locations, a certain number of blueprints and the main story missions have to be completed in order to advance to the next one. Each one on from Whoville has been created for the game and therefore, from here on, matching the film takes a bit of a back seat.
The Grinch’s next destination is the snow-blanketed Who Forest. It’s free of Whos but in their place are strange beasts that jump out of holes and throw beehives at the Grinch. His main business in the Who Forest is to infiltrate the chalet of his nemesis, the Mayor, sabotage his skis and replace the candles on his birthday cake with fireworks.
Next up is the Who Dump, for some reason full of over-zealous security guards seemingly there to stop the Grinch stealing the Who’s rubbish. The final level is set at the Who Lake, a more picturesque location where the Grinch gets around disguised as a boy scout. Time here is spent menacing local scouts and wildlife, while also breaking into the Mayor’s summerhouse and hooking his bed up to a motorboat.
“I must stop this Christmas from coming… but how?”
Having found all the blueprints and completed all the main missions, the game gets back to the central conceit of the story: stealing Christmas. The Grinch does this by impersonating Father Christmas and, using a sleigh he built himself, carrying off all the Whos possessions having stolen them all overnight on Christmas Eve.
In the film, he builds his sleigh from scraps he finds; the game has you go back through all four levels and locate all of the required pieces of the sleigh. These aren’t all straightforward to find, some are found in hidden locations, others obtained only through completing somewhat laborious challenges. It is an undeniable pain that, having got so far through the game, to have to back-track all the way to the beginning to find the sleigh parts. When they have all been found, though, the Grinch can get on to the final mission.
Unlike how his stealing Christmas is depicted in the film, the game has the Grinch follow Santa’s sleigh through the air and hit it with rotten eggs until the man himself is knocked out of the sky. This gives way to the Grinch completing his quest and the game’s rendition of the well-known conclusion to the tale.
“One man’s toxic sludge is another man’s potpourri.”
The game of The Grinch is without some of the wit and charm unique to the source material, as well as taking a lot of artistic license at least where the original plot is concerned. With the film confined to just two different settings, some diversions would have had to be made to allow for more enjoyable gameplay. The new locations and the game’s gadgetry and missions do match the tone of the story and central character.
Presentation-wise, the graphics are uneven; character models are blocky but landscapes and locations are colourful and cartoonish. To play the game, while it is fare for younger players, The Grinch is not just a bare bones platformer. There are unique ideas and variations to the gameplay that keep it interesting throughout. It may not always be fun to play, but completing missions does feel a rewarding practice and there is a lot to get done for completionists.
If this game were played today, some would find it a far cry from the familiar and with misses too egregious to overlook in favour of the hits. Those who are looking for an enjoyable if unspectacular form of interactive seasonal entertainment would find the game of The Grinch just that.
Featured Image Credit: Author’s Own Screenshot.