There once was a mean one, the Grinch.
Stealing presents was easy, a cinch!
So he took his dog Max,
And he quickly made tracks
To rob blind every Who-ridden inch.
If you load this page, put wrapping paper around your screen, and then tear it all off, this review can truly feel as intended: my Christmas gift to each and every one of you. I just know that everyone wanted a review of the Gameboy Color adaption of The Grinch instead of a PS5 or Switch or XBOX Series X/S, and I was more than happy to oblige.
Due to the Grinch’s plan to steal Christmas by robbing the Whos of their presents without getting unnoticed, this is understandably a stealth game. But not just any stealth game. A stealth game from Konami. If you die, I imagine your partner exclaims, “Grinch, what’s wrong? Answer me, please! Grinch? Griiiiiiinch!”
Now, while his scheme remains completely unchanged from all the movie and book adaptions, his execution is completely switched. Rather than taking the gifts in the middle of the night while the Whos sleep, he does it- in broad daylight right in front of their faces. I mean- I mean… I guess there wouldn’t be much to the gameplay if all the enemies were asleep the entire time, but- gosh, the game said he had a terrible plan, and by golly, he did!
Another change is the locations. Rather than just exploring a bunch of different houses, though there are plenty of indoor areas, a lot of the gifts are outside in the snow. Why was that changed? I at least understand the necessity to have foes awake, but why did the Whos decide to store most of their purchases in freezing weather where they’re bound to get soaked? Now they seem dumb.
The silliness continues, though! A cutscene at the start says that the Grinch has a plan to stop Christmas, but it’s not revealed. You control the Grinch as he steals several gifts, and then the Grinch declares that he plans accomplish his goal by taking all the presents. Um, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have shown the details of his idea before the player starts doing it? When he finally shared his plot, it’s like, “No kidding! You mean the thing I literally just watched you doing the last few minutes?”
Gameplay switches between the Grinch and Max, and thankfully, it’s not merely aesthetic. The aggressive Grinch has a bubble melee attack and snowballs to fire at long range while gentle Max goes full-on contactless with his ability to jump over his foes. However, Max can still stop NPC’s by getting two of them to collide, and he has the most OP ability in the game: an instant, unlimited, spammable, full-room stun with his bark. Both can crawl, and you need to do this to move under low ledges at the cost of speed; you can also duck to avoid enemy projectiles. There’s even more variety via kart levels where you drive around unable to fully stop until the level is completed.
You get taken out with one hit (though projectiles just slow you down), but the story behind getting attacked is pretty unique. The manual explains that the Whos wish to spread their goodwill, and if they spot the Grinch, they share their love by touching him. This causes the Grinch to be unable to bring himself to continue his diabolical plan; the damage animation actually shows his heart growing outside of his chest. Um. Ew. The game over screen even shows him holding hands with a smiling Max and Cindy Lou Who. He was literally foiled by the power of love.
Oddly, though, unlike the Metal Gear series, it’s actually beneficial to get seen on purpose. This causes an adrenaline rush allowing you to run and finish collecting gifts much more quickly. Sure, it ups the chance of getting hit, but it’s a risk/reward system that really hinges on the latter. The Whos give up on you pretty quickly, and the instant you change areas, the chase ends as well, so it’s not difficult to escape. If you’re patient, this game is very easy. If you’re impatient- it’s still pretty easy.
Top that off with unlimited continues, a password system, and T coins to increase your time limit, and you have a game that’ll only make you tense if you forget the first half of this sentence. The larger later levels might run out your time limit before you find a good route, but again, infinite tries without needing to start the game over from scratch prevent that from being an issue. Totally bringing some of those coins to my next math test.
Now, I would talk about the music, but I just can’t. I’m going to gush about it. Even if you don’t take the limitations of the GBC into account, it’s still just great. The opening track when you view the dark title screen is both haunting and foreboding. I daresay that, despite some lighter-sounding moments, I can imagine it being played while looking at a tombstone or haunted house or something; it’s more Halloween than Christmas.
The music then shifts into a faster, upbeat tune as the Whos are brought into the picture. It’s just so delightful and could easily make for the background music in a Pokemon city. Getting these two tracks back-to-back like this is perfect, too. You hear creepy, epic music as you stare at the Grinch’s name amidst a pitch-black background and then hear a cheery melody at the mention of the loving townsfolk. This gives a beautiful picture of the stark contrast between the two from the orchestration alone.
The levels themselves have great original music too. When the first stage begins, the sound is like watching the first glistening snowflakes of the season drifting down to find a place to rest on the fresh earth below, dancing faster and faster until the merry blizzard decides to stay for the evening and soak up the Whoville Christmas spirit.
This music variety is sublime; take note, Super Baseball 2020. There’s even a good rendition of “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The game also knew when not to play music, as there’s fitting a silent moment as the Grinch is taking in the Whos’ continued good cheer after he cleaned them out.
Unfortunately, there was one giant missed opportunity in the auditory department: When the Whos are seen singing, rather than the usual rendition of “Welcome Christmas,” we get music that’s- fine, I guess. But the original tune for that scene was so heartwarming and emotional and would have added even more weight to the clever placement of that earlier silence. Their version of “Jingle Bells” and so forth turned out great, so I’m sure that that song would have rocked too. Oh well. As for the sound effects, they’re good as well, and I especially like the Grinch’s laugh.
The controls aren’t bad, but they can get a little weird. In some areas, three directions of the D pad move you in the same direction. Like, you can be moving left through a passageway, and if you press up or down, you’ll keep moving left. One time when I was moving down, I mistakenly thought I could fit between two trees on the side, and when I pressed left, rather than stopping and walking in place leftward, I kept moving downward right into an enemy. Also, if you’re crawling when you move to another screen, you stay that way after the transition. Problem is, there’s never a reason to be crouched at the start of a new place, so it would have been a nice touch if you automatically reverted back to walking whenever you exited an area.
Visually, the creators did a superb job. Despite a lot of the game taking place outside covered in snow, details were added to the areas to keep them looking unique. Snow mounds here, a fence there, footprints trailing off, etcetera. The artwork in the cutscenes look beautiful too. I will say, though, we also get some bizarre and even terrifying imagery.
We start with a Christmas tree that looks like the Jolly Green Giant ate too many cranberries after throwing away his stash of fortune cookies.
Halfway into scene 1-2, however, things get even better. Now we have JGG cranberry runs amidst fortune cookies, AND they’re on Maxi-pads.
When seen by a Who or dog or robot, the Grinch’s and Max’s face gets pretty freaky, even more so during the cutscene where Cindy Lou spots the former in her house.
We also get Snapchat advertisements before it was even released,
fox masks with bull horns next to Sorry! board game tokens,
the angry door from Alice in Wonderland,
rotten krabby patties,
decapitated Who heads,
and most horrific of all: a shirtless, anthropomorphic donkey wearing a black toupee and bra with four empty eye sockets sitting in a chair behind a desk.
I now know what I’m going to see if I ever get infected with the Scarecrow’s fear gas.
The nightmare fuel of the artwork wouldn’t be an issue if it was intentional like a horror game or something, but the goal was clearly a charming aesthetic, not a I’m-about-to-take-a-number-two-in-my-pants one. Even the final scene of the Whos, something meant to be a heartwarming finale, looks like I was transported into the bowels of hell.
You finally complete the game only to learn that you failed to stop Christmas. Yep, it’s one of those games that even if you finish, you can’t win. Geez. This should have been called “Mission: Impossible.” (No one else is allowed to use that title; I’m getting it copyrighted immediately.) The game doesn’t try to add any flourish to the story, just majorly summarizes the Jim Carrey adaption, so if you’ve seen that or really any version, you already knew the gist of the scenes. But hey, it’s still a great, much-beloved tale.
It’s a shame that the points are meaningless like in most games, as unlocking something like a password that grants infinite snowballs in your inventory would have made the effort of ending with a high score feel worthwhile. Still, this game is great fun, easy to just pick up and play, remains enjoyable again and again, and there’s added replay value from self-imposed challenges such as never getting seen. Even if you haven’t checked out the other mediums through which How the Grinch Stole Christmas was told, I highly recommend boarding your one-dog open sleigh, sliding down into eBay, and snagging yourself a copy of this fun little mean one.
Well, I gotta get going. There was finally a blizzard out here, so I have Christmas presents to put out.
Graphics and Sound- 8.5/10
Difficulty Balance- 5.5/10
Absolutely positively foxtastic!
Next time on The Bad Wordplayer:
A mouse falls into a giant, puzzling mystery dooming a kingdom and refuses to quake amidst its quaky fate.