Written by  :  Maw (884)
Written on  :  Aug 06, 2007
Rating  :  2.75 Stars2.75 Stars2.75 Stars2.75 Stars2.75 Stars
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Cute novelty game

The Good

Gruntz is a testament to how daring and inventive Monolith can be when they are behind the eightball. It's not every day a big FPS studio makes a puzzle game, but that's what Gruntz is.

The Gruntz are cute gooey creatures (they look like a cross between the Smurfs and animated booger sculptures) who have been trapped in a strange dimension and need to collect various pieces of a magic warp stone to get home. The warp stone pieces are scattered throughout various worlds and you have to retrieve them and bring them to your king's castle.

The promotional material for Gruntz made much of the fact Gruntz is "Lemmings mixed with Warcraft". To be more precise, it's Lemmings with a top-down perspective and a tiny amount of combat. You control your Gruntz using the mouse and must work them as a team, navigating tricky puzzles and fighting enemy Gruntz. Each level adds new challenges or new ways to deal with challenges, making the game grow exponentially more complex.

To accomplish your goal you have several "toolz" at your disposal. You can use shovels to dig holes or fill them in, gauntlets to smash rock barriers, springs to jump over dangers, wings that allow you to fly for a short time, swords to fight enemy Gruntz, etc. Dead Gruntz can be sucked up using straws and baked in an oven as whole new Gruntz. Unlike Lemmings it doesn't matter how many of your minions die, just so long as you get to the end. You can also pick up toys that can be used to distract enemy Gruntz, allowing you to sneak past.

The game is laid out like you'd expect. The graphics are bright and colorful, the levels are zany and cartoonish (my favorite being the casino-themed level where you have to avoid being crushed by rolling dice), and the Gruntz themselves are hilarious. The operational word here is "cute". Imagine two animated lumps of clay whacking away at each other with gigantic plastic straws, shouting non-stop, and you've got a good idea of what to expect here.

The game is powered by the venerable Wapworld engine, which first saw the light of day in 1997 with the release of Claw. The visuals in the game aren't terrific but they're passable, and work well for this sort of game. With support of the DirectImput API the controls are tight, and you can actually map hotkeys. There's a tolerable multiplayer mode where you fight it out against teams of rival Gruntz, and they even released a level editor.

Ultimately the best thing I can say about Gruntz is that it's a cute and original puzzle game, and one of an increasingly rare breed.

The Bad

At 36 levels the game is far too long. Each new level introduces new items and new challenges but the core gameplay doesn't get any more interesting. There's not enough gameplay to carry Gruntz through the 40 hours it takes to beat it.

The game gets horribly frustrating in the later levels, not because the puzzles are hard but because the game has a "trial-and-error" approach that means you will fail constantly. Winning levels means doing everything EXACTLY right, and if you make even one mistake it will come back to haunt you. This is one of those games where you can spend two hours playing, almost reach the exit, and then realise you did something wrong way back in the beginning that makes it impossible to continue. Yeah, loads of fun.

And the game's AI sucks donkey ass. There's nothing beyond the most rudimentary pathfinding and Gruntz will walk on fatal hazards like lava and spikes if you don't watch them. As a player I learnt quickly you have to babysit your Gruntz every step of the way, in case they do something retarded. In the help file they say Gruntz are extremely loyal and will follow your commands even if it means they die. That's cheapness for you. Instead of a couple of weeks to fix the suicidal AI they actually try and turn it into a feature.

Combat doesn't play a big role in the game. The Grunt with the strongest weapon will always win, and ultimately fighting enemy Gruntz is yet another puzzle the game throws your way. Not a big deal but a disappointment nonethelesss.

Lastly, the cuteness goes a bit overboard and will probably alienate anyone over nine. And personally I think the game's a little too hard for a nine year old.

The Bottom Line

I've always kind of liked games that have no pretensions, and just want to entertain. On that level Gruntz works, even if it doesn't do much else.