All The King’s Men.
From the spectacular pratfalls of Lara Croft onward, a certain sect of gamers have harbored a twisted obsession with watching their player characters perish in sloppy clumps of ragdoll chaos. We never meant to miss that leap, of course, and we hurl curses into the wind at our momentary loss of progress, but we are entertained, at least slightly, by the outcome. The developers of Grudger took that theme and ran with it.
After playing Grudger I’ve come to the conclusion that your player character is effectively an egg. Not in the literal sense - he wears clothes like a man and sports a funky pair of goggles that one would imagine keeps the wind out of his eyes as he leaps, tucks, and rolls through his Steampunk-inspired world - but he does have the unfortunate constitution of a soggy carton of Hillandales. This can be good or bad. Good if you’re the type of gamer mentioned above. Bad if you’d rather not have your protagonist explode on impact every time his toe brushes against a haphazardly placed red pipe. Fortunately for all, what our hero lacks in build he more than makes up for in parkour-like agility.
After touching the framed map that gives access to the level select screen, our game begins with the titular character Grudger (a shady mailman of sorts) airdropping via balloon-pack into a wooden city in the clouds. Things start simple enough with level 1-1 working as an in-game tutorial. Here you’re quickly taught the basics of gameplay. All character movement is handled through quick swipes of the touch screen. A swipe upward causes Grudger to jump; a downward swipe initiates a roll (which is handy for ducking under the previously mentioned red pipe menace). While airborne, the same actions result in a double jump and dive maneuver, respectively.
Once Grudger reaches the end of the level (marked by a peculiar man wearing a top hat and tails) he hands off his delivery, inflates his impossible balloon pack, and floats on to his next challenge. And challenge is the operative word here, as the game quickly rises in difficulty from that point. Suddenly there are red pipes everywhere and lightning fast reflexes are the prerequisite for success. You quickly learn to chain your moves in order to survive, and you pick up a few new skills along the way: Swiping to the left or the right causes a change in direction even while Grudger is in the air. Planks suspended above hazardous turf can be grabbed onto and traversed monkey bar style. Vertical passageways can be explored by wall jumping. And you’ll need those new moves to survive the landmines, pitfalls, and massive gear works that block your path. These new moves also help in the collection of aluminum bars (surely pronounced in the Queen’s English) that unlock an endless running survival mode.
Graphically speaking the game isn’t pushing the envelope, but it compares favorably to many entries in the endless running genre. Grudger is stylized to be sure. It’s got a cute steampunk-meets-Lego thing going, and it works. The death animations are the standout feature here. They’re equal parts hilarious and cringe inducing, as you watch Grudger ping across the playfield after stepping on a mine or collapsing in a pile after falling from a great height. I’d argue that a more realistic art style would push the game into uncomfortable territory.
Sound-wise, things come off a bit worse. There isn’t really much variety to the music - just a few repeating tunes that sound like Victorian carnival tunes. Voltaire it is not, but that’s what mute buttons are for.
Unfortunately there are a few larger issues that keep this game from grabbing the proverbial brass ring. Occasionally there are moments where the only way the player can progress on a blind run is through sheer luck, as off-screen hazards suddenly appear, giving the player no chance of escape. Foresight shouldn’t be a prerequisite for clearing a level. At the very least, a quick level fly-by should be shown before the level actually starts. Also, the player must sometimes wait for one character animation to complete its action before another move registers. This lack of animation-cancels sometimes gets in the way of precision in a twitch game such as this.
Grudger is a decent title that could have been even better. It’s fun, challenging, and has a nice bit of replay ability due to the aluminum scavenger hunt and survival mode. And with 30 levels spread across two worlds (with the promise of more to come), there’s enough content to justify a purchase. I do hope that any future updates address the few issues I had. As it is, there’s a good bit of patina covering the shine.
- Challenging gameplay, effective graphical style, nice replay value, awesome splat animations.
- Annoying music, a few input and level design issues harm the overall experience.