Kids, demons, and outlaws beat the tar out of each other in this Cartoon Network adaptation.
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy is a quirky animated series starring a boy named Billy, with his single-digit I.Q., and Mandy, a sadistic and manipulative little girl. For some convoluted reason, the Grim Reaper (his friends just call him "Grim") decides to move in with Billy and Mandy and become their caretaker. The funny part is that Mandy is a lot creepier than Grim. Anyway, it's a strong core set of characters, and the violent nature of the show is reminiscent of Ren & Stimpy, one of my childhood favorites.
Midway's video game adaptation is a four-player fighting game played from an oblique perspective with full 3D movement. There are tons of items and breakable objects, and the action is very fast. It may sound like Smash Bros. to Nintendo fans, but the game actually plays more like Power Stone and its progeny. Billy and Mandy is really designed for multiplayer, but you can always use computer-controlled bots to fill up matches if you don't have enough people.
The playable characters include virtually every personality from the show, including supporting cast like The Boogey Man, Hoss Delgado, and Fred Fredburger. (Love that name!) There are several environments like The Afterlife, The Great Pumpkin, and Billy's House, and each one contains two or three levels which are linked by pre-scripted events. For instance, The Great Pumpkin's first level takes place in a cemetery / pumpkin patch. After some time passes, a door to the side opens up and prompts everyone to enter. Thus begins a sequence in which a giant pumpkin monster chases the fighters down a city street littered with toxic waste barrels, resulting in a forced scrolling level in which you are still trying to beat up on each other. At the end of that long street, everyone crowds into an elevator and takes the fight up to the roof of a building, where WWI fighter planes randomly fall from the sky and the pumpkin monster eventually climbs up to vomit out his smaller pumpkin minions. You certainly can't accuse the level designers of lacking creativity.
Unfortunately, what the game does lack is depth. The gameplay feels very random and spastic, as characters are constantly being flung all over the place and most moves cancel most other moves – so you almost have to play hit-and-run just to avoid getting stuck in the middle of everyone else. Every character has the same basic set of moves: one quick attack, one strong attack, dash, jump, and a super move that requires picking up a lot of energy balls from treasure chests. Because the gameplay is so fast and in full 3D, and because there's no character balancing (because they all play identically), the initial spurt of fun quickly turns into repetition. The best reason to keep playing is to see all of the cool environments, but that will only take so long.
There are some options which help somewhat in keeping the game fresh. The main versus mode lets you form teams and choose which weapon sets will be available, and as I said before, the bots are a handy feature. A couple of extra modes attempt to keep you playing even when friends aren't around. Story mode is a series of five or six battles interspersed with excellent, hilarious cut-scenes. These scenes perfectly capture the style of the cartoon, right down to the sound effects and breaking of the fourth wall, despite being rendered in 3D and looking arguably superior to the source material. The production values and sharp writing of these scenes make story mode worth playing at least once, though unfortunately the story itself does not change when you play through as different characters.
Mission mode is a more robust offering, with forty-five pre-set battles arranged in multiple tiers of difficulty. Every mission has an unlockable item for beating it, such as concept art, alternative costumes, and secret playable characters. The setup is very much like SSB Melee's event mode, but in Billy and Mandy, you can choose to play missions alone or cooperatively with a friend. There are definitely enough missions to keep you busy when not playing multiplayer battles.
Billy and Mandy’s gameplay is chaotic and exciting but ultimately gets boring after an hour or two, even when playing with other people. It's really a shame that the game itself can't compare to the excellent presentation. Nevertheless, it's obvious that far more effort was put into this game than is typical for a licensed product, and the overall result is very faithful to the animated series. Young fans of the show will love seeing and hearing all of the funny characters, and the fighting is decent enough that I can recommend Billy and Mandy as a game for older kids and preteens. But the show also has plenty of appeal for adult viewers, and that crowd will quickly tire of the thin fighting gameplay.