Revisiting ‘The Grinch’ on PS1
Given the importance of Christmas in our culture, it’s perhaps a little surprising that there aren’t that many videogames centred around the holiday. When I wrote a list last year about Santa’s best appearances in games, we had to go to some pretty obscure places – for a man of Santa’s reputation, he’s a rare figure on your consoles (and particularly as a playable character). However, that’s not to say that there are no Christmas games, and one of the most infamous examples can be found on the PlayStation 1.
In 2000, a film adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas hit the big screens, starring an over-the-top Jim Carrey (or, in other words, Jim Carrey) as the titular green festive thief. As was the norm back then, a tie-in game shortly followed – and, as was very typical, its quality was not that good. I remember having struggled with it a lot as a kid, and not really getting anywhere near completion. This year, in the run-up to Christmas, I opted to revisit it and see how it holds up in 2022. With a new pair of eyes, I can see that the issues were rooted in the game being a fundamentally flawed experience – it’s good in short bursts, but frustrating otherwise.
The Grinch is a platformer in which you take the title role, and aim to ruin Christmas. There are recognisable beats from the film but, like many tie-in games, it really stretches the connection – after exploring Whoville, we head to new locations like Whoforest, the Dumps and Wholake, created just for the game. You’re either the Grinch or Max, his dog, and you’re given a selection of missions to accomplish. The Whos get in your way as you aim to destroy the holiday, but the Grinch has a selection of gadgets to help him upset them (and if you find blueprint pieces around the locations, you can build more).
It sounds simple enough, right? Complete the missions and progress. But the game makes this task nigh-on undoable, because there’s no clue as to how you complete them. Some of the mission objectives are clear enough (destroy a particular object), but some are so vague that I honestly could not crack them now. Coupled with a painfully short draw distance, meaning you often can’t even see if you’ve checked an area out before you’re in it, it’s a painful experience – I had to stop multiple times and look up the solutions to some of the puzzles. It’s confusing and hard, and not in a fun way.
[It] squanders some interesting ideas on a frustrating and often-unplayable adventure
This is an issue in itself, but it’s worsened because the game is not very fun to control. It’s your run-of-the-mill early-2000s platformer in terms of controls (the rotten breath attack, less so), but it’s often unresponsive and difficult to make the Grinch do what you want him to do. When he gets jumping and flipping in the air, it’s like a tank – it’s that bad. Manipulating him is also a challenge when there’s anything else on screen, because the frame rate just dives, and it’s borderline unplayable. The game seemingly struggles to do the basics, and it’s not like the PS1 was incapable of putting out games with good graphics – by 2000, we’d had three Crash Bandicoots, for crying out loud. I gave up on finding the presents, because the exploration aspect was just not to player-friendly at all.
There were things I liked here. Although the soundtrack lacks any of James Horner’s music from the film, it’s a decent enough approximation that captures the same vibe – much like the Grinch’s voice actor, who does a passable impression of Carrey playing the character. It was fun to explore Whoville, and there was certainly the potential for an open-world-style game here. I also appreciated one of the kid-friendly innovations – an ‘exhaust-o-meter’ in place of a health meter, to encourage you to remain hidden from the Whos. If it fills, you’re dumped back at the level’s beginning, but with your progress intact. It’s a good idea to help the kids – it’s a shame it’s in such a bad game.
The Grinch on PS1 is not something you want under your Christmas tree, unless the giver is helping the green villain ruin the holiday. Even by the standards of the early-2000s platformer, it’s a bad experience, and one that squanders some interesting ideas on a frustrating and often unplayable adventure.
How could you not include pictures???!?!
Do you expect me to READ about the. Grinch???