Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride, developed by mobile games studio Artifex Mundi, has all the hallmarks of an intense Gothic thriller; a fairytale ghost story of the most wicked kind. Technical limitations and a persistence in the cartoonish art style prevent it from ever striking a mature tone, but the gameplay is much improved on the studio’s previous Xbox title.
This is one of those ‘dark and stormy night’ type games – you play as a young lady on her way to Ravenbrook, a sleepy village in the fantasy genre mould. You’re there to meet your long-lost sister, who is inconveniently kidnapped by a giant bear on the night of her wedding. Cue chronic thunder and lightning and an adventure through a magical, threatening land full of curses and crones. As you pick up clues and follow plot threads, you’ll record everything in what is actually a pretty fine-looking journal – just like anyone would if they were hunting a bear. The story, then, is pure B-movie pulp, and it only gets pulpier as it continues.
If you’ve played any of Artifex Mundi’s previous games, like Engimatis (which we reviewed back in April 2016) you’ll know what to expect: melodramatic narrative, hidden object games and select-and-slot/switch puzzles that are well-executed and completely throwaway. These games are designed for the long commute home, or curling up in front of the TV while not really watching the news. Grim Legends is no different, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed as another hokey mobile game that’s found its way onto the Xbox One (although it totally is, and that’s part of its charm).
That’s what we liked about Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride – the developers are throwing everything they can at a game that will always be limited by its iPad roots. As a result, Grim Legends is loaded with mostly fresh, if simplistic ideas for the genre.
The sheer number of mini-games alone is impressive – within 10 minutes, we’d already stumbled across three different types, which saw us piecing together a broken necklace and linking coloured cogs. Standard touchscreen fare, but plenty of other games are less generous with their offerings. Considering the shallow nature of mobile games, Grim Legends’ mini-games are satisfyingly tricky, too, leaving you stumped on a single screen until either you hit the hint button or the mystery clicks.
One of our biggest complaints with Engimatis, the studio’s last console outing, wasn’t the gameplay mechanics themselves – they worked well even with a controller – but the narrative dissonance. Back then we wrote: ‘Artifex Mundi could’ve used this section to develop a character or build upon the universe… Why is there a model of the Eiffel Tower in the boot of your car? Why do you need to select the Omega symbol and seven other random objects just to obtain a screwdriver? All this and more will never be explained.’
Thankfully, Grim Legends reverses that trend, to an extent. While the original, lazy and confusing style of hidden object gaming is present, there’s much less reliance on it. Instead, players are more often confronted with icons at the bottom of the screen that are relevant to the mission at hand. For instance, you’ll be tasked with finding broken pieces of a Resident Evil-style emblem, which when fitted together, unlocks a book you need to progress the story.
Calling the previous game out for not doing this might’ve sound like a relatively minor gripe, but by changing tack Grim Legends become much more immersive, giving purpose to your on-screen actions and actually making sense in the context of the world. Having said that, you’ll still find yourself spamming the A button as you dart the cursor across the screen for that elusive final object. Plus ça change…
Joining you on the adventure is a stray cat – you can call it what you like, it’ll still only respond when you hit the right D-pad. This kitty’s no Dogmeat, but it can be used to grab items that are out of reach or clear a path to an object. That’s a nice added enhancement in a traditionally repetitive genre, and when you throw in an unwelcomingly incompetent pseudo-FPS mechanic, once you’ve sourced materials to build a crossbow, you can see just how far the studio wish they could push Grim Legends, even if they fail.
Graphically, the game isn’t unpretty, it’s just that it’s so mediocre and seen-it-before. Imagine the inside of a sorceress’ house in a Brothers Grim world. Good, what you just pictured is exactly what you’ll get, right down to the hubblin’, bubblin’ cauldron. Every setting in the game is so lazily stereotypical that it makes no impact on the player besides, ‘Huh, I’m in a fantasy world village.’
Ultimately, the art direction needs be far more stylised – and that highlights another technical limitation, since the broad-stroke visual nature is perfect for 7” tablets, but senselessly dull on a 40” TV. Regardless, we can’t shake the feeling that the elementary storyline and one-note characters could’ve been lifted just a little if the world and its inhabitants were in the slightest bit memorable, artistically (or otherwise, for that matter). There are hand-drawn style moments that play out as cut-scenes, but these are all too brief and so utterly unconnected to anything else visually that they feel like another game entirely.
Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride shows some ambition – and for diverse and addictive gameplay, it absolutely nails it. But there are times where you can see it’s struggling to achieve some of its ambitions thanks to its mobile heritage. As a casual mobile game, it’s incredible; as an Xbox One title, it’s enjoyably forgettable.
Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride is available now in the Xbox Store, priced £7.99.
An ambitious and addictive mystery that's mini-game central, despite its mature storytelling pretensions.
Pros: A finely crafted time-sink with solid controls. A bare bones plot that keeps the focus on the diverse range of mini-games and brain-teasers that all work in context.
Cons: Art style is shallow and the story is laughably base-level, despite adult aspirations. Clear limitations for a mobile-first-console-second game. All characters possess 2D personalities, and appear to move at approximately 5 frames-per-second.