You might want to be in the right mood to play GRUNND. Not because it’s depressing per se, but because the tone consumes you immediately with the oh-so-slightly melancholy musical score, fancy hand-drawn visuals, and the dulcet tones of the narrator. But more so, the confusion.
Failing to get off at their train stop, the nameless hero finds themself in an unknown location named Bytown. Speaking with the station agent, it’s evident they aren’t going to catch the next train home, and instead have to find a place to stay until the agent gets the train timetable. Now you’re in Dodge, how do you get out?
A station agent without a timetable already sounds iffy, and you’d be right. GRUNND is an ambiguous experience that could unlock a plethora of sensations. You might find yourself second-guessing or predicting the outcome, maybe recalling those media studies sessions at college – what about narrative arcs? – or feeling completely overwhelmed, wondering why this makes no sense.
GRUNND Game Review
The game is certainly bizarre, but not for the sake of it. While the artwork and music set the mood, the story holds its own and, for me, the standout aspect of SEKTAHOUSE’s title. It’s not so much finding out about your character (they’re the only one without voice acting – read it aloud, you’re the hero). Instead, you’ll explore this dreamlike world trying to make sense of it, or the better option, going with the momentum.
As a point and click adventure, GRUNND uses just the left mouse for movement and the right button for interacting. It couldn’t get simpler. There are no conventional hotspots in GRUNND. A glowing orb highlights a point of interest, illuminating more intensely as you approach. Not that you’ll get out of breath, but you have to be next to someone/something to interact with it and physically walk up to it using the left mouse button rather than automatically walking to it with the right. Make sense? Didn’t think so.
This initial hurdle created the tempo for the game: it’s very slow. I’m fine with that, but I imagine the masses will have a beef with this. Though a fast travel option becomes available, there is a lot of backtracking – often walking from one side of the gaming world to the other, and it’s worse when it’s not the solution. An inventory option can help with direction, but a handful of times, I had to return to an NPC and repeat the dialogue for a hint. It’s not that there are complex puzzles in the game, more so with paying attention and even interpretation.
Dream Or Nightmare?
So, the pitch of Kafka and Lynch was the equivalent of smelling salts, but it already had me at ‘point and click’. At first, GRUNND is all Kafka, but when you’re introduced to an overweight… entity… in a bikini, wearing cheap jewellery, it feels like the crazy knob has been turned up, and I’m all for it. In these erratic moments, the music also shifts and creates an element of unease. Regrettably, this subsides when it returns to the actual gameplay, almost bursting the bubble or the equivalent of waking up at the climax of a mesmerising dream.
We aren’t playing a visual novel here (though it looks a little like Dry Drowning, to some degree), but equally, it’s not your conventional point and click adventure – more a lite version. Still, the story is engaging, and the voice cast (including Glottis, the bartender!) are excellent – I wish the interactions were recorded in the same room, as some exchanges felt like a table read.
While I’m no Kafka expert, GRUNND gave off elements of surreal storytelling reminiscent of the author, with occasional Gaiman qualities, too. As an isolated story, it’s interesting, and the art and music throughout capture the atmosphere very well. Unfortunately, as a gaming experience, it dragged for me in places, and though there were multiple endings, they were abrupt. Worth a playthrough, which you could do in one leisurely sitting.