How My Grandfather
Won the War
"Settle in, little Billy, and I'll tell you a story. A story about how your grandfather fought the Kaiser with nothing but his guts. Guts and a toothpick..." You can almost see a kindly, white-haired gentleman sitting on a porch somewhere telling his enthralled grandson about his experiences when you play How My Grandfather Won the War by OneMrBean, a side scrolling avoider that captures the essence of childhood imagination in its short but beautiful gameplay.
As the scenery rolls by you control a fighter plane simply using the [up] and [down] arrow keys. The plane is equipped with a cannon that shoots water (or ink) with the [space] bar, revealing "the world as it really is" and creating a safe passage through obstacles. The objective is simple, make it to the end of the game. The execution, however, is a tad more difficult. Much of the fun of making it through to the end of How My Grandfather Won the War is in the exploration of "reality" using the water cannon. Sunbursts become clouds, fire becomes water, squid tentacles (yes, squid) become blowing palm trees, etc. You may find yourself crashing and burning a lot in the beginning as you play around attempting to see "reality" rather than avoiding the deadly obstacles.
How to even begin describing the fantastic art of How My Grandfather Won the War? It's as if little Billy — once his head is stuffed full of Grandpa's stories — ran right out and created a moving diorama using cardboard, string, and a little paint. The detail is so fantastic you can almost touch the screen and feel the rough edges of haphazardly cut items. The "reality" exposed by the water cannon is bright and cartoony, adding to the surreality of the gameplay experience. One is tempted to just sit back and marvel at the unbelievable graphics, but unfortunately that will result in a quick and fiery death. The plaintive guitar music only adds to the almost melancholy atmosphere.
Analysis: Once again we see a game designer pushing the envelope, blurring the line between game and interactive art. How My Grandfather Won the War can be played as a simple side scroller, but it is so much more. This is a piece that is designed to evoke emotions, whether awe, joy, or frustration.
Yes, frustration. Although the game is beautiful to look at and wonderful to experience, there are a few minor flaws. Gameplay goes from simple to breathtakingly difficult in the blink of an eye. Death (or crashing) will take you back to a checkpoint in the game rather than throw you back to the beginning, but it still can be frustrating in the extreme to try and get past some of the later obstacles, even using the water cannon to help clear the way. Due to the extreme difficulty of the later areas, some of the wonder is lost as you must spend so much time attempting to get past obstacles you lose the ability to explore that makes this game such a fantastic experience.
Nevertheless, How My Grandfather Won the War is a stunning game that is worth a second, and even third play through. Treat it as a simple side-scroller for casual gameplay or go deeper and explore every inch of its breathtaking cardboard world.