The Grumpy Reaper opens with a storyline so absurd that developer Drakhar Studios should receive kudos for (presumably) shoe-horning it in to provide some context to a game that doesn't really need it. The set-up is thus: Death's granddaughter has made off with the keys to the Underworld and is releasing zombies out into the wild. In order to stop this epidemic, Death grants life to Grumpy the gardener, providing he agrees to mow the lawns of various graveyards in order to locate the aforementioned missing keys.
Set across forty stages located in 4 different worlds, Grumpy is tasked with manoeuvring his lawnmower through isometric maze-like graveyards while avoiding or destroying the creatures living within. Level completion is attained once all the grassy patches have been cleared out. If you can imagine Pac-Man but replace dots for grass and ghosts for zombies, you've pretty much got it. As you play through the stages you'll receive keys for your handy-work; either from hitting level completion targets or mowing down all the bad guys. These keys can be used to purchase upgrades, such as health and fuel boosts and some customisation options. Fuel canisters are uncovered as you mow, which are used to activate the power-up for your mower (for a limited time) allowing destruction of most bog-standard enemies. Additionally, coins are awarded for mowing down monsters; every 200 coins grants an additional key, but it takes a fair bit of grinding and replaying of levels to amass enough to purchase the more expensive upgrades.
The basic strategy comes from choosing when to avoid the zombies and when to use fuel to cut them down and clear a path. If you can't locate any fuel or find yourself low on life hearts, you can choose to use your precious keys to save the day, but that means it's going to take longer to get the upgrades you really want.
There's an additional bit of variety thrown in through the requirement to have a more powerful mower to clear out specific obstacles, such as enemy spawn points or tougher creatures to crack. There are a few timed survival levels (simply avoid the monsters until time gets to zero) plus a bunch of levels set in near darkness. These dark levels are a touch annoying for locating all the grass patches you may have missed, but they serve to throw in a curveball just as things start to get tiresome.
Old Grumpy's movement is locked into the invisible isometric grid that the world is played out in (rather than free roaming) and the rather loose controls penalise mistakes until you learn how to handle the mower; to begin with it's slightly frustrating, but soon becomes second nature. The overall presentation is nice enough, however there is a definite iPad/Android aesthetic to the design and menu system; the developer is known for its previous mobile games, so it's easy to see why.
The Grumpy Reaper makes a few missteps that hurt the overall experience. First and foremost, it's way too grindy for an arcade experience. Perhaps if this was a mobile game micro-transactions would have facilitated easy upgrades when you're stuck in a rut, but here on Wii U you'll need to replay earlier levels to build up enough keys to allow progression in later levels. Having to utilise your keys not only for mower fuel but for all upgrades seems a touch unfair, especially with the increasing amount of keys required for the best upgrades. Additionally it's worth pointing out that the level completion keys can only be earned once.
There are also a couple of motion-controlled elements that are utterly out of place – having to control a tornado weapon though tilting the GamePad is a needless complication, as is shaking the GamePad to get rid of a bat attack; it only serves to annoy and feels like a thrown in 'feature' rather than a considered gameplay addition.
In conclusion, The Grumpy Reaper isn't going to win any awards for originality; there's a distinct 'Rare'-esq feel to the cartoony graphical presentation and the fuzzy nostalgia feeling that comes with the basic gameplay is initially quite endearing - the simplicity feels refreshing. Most players won't find it too difficult to breeze through all forty stages, which means it's not going to be a lasting experience, especially as there's no multiplayer or scoreboards for additional replayability. That said, if you're in the market for a quick pick-up-and-play game there's fun to be had, although (as is the case with most of these slightly throwaway titles), don't expect the fun to last for too long.