Ok, this is my first time reviewing any game so please be gentle, but I’ve been meaning to share with this fine community my thoughts regarding a game I consider to be one of the most satisfying I’ve ever played: Grim Fandango.
Published by LucasArts in 1999, Grim Fandango is an old school ‘point and click’ adventure game in the manner of Monkey Island, Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle. Written by Tim Schafer (he of Psyconaughts and Brutal Legend fame), Grim Fandango is a beautifully conceived tale based largely upon Mexican folklore that places you in the rather stylish shoes of our hero: beleaguered Department of Death employee Manuel Calavera (a.k.a . Manny).
Story (minor spoilers):
In the land of the dead the Department of Death (DOD for short) provides different travel packages to the newly deceased. Each package offers passage to the Ninth Underworld (a final resting place) by a variety of means, depending on how virtuous - or otherwise - each client lived their life:
In his role as Department of Death travel agent, our story finds Manny desperately trying to catch a break in an attempt to work off his own eternal debts. Curiously, unlike his fellow agents and despite his best efforts, Manny just doesn’t seem able to procure any good clients, leaving him unable to earn his own passage to the final resting place.
Out of luck, our resourceful hero decides to indulge in a little subterfuge and manages to snag the saintly Mercedes ‘Meche’ Colomar as a client. But all is not as it should be *gasp*. By rights Mercedes should qualify for a premium package, but is peculiarly denied by the DOD, thus requiring her to make the arduous (often fatal) 4-year journey by foot!
The case of Mercedes Colomar leads Manny to the discovery that something is rotten within the DOD, so he sets out on his own journey to put things right. The game follows the subsequent four years (each year being a chapter) of Manny's afterlife as he journeys through a variety of wonderful locales, meeting an intriguing cast of characters, searching for the lovely Mercedes and the real source of corruption.
Outstanding. Tim Schafer is rightly regarded by many here as being one of the best writers in the business and with good reason. The writing in Grim Fandango is undoubtedly the games strongest suit: funny, charming and believable, the dialogue draws much from film noir classics like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon without ever having to resort to mindless parody.
Again, top notch. Grim Fandango has an unusual mariachi\jazz score which fits well within the games Aztec\Latino atmosphere. The voice acting is really good (Manny has an endearing, and entirely convincing, Hispanic twang) and sound effects contribute an awful lot to the overall feel and quality of the game.
The game has aged reasonably well by virtue of its heavily stylised design. Grim Fandango is heavily influenced by Aztec beliefs of the afterlife, 1930’s film noir and Art Deco design but manages to pull each element together to form a cohesive and convincing whole. Grim Fandango was the first Lucasarts game to attempt to mix pre-rendered 2D backgrounds with 3D models (think FF7) and it works really well. Camera angles are set sensibly, backgrounds are beautifully rendered and character models, whilst simple (Manny's character for example comprises of just 250 polygones), are still pleasing enough.
Unfortunately (or should that read inevitably) Grim Fandango is showing its age in this regard. The control mechanisms are by no means awful but are dated and probably the biggest weakness in the game. Controlling Manny using the keyboard can be a tad fiddly at times (especially when attempting to enter doorways) but its by no means game breaking and can easily be mastered given a little time and patience.
Puzzles are varied both in style and difficulty and implemented in such a way as to not take one out of the game. Typically one has to complete a number of challenges to progress to the next stage and, whilst it’s true most of the puzzles will be pretty standard fare to fans of the genre, they should be fun and challenging for those on their first playthrough.
A great game of its type, Grim Fandango should still offer enough gaming goodness to entice the odd contemporary gamer into purchasing. Brilliantly conceived, full of wit, charm and the old Schafer magic, I’m proud to say that this game still sits comfortably within my top ten.
Thanks for reading.