Grim Fandango review
The Good: How long do you have? Interesting noir inspired storyline, tons of character interaction, excellent voice work, and snappy dialogue.
The Bad: A few illogical tasks, slight learning curve to the interface, not crazy for the soundtrack.

I had some reservations about reviewing this game. It is one of those games that people love in an almost religious way. What if I hated it? I would need a police escort to go out at night. However, at the same time I wanted to play the game if only to find out if it was as good as everyone says. Lately, I have been so busy that the only games I get to play are ones that I review for adventuregamer.com, which can be very confining. I have been eyeing Grim Fandango for some time, but just couldn’t seem to find the time. So when the opportunity arose to review it I jumped at the chance. A leap of faith it wasn’t, as almost every good thing I have heard about it proved to be true. With so many good points, where does one start?

Let’s begin with the most important aspect of any adventure game, story. Some games skimp on story hoping that the pretty graphics will so blow your mind that all that will be heard is mutterings of ‘Oh, pictures so pretty!!’. That is not the case with Grim Fandango. Lifting a concept from Mexican folklore it borrows a number of elements from the celebrations surrounding the Day of the Dead. Grim Fandango co-opts a number of myths and hallmarks from this day, most notably the look of the calaveras or skulls made from sugar paste that are used to personify people who have passed on. In the game the appearances of the characters are based on these calaveras, the developers have even gone as far as to name the main character after them, Manny Calavera. This was a concept I appreciated for its originality and quirkiness and it worked perfectly with the noir-styled crime caper story.

If you have ever watched the Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil or LA Confidential you should be well versed in film noir and its conventions. You have the world-weary main character, condemned to work as a thankless travel agent because of transgressions committed while he was alive. The unpredictable love interest, is she a femme fatale or a misunderstood good girl? The flawed, but loyal best friend and the prerequisite small time crooks barring your way to the real mastermind. So while this premise is not wholly original it is given a new twist by placing it in the afterlife. You see someone has been cheating deserving souls out of their double-end tickets on the number 9 train. The number 9 is the fastest way to cross the land of the dead and enter heaven. Without a ticket, souls are condemned to a long and perilous journey to the gates of heaven. In fact, it takes our hero four years to make the journey himself.

It’s hard to imagine a game that provides better voice work than this game. The voices of the actors perfectly augment the characters we see on screen. They never go overboard or let their work degenerate into choppy attempts at melodrama. Of course, it always helps when you have dialogue as snappy, witty, and often irreverent as here. Point in fact, you just don’t get great lines like this in the majority of games on the market; “We scraped along like rats, but now we will soar like eagles…eagles on pogo sticks!” The sheer joy that this line was delivered with illuminated it in a way that can’t be conveyed on the page, but reading it you can see how a less talented voice actor could have mangled it, strangling every ounce of wonder and excitement out of it.

As one of the most significant tools used to bring a story to life, it is sometimes mind-boggling how often good writing is over looked by game designers. The amount of hackneyed, strained, and completely unimaginative dialogue trees I have read or listened to over the years has proven to me that designers do not respect the impact carefully crafted dialogue can bring to a story. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Grim Fandango; the interchanges in this game were not only humorous, but also served to give the game’s characters idiosyncrasies and depth.

But the quality doesn't stop there. I really enjoyed the visual style of the game’s graphics. The developers included a great deal of imagery and symbols from the Aztec civilization, giving the game a real South American flavour. The architecture, interior design of rooms, and names of characters and places all stay very loyal to the vision the creators had of what the land of the dead would look like to the Mexican people. Sure, the game is done in 3D so you have your prerequisite boxiness to the characters, most especially that of Glottis, but the Aztec theme employed with the myriad of colours and design details gives the game an authentic Mexican/Aztec look.

Grim Fandango is also incredibly non-linear, it doesn’t seem to matter which way or in what manner you complete tasks. As you can imagine this gives the player a remarkable amount of freedom in exploration and sleuthing. There were a couple of times where this flexibility mired me down, as I had picked up a number of different objects but was clueless with how to proceed with them. However, with only a few exceptions it was very obvious what to do with items and how to complete various tasks and puzzles. I also liked the fact that you could make your character run, so that when you have to criss-cross over well travelled terrain you could do so quickly. I would not advise first time players to employ this strategy until they have thoroughly checked out each environment as hotspots are signalled to the player by the movement of Manny’s head. This can often be very subtle and easily missed. At other times the camera angle employed is less then ideal either to far way or showing Manny partially obstructed so it is hard to figure out how to properly move him.

Which brings us to one of the most talked about features of this game, its interface. Breaking with tradition, Lucas Arts has thrown out the tried-and-true point-and-click interface in favour of a keyboard interaction. I will admit there is a slight learning curve to this process and for the first few hours I played the game my manual did not leave my side. However, once learned you barely even notice you aren’t using a mouse. You move around using the arrow keys, pressing the ‘I’ key will access your inventory from your jacket pocket, ‘E’ will allow you to examine objects up-close, and ‘P’ will pick up or put away items. There you go, now you know just about everything you will need to know to play the game. So while it is different than what I am used to, it was hardly an impediment to game play.

The one part of the game that did not work for me was the soundtrack. There are points where I felt the music perfectly fit the action going on in the game, but mostly I found it too heavy and not well suited to the game’s theme. The sort of '20s era jazz used in the first part of Manny’s journey fails to create much ambience or atmosphere, often proving distracting and bothersome. There are points, most especially in the forest, where the game blares music that is perfectly suited for cruising in your hot rod, but even then it is overpowering, pulling attention away from the action.

Overall, it is amazing how much gameplay is packed onto the game’s two CD-ROMS. Grim Fandango will take the average gamer between 40 and 50 hours to play, less experienced gamers more. Talk about value, the game retails for between $9.95 for just the game and jewel case to upwards of $45 for the complete package. Plus, with only two CD-ROMS, the amount of disk swapping is limited. If you have been looking for a great game that combines humour, a great story, appealing graphics, and long gameplay with a reasonable price, then Grim Fandango is what you seek. Quality has never been so much fun.



Game Info

Grim Fandango

Platform:
Mac, PC, Playstation 4, Vita, Linux

Genre:
Adventure, Drama

Developer:
LucasArts


Game Page »

Worldwide October 1 1998 LucasArts

User Score

Average based on 55 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by emric on May 31, 2012

strong creativity and originality, but not the standout i was expecting

very original setting and character designs. also a somewhat distinctive user interface (which initially took some getting used to). the... Read the review »

Posted by Lucien21 on May 27, 2012

Vive La Revolution

Mexican Folklore has never looked this good. In one of the last adventure games to come from Lucasarts you control Manny Calavera, employee... Read the review »

Posted by subbi on May 21, 2012
Arguably the most recognizable adventure game ever made with all the ingredients you expect: great characters, fantastic voice overs and... Read the review »



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About the Author
Heidi Fournier
Staff Writer

Comments

garrythefish
May 12, 2009

nice review, but i can’t agree on the music among a couple of things. the music was perfect and the best i’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to in any game. a definite 5/5 for this game.

also, i will use this opportunity point out that residual, a grim fandango interpretor for the modern system, has a new web site (http://residual.sourceforge.net/),so you might visit it and help is need in any form, new devs or new supportive users. cheers

 

isrnick
Jun 17, 2009

Great review.

Except the “South American flavour” part, since Mexico is a North American country, and the Aztecs lived in the Central America and in the southern territory of the North America (wich today is Mexico), not in the South America. (The Incas were the big South American indigenous nation, not the Aztecs.)

Maybe you wanted to say “Latin American flavour”? Or “Mexican flavour”?

Anyway, Grim Fandango is indeed an awesome adventure game. Smile

tantoniou
Jul 27, 2009

Perfect music, intiguing-innovative-moving story/scenario, amazing atmosphere, humorous dialogs.

But I was annoyed by the controls. Also I found some of the puzzles crazy.

Anyway, in overall, you have to play this classic adventure…surelly one of the best in time!

joxer
Jul 27, 2009

4.5/5?

This can get only 5 from me. It’s just like an old wine. It was great back then, now when many games concentrate on graphics instead on the story and characters, Grim Fandango is something you simply must have in your adventure collection.

renna
Jul 27, 2009

I originally resisted this game because of how the characters looked.  But once I tried it, I loved it.  Although I hated the controls until I figured out how to use them and by the end of the game I thought they were great - the storytelling, the art deco vibe running throughout the game, the music, and characters are still memorable.  I wish I could go back and revisit Manny and Meche and the gang.

Abnaxus
Jan 16, 2010

For me Grim is the best adventure game ever made !

Ursulla
Mar 6, 2010

Just finished it…
It had its moments and usually I had fun with it…
Many people believe it to be the best adventure ever being done and it is the highest rated advenure at .......(This grounds is to holy to mention other sites)
I’m not going to share that opinion since I have beaten it with a relative ease…And one of the most crucial factors for me to judge an adventure is by the challanege I’m offered…
The hero is sure one hell of a guy to play with…One of the most entertaing characters I have played with…
I have no complaints with the department of creativity…It has very creative puzzles using all kinds of tools,machines and vechiles…
Characters ,story and atmosphere were just super…
It’s the first adventure by Lucas Arts which you can’t use ScumVm to play it…But after applying the patch it will run smoothly under XP for most machines…
The game has a bug which you can overcome by using CPUKILLER application…Just to slow down the processor…

My final verdict : It is as fresh and valid to play as it has been when it first got realesed in 1998…
My score : 85
My next Adventures : The Longest Journey and then Relentless: Twinsen’s Adventure

Entropy
Aug 7, 2010

Grim Fandango, for all its flaws, still defines the word ‘classic’.

Sonny-Bonds
Dec 2, 2010

I must concur with “garrythefish”, the soundtrack is one of the games strongest points. I own the soundtrack CD and it is a great ix of music that fits the game perfectly and adds to the overall experience.

a-maze a-maze
Feb 1, 2011

EXCELLENT. A classic. Fantastic humor, exquisite graphics (by the time it was created, back in the 90’s), funny storyline. 5/5. If you still didnt play it…. what are you waiting for????????? go go go!

spongefinger
Mar 16, 2011

What can I say, I played this game when it first came out and it has been the only game I have played that left me feeling genuine sadness when it was over as I realised my time with Manny and the rest of the characters was over…..I think any game that can make you feel that way has to be special.

ghettodoghammer
Nov 29, 2011

Takes a little getting used the controls, I wasn’t accustumed to playing an adventure game with the keyboard. At times it’s awkward, and this game was one of the lowest selling games LucasArts ever did. But, it’s bright and colorful, funny, with some of the greatest graphics I have ever seen.

Iznogood Iznogood
Dec 3, 2011

Why don’t they make games like this anymore:(

ghettodoghammer
Dec 30, 2011

“once learned you barely even notice you aren’t using a mouse”
Not me, I notice every time I play it, why use the keyboard when you could have used the mouse? To me it was the worst part of the game.

ojh01004
Jan 1, 2012

I couldn’t agree more with ghettodoghammer !!!. I have heard so many opinions about this game and surely almost all of them are very very admirable things. but when I played this game , I felt very tired of being accustomed to the control which was so distinctive compared to other games… I really really wanna enjoy this game but the awkward control keeps me from doing it….



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