Grim Fandango

a game by LucasArts
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 3 reviews
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Some gamers may be burnt out on point-and-click adventure games, but Grim Fandango promises to breathe new life into the genre--even though all its characters are dead! As Manny, travel agent to the Eighth Underworld, you become aware of a plot to dupe heaven-bound Land of the Dead citizens of their passes to paradise. The resistance movement taps you to get to the bottom of things. In many ways, Grim Fandango is a traditional exploration adventure in the style of Full Throttle and Sam & Max Flit The Road, but with no interface at all; the keyboard commands keep annoying cursors out of the way.

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Game Reviews

Grim Fandango offers clever point-and-click adventure gaming of the highest order with in-game graphics that feel like cut scenes, an energetic jazz score, and well-performed dialogue. The plot is equally entertaining, as you play Manny, a grimacing reaper who sells travel packages for the afterlife.

This lush, compelling puzzler also puts the entire interface right at your fingertips with Fandangos excellent game-pad support, though Manny has trouble negotiating through areas like doorways. This is but a distraction in the otherwise fully cinematic experience, however.

Fandango is very user-friendly, from the SCUMM interface that lets you choose Manny's verbal responses to the forgiving gameplay that never forces you to reload a previous game to solve a puzzle. Play Grim Fandango--its killer.

ProTips:

  • Use a rope to climb into your boss's office and set his computer to get your work order signed by Eva.
  • To gum up the message machine, fill the empty balloons you got from the mime outside with packing material and send them down your office's tube.

Overview

Well, whaddya know. The Aztecs had it right all along. You die, take the money you’re buried with, and start out on your four-year trek through the land of the dead. Our hero, Manuel Calavera, is a travel agent for the dead, selling the best travel packages a dead soul qualifies for; after all, why spend four years on a dangerous journey when the Number 9 Express train can get you there in four minutes? Manny’s been in a bit of a slump lately, though, with all the good clients going to his competition. There's trouble in paradise and Manny needs to untangle himself from a conspiracy that threatens his very salvation. That’s where you come in.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

I liked the game interface. LucasArts chose to keep player interaction with the world pretty simple. In a quick reward for reading the booklet, they even tell you outright that you will not be able to combine inventory items (making it much easier to brute-force a solution if you get desperate). As you approach something with which you can interact, Manny’s head moves to focus on the object. You can then examine it, use it (i.e. pick it up or talk with it) or use an inventory object with it. Pretty basic. There are one or two tight spots where the angle of approach can make it tricky to get from one area to another, and another area where you do have to combine two objects you can pick up (prop item one where you found it, use an inventory item with it, and then pick it up), but all in all, things went pretty smoothly. I particularly liked the option of choosing your frame of reference—either character-relative or camera-relative. I got to love controlling things relative to the character so that I didn’t have to change buttons when my camera angle changed.

Puzzles

Nice puzzles. I found myself stumped about once a year (the game is broken up into four years), and that’s about right. Your mileage will likely vary, but not too much to the negative as I’m far from an expert in the genre.

Graphics

In an interesting surprise in an adventure game, the sets for Grim Fandango are all 3D-rendered and things look much smoother and scroll better if you have a 3D accelerated system. Each set is beautifully rendered and as believable as the afterlife can be. It also means that usable objects don’t stand out quite as much as they can in other games of this type.

Audio

All the dialogue is full speech (with optional subtitles). Nothing stands out about the sounds of the game, which is actually a good thing. One of the companions you acquire can get a bit annoying if you’re stumped and have to listen to his fake car noises, but the annoyance is mostly at being stumped so long.

System Requirements

DirectX compatible Win95/Win98, Pentium 133, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, Microsoft DirectX 6.0 (available on the CD). I highly recommend using the 3D acceleration option.

Documentation

The documentation is colorful, useful, and to the point. Once you find it, that is. I almost threw it away with the other in-box advertisements. It’s made to look like a travel catalog, which amazingly is very similar to a software catalog. Draw your own conclusions from that. I’m glad I gave it a read, as it’s entertaining and tells you outright that you won’t be able to combine inventory items. That’s an important bit of information to anyone who has done an adventure game or two.

Parental Warning

Film noir means lots of smoking and mildly naughty language. Since all the characters are already dead, there’s not a lot of blood and guts (just flowers, lots of flowers).

Bottom Line

Excellent game. I couldn’t leave it alone. It wasn’t as funny as the Monkey Island series (though it ends much better than The Curse of Monkey Island), but it gives you a story you can get into and generates enough interest in the characters to pull you through the occasional rough spot. I particularly liked the consistent film noir theme (especially a bit of homage paid to Casablanca in Year Two). It’s definitely a must-buy if you’re a fan of adventure games. If you’re not, well, this game may turn you around.

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