Grim Fandango review by Al Giovetti
By Al Giovetti
Support The Computer Show and get paid to surf the web. Click on this Big Bang ad!
Lucas Arts has made a reputation as one of the most innovative and exciting companies that does Graphic Animated Adventures. the Monkey Island series, the Indiana Jones series, Full Throttle, Day of the Tenticle, Maniac Mansion, and the other Lucas Arts classics struck a nerve of comedy, suspense, story telling, and puzzle solution
Tim Schafer, who did Full Throttle and Day of the Tenticle, returns to do Grim Fandango. A good Graphic Animated Adventure needs superb art, good animation, a detailed and involving plot, and puzzles that seem an integral part of the story rather than just something to lengthen the game playing time so that the developers can claim the game is worth the $50 you may lay down to buy it. Grim Fandango is not perfect, but like all Lucas Arts adventure games, it sure comes close, but lets look at the evidence.
The puzzles are the normal collect-all-the-junk-you-can-find and put it in your inventory, then combine the items of trash with one another to form other items, or use the items or their combinations to advance the plot or to get more items. Luckily Lucas uses the objects in one section of the game to complete the object oriented puzzles in that area before moving on to the next area, rather than have you running back and forth all over the map like a long distance runner.
The puzzle clues that are scattered around the storyline are not too obvious and provide only a gentle push in the right direction. Heavy handed clues often lead to a bad game, and Lucas Arts has avoided these resulting in the right level of being stumped and combined with a dollup of "hitting yourself in the head after solution remarking why didn't I think of that."
The plot of a Graphic Animated Adventure is one of the most critical elements of the game. In order to be successful it needs to be complicated enough to keep the game player in suspense and justify the need for puzzles, but still be entertaining enough to draw you along the story line to its conclusion.
You play the role of Manny Calvera, an employee of the Department of Death (DOD). The setting is the land of the dead ripped from the traditions of Mexico seen more completely in the blending of all things Spanish and all things purely from the oral tradition of the Mexican Indians. Manny's job is to help the dead find there way from the land of the dead to the ninth underworld, which takes four years to complete. Manny and his co-workers are all bound to work at the DOD to work off sins they accumulated in previous lives and earn their passage to paradise.
Employees earn their right to a better passage by helping those souls who are the most deserving who make their passage in the Number Nine that journeys through the land of the dead in only four days in luxury and calm. Manny, like most Graphic Adventure Game heroes, is a hapless character who never seems to get the number nine souls. Manny finally gets one of the prime souls, the virtuous Mercedes Colomar, who he just cannot obtain the correct passage for.
Manny decides to investigate why Mercedes is not being given the red carpet treatment, and do his best to rectify the error. Manny's investigation will uncover corruption in the land of the dead, while he travels through the towns of El Marrow, Rubacava, a mining colony and the gates of the ninth underworld.
Humor is one of the most important staples of computer Graphic Animated Adventures. And while there are no jokes in Grim Fandango the situations and characters maintain a disrespectful level of humor. For example, Manny's buddy in this basic buddy movie plot is too big and with a name like Glottis he has to be funny. The best type of humor is the humor that does not embarrass us and make fun of itself, so that you laugh with the characters and not at them, Grim Fandango carries this off with aplomb.
The style of the story is dark, drawing from film noir classics like Sam Spade, Chinatown, Cassablanca, Glengarry Glen Ross but with humor and style.
The characters in the game look just like the skeleton dolls and figurines that can be seen at any Mexican celebration of the feast of all souls day or Day of the Dead. The archetecture is clearly Mayan in origin with intricate geometric carvings in the stonework buildings.
AnimationRather than the normal two dimensional animation of all other Lucas Arts Graphic Animated Adventures, Grim Fandango uses three dimensional animation, like that of Quake, Alone in the Dark and others.
Voice ActorsExcellent voice acting to back up the three dimensional animation.
Music ScoreLucas Arts is known for great music, since they are associated with Lucas's sound studios. The music by Peter McConnell is excellent and moves along with the story with themes from Mexican mariachi, Bee Bop, Bib Band, and American Jazz.
Sound EffectsHey, it was Lucas Arts that went out and recorded real Harley Motorcycles for the sound effects in Full Throttle. And who can forget the whine of a tie fighter screaming by the cockpit of your x-wing in the X-Wing and Tie Fighter flight simulator games? Lucas does not disappoint in this version.
UtilitiesIt takes years for games and game designers to learn from the mistakes of the past. In the past all adventure games were keyboard driven and the keyboard provided a rich panapoly of options for the game player to use and try. The keyboard provided literally quick and easy access to as many options as you had keys. In the premouse world, movement was simple with either cursor arrow keys or keypad movement in up to eight directions. The mouse provided us with the interactive cursor that changed "intuitively" with the type of object pointed at. Most of the older, pre-mouse players lamented the loss of the complexity and speed found in keyboard control. Lucas Arts has finally broken the mold given us by the prophet Bill Gates, and dispensed with the mouse. Grim Fandango is controlled purely by the keyboard. Lucas Arts does a workmanship like job and shows us how a good keyboard sans mouse interface can work in even the three dimensional environment. Try it you might like it, and you may find you will want to throw your point-and-click mouse away.
Cheats, Hints, WalkthroughWalkthrough
JournalistsEveryone loves this game. I love it so much I intend to give it the Al Giovetti Gaming Excellence Award.
ReferencesAmer "Mossad" Ajami, Sharky Extreme, November, 1998, 4.5/5 (90%).
Ron Dulin, Game Spot, November, 1998, 9.3 (90%).
Please send us your comments and suggestions.