You sigh as you take off your coat and shoes and relax in your so-called office after a long hard day of pushing your product. As a salesman, the competition is ferocious not only in terms of opposing companies, but within the hallways of your company building as well. Your arch-rival, Domino Hurley, seems to be getting all the luck now-a-days. All the good clients go to him, and all the crappy ones end up with you. Your head throbs as you think of the good ol' days, when Domino weren't around, when you reaped premium after premium. All of the sudden, you jump slightly in your chair as your message tube snapped erect. A message? For you? At this time of the day? What could it be about.............?
This began my foray into, arguably, the best game I have ever played. Whoa! Bold statement for so early on in the review you say! Well, it's been 2 days since I completed Grim Fandango, and the game is still fresh in my mind. For the past week, I have played non-stop, literally. From the very beginning, Grim Fandango gripped my imagination and refused to let go. I would begin to play sometime after dinner, and the next thing I noticed, birds were chirping their morning songs outside as dawn assaulted my senses. Disappointed, I would put down my gamepad and stumble into bed reluctantly, despite my overwhelming fatigue. However, once my head touched the soft pillow, I was once again back in the world of Grim Fandango... in the form of my dream. What Tim Schafer, the producer of this fabulous game, had done to me, no other game developer did. Sure, many times I would stay up all night plugging away at my newest game, but never has it intruded my dreams. Schafer has created a world so rich with amiable characters and so immerse of a storyline that at the end of my adventure I nearly cried because I had to say goodbye to all the new friends I had come to meet and love.
This LucasArts masterpiece was actually released last year, and garnered so many awards and lauds that it was mind boggling. In the back of my mind, I had always meant to try it out, but a heavy dose of doubt went along with it. To myself I thought, how good can a game about skeletons with a Latino accent be? But, I was a bonafide LucasArts fan, so I vowed to give Grim Fandango a try sooner or later. I had experienced, and beat, their previous titles such as Full Throttle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Indiana Jones. Each of the games charmed me, but I didn't think much about it after I beat it. I wiped it off of my harddrive, and moved on to the next game on my agenda. When I finally received my own copy of Grim Fandango, I mulled over whether or not to write a review for a game so old (product cycle wise). The decision was clear to me after my first night of playing. The message had to be sent out to the public, no matter how old this game was.
I read a few of the reviews that were written about Grim Fandango just a few hours ago, and I am aghast at the amount of plot and information they give out about the game! Pure spoiler for anybody that haven't finished the game itself. On the other hand, I sympathize because as of now, I am bursting to tell all, and share the magic this game has brought into my life. However, I must restrain myself. The story takes place in the Land of the Dead, a place where souls dressed up as skeletal representatives of themselves in real life end up after their life in the Land of the Living. The souls have one goal, and that is to travel to the Land of Eternal Rest. Well, most of the time, at least. You play a travel agent named Manuel Calavera, who has not been so good when he was in the Land of the Living. Because of his misdeeds, he has to work off his time at the Department of Death, before he can move on to the Land of Eternal Rest. However, there is a catch. It seems more and more that lately, all his clients are deadbeats and scumbags, while his arch-rival down the hall, Domino Hurley's clients, are all top notch citizens. A little prodding here, and a little investigation there, you come up with the notion that something is fishy in the Land of the Dead, and you intend to uncover the truth!
The graphics for this game utilizes full 3D rendering. Gone is the old mouse click interface and storage box inventory system. Grim Fandango banishes the use of a mouse, and requires you to use either the keyboard or the gamepad to play. You control the character to move around with they input device of your choice, and Manny will turn his head and "look" at an object if it's significant enough. Your options then will be to 1. examine it, 2. use it/talk or, 3. pick it up/put it away. The inventory system is your breast pocket. When you toggle the inventory to check out what you're keeping on you Manny will reach into his coat and flip through the goodies that you have accumulated through your adventures. Like I stated earlier, everything in the game is 3D, and modeled with detail down to the bony fingers. The environment is textured beautifully in traditional Mexican folklore art, gothic structures, Aztec, Mayan and Art Deco. Supposedly it also takes in account of film noir, but since I'm such a yung'un, I have no idea whether that's true or not. To sum it up in one word, breathtaking gorgeous... erm... oh wait, that was two. The best part about this is you can enjoy the game on a Pentium classic. That's right, no need for 3D acceleration, no need for 300 MHz power... just a humble 166 and 4X CD-ROM will deliver the same kick ass content as an AMD Athlon hotrod.
The soundtrack is hands down the best I have ever heard in ANY game, period. Catchy jazz tunes and mischevious notes dance in and out between sequences, all matched together and in sync with the game environment and happenings. When an action scene was fast approaching, the music would gain in tempo and set the heart pumping adrenaline all throughout your body. When a romantic / sexy scene enters, the music switches to long, drawn out tunes from the saxophone. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought John Williams of Star Wars fame hand composed all the music in the game. Honestly, I couldn't think of playing the game without it. Some games I prefer it off due to the background distraction from the sound effects, but this game uses it to enhance the already excellent atmosphere the game holds.
What's a graphical adventure game without puzzles? For those that have suffered at the hands of frustrating game called MYST, I have good news. Grim Fandango's puzzles are actually RELATED to the story itself, and necessary to complete for the character to move on. Most of them are practical, and require a keen sense of knowing where you are, and what you've heard from the conversations you've had with the other characters. Only a few of them are exceedingly difficult, and required greater than an hour to figure out. With the inventory box method out of the picture, you no longer have to worry about puzzles within a puzzle, in which you have to pair up items in your inventory in order to use it. Since my IQ is so abysmally low, I must admit I peeked at the walk through strategy guide at GameSpot more than once in order to move on. Shameful, I know, but most of the puzzles I worked out on my own, and for those that I sought help on, rest assured that I thought I had attacked it from every direction and still cannot figure it out due to my stupidity. Still, the joy of solving a hard, but obvious if you think practical, puzzle is the best reward I can ask for after hours of blood shot eyes staring at the screen. To sum up my digressing, Grim Fandango is challenging, to be sure, but never will have you muttering to yourself about how inconsistent and illogical the puzzles were. Easily there are at least a good 40 hours of gameplay, and if you take your time and explore the Land of the Dead as thoroughly as I did, you can rack up to 60 hours of good game time.
If you thought the sounds and graphics are good, it's dust compared to the storyline. Grim Fandango's forte is its story, and even if it were not coupled with such top notch sound effects and graphics, I would still give this game an A just because of the story it tells. Tim Schafer's creative mind is an absolute gold mine, and nothing illustrates my point better than Grim Fandango. The game spans FOUR adventure packed years, and it sees the development of Manny Calavera from the plush city of El Marrow to the quaint little port town of Rubacava to the Edge of the World and finally the Gateway to the Ninth Underworld. Along the way you explore various aspects of crime, greed, glamor, romance, and loyalty. The characters you meet all have original and unique faces and expressions... even though they are only skeletons! And every single one I have come to identify with and love. There are countless times in which I stop and coverse with them just to hear what they have to say in their unique and oftentimes humorous voices. They are animated down to the very bone, and their lips (or rather, teeth) are admirably sync'ed with what they have to say. Amongst my favorites are Lupe, Glottis, Carla, Salvador, Eva, Velasco, Meche, Domino, Olivia.... ah hell, I love 'em all! Each and every single one of them exhibit a unique personality, whether amiable or hostile, and just thinking about how Schafer integrated them all into a single game makes me want to carve an idol for him and worship the ground on which he walks (kidding! Don't get all worked up now!). The only disappointment you'll have is when the credits start rolling on the screen, because you'll feel the game is too damn short as you reluctantly pull yourself out of an universe rich with flavor and fun.
What ties it all together are the in-game cinematics and cut scenes. As you progress further into the game, the movies bring everything to life. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll swear that you'll get revenge against that evil Hector LaMans. You're heart will sink at the apparent hopelessness of your situation, you'll be nostalgic upon your return to Rubacava and El Marrow. Finally, you'll smile as the final cut scene makes its way to your monitor, knowing in your heart that you've just experienced one of the best gaming experiences of your life; the magic of Grim Fandango. This game is truly a game of the ages. Young adults and baby boomers will enjoy it alike (even those with a 12 year old mentality =P). The humor is scattered everywhere, but it never relies on cheesy one liners you see in too many games today. It's subtle and dark, but it never oversteps the boundary to controversy. Grim Fandango is a classic... no, a masterpiece... no, it's a timeless, classical masterpiece that will forever be part of the gaming legend. Oh, the praises I can give to this game sees no end, so I leave you with my WHOLE HEARTED recommendation and a poem I heard at the Blue Casket...
Final Grade: A+
The Scale is as follows: