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Grim Fandango Review

GENRE Adventure 
PLAYERS 98- 98 
T Contains Animated Violence, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco

What do these ratings mean?

"Dang! I Left My Heart In The Land Of The Living!"

Where it is no doubt rotting, along with the rest of my corpse. All the while I, in my spiritual skeleton form, am stuck in the land of the dead, selling travel packages to post mortems more fortunate than I. They need all the help they can get for their 4 year voyages through the treacherous land of the dead to the 9th underworld of eternal rest.

I am Manny Calavera, suave, debonair, dead; Central American travel agent and star of LucasArts' latest adventure masterpiece Grim Fandango. Something is wrong in the Department of Death (the DOD).

Well, lemme back up. I am a travel agent. However, until the day you die you'd probably just think of me as a grim reaper. I am a rather short skeleton. But, when I slip on my hydraulic lifts, don my cloak, and pull out my scythe, you'd think I was death himself.

After I come for your soul, you get to visit the DOD, where depending on how much money you have, and how good you were in life, you can qualify for different travel packages. These range from crossing the land of the dead in your own sportscar, a high-class cruise, or taking the Number Nine, a special luxury train reserved for the best of the good that'll get you to the portal of the 9th underworld in only 4 minutes instead of 4 years.

I must have done something bad in life. I say this because I didn't even qualify for the Excelsior Express (A walking stick with a compass) and I must work for the DOD as community service. That is, until I can work off my time and finally head off on my 4 year journey to seek out strange new worlds, new civilizations, and some of the scummiest calcium deposits this side of the ethereal equator.

But something is rotten in Denmark. Clients, who I know should be getting star travel packages, are getting nothing. Someone is running a Major Dead League scam to steal #9 Tickets, a valuable commodity in the afterlife. I found this out because of a special little lady, Mercedes Colomar, my meche, a good person down to the bone who should have gotten a #9 ticket but had to walk off alone instead, without even a walking stick.

Well, it's up to me to do something about this, everyone deserves their just post-mortem rewards don't they? Thus begins my 4 year quest, in polygonal 3D, with my helpful, driving, obese, demon friend Glottis, in the only real adventure game of the year. And also one of the coolest games that LucasArts, the gods of adventure gaming, has ever had the cajones to make.

For me, Manny Calavera, LucasArts has made a new game engine. The backgrounds are stylistically pre-rendered. I, and all other characters and grab-able objects, are a group of stylish polygons. I can control myself using the directional keypad, like in Alone in the Dark or Resident Evil. I carry all my items in my suit but I can't combine them like in LucasArts' The Curse of Monkey Island. I can only use one item at a time with the environment.

All in all, this feels very different than LucasArts' usual games, but after all, I am Manny Calavera. As far as an artistic accomplishment goes, my adventure gets all 5 leg bones. What they have done with the Land of the Dead is amazing. They took Aztec/Mexican legends about death and punned them as far as a pun can go. Then they threw in a little film noir circa 1930's just to add to the flavor, a little 1950's beatnik style to add to the beat, and even a little seafaring style to add to the shrimp-bone cocktails.

Now, I am dead, I don't have a heart, I don't have any kidneys, I don't have any skin, I don't have any tendons (although I know someone with carpal tunnel syndrome all the same), and I certainty don't have lungs or breathing apparatus. Yet talking is no problem. Don't ask me how, I don't have a skull's clue in the 5th underworld. But let me tell you, I have one hades of a voice!

Grim Fandango has only the best voice actors to lend my associates their lungs, voice-boxes, windpipes, and all the rest. The voices here are better than 15 skeletons on a rusty ribcage. On top of that, my post-terminal associates and myself have some of the funniest lines on the dead side of, you guessed it, a funny bone.

Now, I may not have ears, but I still need some good sounds to keep me from going mad as a hatter in the land of the dead. Well, to my great benefit, Grim Fandango has one of the best, most thematic (Swing-Era Bebop and Jazz, Mexican folk, and others), and most memorable soundtracks ever to grace the inside of a cranial cavity where an ear drum used to be.

Along my journey I have to solve some wicked puzzles. After all, I am the star of an adventure game, the basis of which is always creative puzzles. Now, to give you an example of some of the good ones, I can recall one time when in order to get some unemployed dock-worker-bee's to help me, I had to help their leader find the words he was looking for. These blue collar bees were concerned with proletarian power so I remembered a bunch of beatniks sitting in the Blue Casket (a local bar) discussing the manifesto. So I walked right in there and start jiving with those cats. But they didn't accept me since they thought I was a rich fat cat. But I proved I was hep, I showed 'em a communiqué from Salvador Limones, the leader of the resistance I was (sort-of) working for. The beatniks got to liking me and let me borrow their Marxist book. I then gave the book to the bees who found their words and started peacefully demonstrating and thinking about the beeshevick revolt.

But, sometimes the puzzles I have to solve seem a little random, out of the pasty blue, or a little too esoteric, too cranial (for one of hollow skull). It isn't very often, but sometimes I have to just randomly hunt around for something, anything, that'll help me. Or sometimes I have to figure out how to use something without getting any clues at all. But, don't worry, don't bust a pelvis, cool the balls of your heels. There aren't too many of those, this game is almost total hep.

I just have to thank everyone for making me such a great death. If it were not for the happy ending I'd want to go back and relive the whole thing just for the thrill and restaurant management of it all. Even when I was alive I can't remember too many other adventures that were any better, and quite a few that were worse. Rest in peace, LucasArts made all the better bone bags, and this one is only down by about a vertebrae.

A- Revolution report card
  • Hep Cool Cat Style
  • Stylish Graphics
  • Stylish Voices/Music
  • Stylish Story
  • Stylish Puzzles
  • A few Stylishly obtuse puzzles

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