“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.
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
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.
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
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.