Frankly, I waited a long time to buy Grim
Fandango because I was put off by the game box. The art on the box looks
so stylized and the game's vision so intensely personal as to seem almost
freakish. I mean, a game about skeletons? Still, I know of gamers who
think that Grim is the Last Great adventure game -- plus Grim has
consistently placed near the top on the GameBoomers annual Twisty Lists.
As it turns out, judging this game by its box was a mistake. The Land of
the Dead is actually a fascinating, wondrously surprising and beautiful
place. Grim Fandango pulls the gamer into one of the most compelling,
unusual and creative worlds in gaming. It has a terrific story, subtle
humor (well, subtle except for Glottis), vividly colorful graphics, lively
music and exceptional voice acting. Somehow the game designers have
managed to make the skeletal characters believable and full of
personality. I found myself caring more for the characters here than I
ever would have expected.
Grim Fandango follows the exploits of Manny Calavera, who has a highly
specialized, though low-tech job in the Land of the Dead. Manny is a Grim
Reaper. He "reaps" dead souls, and then tries to sell them the best
equipment they can afford for making their way to the legendary Ninth
Underworld. Manny is stuck in this job in order to pay off a mysterious
unnamed debt he somehow incurred in his past life.
There are strange goings-on in this world. Manny stumbles across a
conspiracy, comes close to being sprouted (a second, more final form of
death), joins a revolutionary organization by default, and sets off on a
long journey in search of a beautiful female client who just might be the
means of his salvation.
The puzzles in Grim are fun, but tough. They are intricately woven into
the narrative (in places they ARE the narrative). Many of the puzzles are
made up of multiple steps requiring actions in several different game
locations. The puzzles (though very different in type) remind me of the
complexity of the puzzles in "Riven". You accomplish seemingly obscure
things in Grim that you later realize have had an important affect on the
plot. (In "Riven" you enable obscure mechanical devices that you later
realize have affected some distant but important part of the gameworld).
The bad news -- this game is entirely keyboard-driven. Grim Fandango was
my fourth keyboard graphic adventure. By now I should be used to the
keyboard as an input device, and I AM better at it than when I started.
However, using the arrow keys in Grim Fandango is still a frustrating
Hotspots in this game are signified by Manny's head movements. He looks up
or down to show that you can interact with a particular object or person.
This works most of the time, but is needlessly frustrating when Manny is
at a distance (did his tiny head move there, or not?) or when the hotspots
are close together (you miss that he looked down because half-a-step
before he looked up). "Escape from Monkey Island" (EMI) greatly improves
this style of interface because as the main character encounters a
hotspot, the name of the item flashes across the screen. In EMI, it was
much easier to see that certain areas contained closely-packed hotspots
because you could watch for changes in the on-screen text.
The inventory system in Grim can be quite clumsy. This is especially
problematic during timed puzzles which require the player to get exactly
the right inventory item and use it quickly. There are several ways to
access inventory in the game. The only easy way, which I discovered after
playing about halfway through the game, is to hit the "I" key and then
scroll quickly through the items using the right and left arrow keys.
In every keyboard game I've played, the character you are attempting to
control has a tendency to bounce off unseen barriers and head in the wrong
direction. This was less of a problem in Grim than in EMI or "Odyssey: The
Search for Ulysses" (perhaps because most of the barriers in Grim were
pretty obvious). Still, there were pathways in the game that I repeated
endlessly because I had sent Manny just a little too far to the left or a
little too far to the right, and then I had to retrieve him and try again.
After awhile, I limited my exploration in certain locations because the to
and fro-ing was such a pain in the neck (of course this meant that I
sometimes missed things).
You will not find any mazes or sliding tile puzzles in this game.
There is a patch that I would recommend applying before you start the
game. I only used it when I realized (after multiple attempts) that a
certain timed puzzle was physically impossible (this will most likely be a
problem if you have a fast CPU -- not that my CPU is terribly fast, but I
guess it's fast enough).
If possible, avoid playing Grim Fandango on a new super-fast CD ROM drive.
Level load times were quick on my 40x drive, but the in-game videos were
jerky and the sound in the videos stuttered. My slower CD/RW drive had
much longer load times, but the videos played smoothly. Since the
animations/videos in the game are superb, it's worth the long load times
in order to enjoy the videos fully.
So is Grim Fandango the Last Greatest adventure game? No, but it does have
that rare magic that keeps you up, gaming late into the night because
you're dying to know what will happen next. It's one of the few adventures
that left me with a terrible feeling of emptiness once it was completed.
Never has something so Grim given me so many hours of pleasure.
Final Grade :
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