Grim Fandango


Genre:     Adventure

Developer - Publisher:   Lucas Arts

Released:   1998

PC Requirements:   Windows 95/98, Pentium 133, 32MB RAM, 2MB Graphics card, 4xCD-ROM, 16 Bit Sound card, Keyboard or Joystick, DirectX 6.0, 3D acceleration, 4MB PCI or AGP accelerator required for Direct3D hardware mode.

Walkthrough   Walkthrough



by Becky

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 experience.

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 :  A+

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