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Games I Own: Grim Fandango

Posted on 23rd Mar 2009 at 14:03 by Joe Martin with 11 comments

Joe Martin
Grim Fandango has three distinctions in my games library. Firstly, it’s one of my favourite games. Secondly, it’s one of the only 3D adventure games I really like (Escape from Monkey Island is a disgrace to the series, I reckon) and thirdly, it’s one of only a handful of games that I’d label as a romantic game.

Romance is, I think, something that isn’t explored enough in games – probably because of a weakness in the medium that doesn’t make it hugely capable of displaying that emotion. I can only think of a half-dozen games that actually deal with matters of the heart so openly and most of them are Leisure Suit Larry games! Despite it being a fairly small niche though, Grim Fandango stands head and shoulders above the masses as perhaps the most singularly romantic game I’ve ever played.

The story for the game is a masterpiece of noir fiction, set in a imaginative take on the Mexican afterlife and with players cast as unlikely hero, Manny Calvera, salesman for new souls. When somebody dies in the real world it’s Manny’s job to assess their soul and try to find them the quickest way to the true heaven. If someone has been good in their life then they can take a quick train through the afterlife straight to heaven. If they’ve been bad then they’ll be lucky if they’re even given a map, but it’s Manny’s job to help them as best he can.

Games I Own: Grim Fandango

Despite being good at his job though, Manny is having a tough time of it and is struggling to get any good clients. He suspects conspiracy and that suspicion is solidified when he realises that he’s sold the wrong deal to a genuine Spanish saint, a skeletal stunner named Meche. Meche should have gone caught the train to the Ninth Heaven straight away, but Manny set her off on foot and was unable to get her a ticket. Naturally he feels bad, so abandons his post and sets off to find her and help her reach her true fate.

As a work of storytelling Grim Fandango already has all the romance it needs; a likeable but flawed hero, a beautiful woman and a series of obstacles and enemies to overcome. There are undead mobs to get past, flaming demons to deal with and a huge mystery to solve – one that’ll take Manny many years to crack.

Games I Own: Grim Fandango

What makes Grim Fandango so emotionally staggering though is that it doesn’t ever tell you what to think or feel, but relies on the strength of the characters to make you empathise those feelings. Manny doesn’t ever come out an directly say he loves Meche, but it’s made obvious from his actions and the way he mourns her fate. He feels hugely responsible and somehow the weight of that can be seen on his face even though he doesn’t even have any skin.

Owing as much to Casablanca as it does to Mexican mythology, Grim Fandango was perhaps the last, great gasp of that famous bunch of original adventure game visionaries – Gilbert, Grossman, Schafer and the rest of the Lucasarts lot. There were a few sputters afterwards, but looking back it seems like Grim Fandango was definitely the last high point for the genre. Grim Fandango, alongside The Curse of Monkey Island, were certainly the last attempts that Lucasarts seemed to want to make before it dedicated itself to Star Wars spin-offs – which just goes to show that not all romances have happy endings.

You can however download the rather excellent soundtrack for the game over here, so it isn't all bad news.

11 Comments

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arcticstoat 23rd March 2009, 15:24 Quote
Grim Fandango is indeed awesome - it is known. I never actually managed to complete it, though, as the puzzles just got too obscure for me towards the end, and I'm loathe to look up the answers on the Internet - plus I've lost all my saved games from 1999.

All is not lost when it comes to cool, creative games - Tim Schafer is still creating great stuff. Psychonauts was similarly one of the best games ever, and managed to combine the dark, quirky and likeable characters of Grim Fandango with quicker-paced gameplay and puzzles. IPlus, it had an awesome soundtrack. 'm really hoping that Brutal Legend will come out for the PC at some point, as I really don't want to have to buy a PS3 or Xbox 360 just to play it!
CardJoe 23rd March 2009, 15:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by arcticstoat
Grim Fandango is indeed awesome - it is known. I never actually managed to complete it, though, as the puzzles just got too obscure for me towards the end, and I'm loathe to look up the answers on the Internet - plus I've lost all my saved games from 1999.

All is not lost when it comes to cool, creative games - Tim Schafer is still creating great stuff. Psychonauts was similarly one of the best games ever, and managed to combine the dark, quirky and likeable characters of Grim Fandango with quicker-paced gameplay and puzzles. IPlus, it had an awesome soundtrack. 'm really hoping that Brutal Legend will come out for the PC at some point, as I really don't want to have to buy a PS3 or Xbox 360 just to play it!

I'm going to be seeing Brutal Legend soon hopefully (and interviewing Tim, wheee!), and I hope to get to the bottom of that then.
kenco_uk 23rd March 2009, 15:45 Quote
I have this somewhere about, but I could never get it to work properly on XP so gave up - and apparently the version of the game that was fixed to work with XP is rare as hens teeth. I think I got as far as getting in a lift, then the cd drive sounded like it was taking off.
Jordan Wise 23rd March 2009, 15:52 Quote
As much as I've loved what I've played of this so far the puzzles are so unbelievably tricky that I doubt anyone has completed it without going to Gamefaqs or by owning some guide
CardJoe 23rd March 2009, 15:54 Quote
There's a fan launcher out there which makes the game run in XP and Vista, 64Bit etc.

http://www.grimfandango.net/?page=launcher
Blademrk 23rd March 2009, 16:26 Quote
I'll have to give that launcher a try, I bought the game but could never get it to work properly.

The demo worked fine, but the game would only run a little bit further than where the demo left off.

Same with Sam & Max - I'd get so far then it would blue screen.
azrael- 23rd March 2009, 19:54 Quote
As far as I remember the game works just fine in XP (32bit). All I installed was the patch.

Fabulous game. Perhaps the best LucasArts adventure ever, and that's saying something!

"Viva la revolucion, agent Calavera!"
nicae 25th March 2009, 12:32 Quote
Adventures were my favorite games. Dunno how I skipped Grim.. :\
How could this genre have dissappeared so intensely? :\

Can't wait to see your interview with Tim!
CardJoe 25th March 2009, 13:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by nicae
Adventures were my favorite games. Dunno how I skipped Grim.. :\
How could this genre have dissappeared so intensely? :\

Can't wait to see your interview with Tim!

:O

If you like the genre then you need to find yourself a copy of Grim Fandango somewhere and give it a shot!
Yardstick 3rd April 2009, 00:41 Quote
Currently playing it through again on my Eee - bring back many great memories.

I love the artwork so much, I still have the original box on display in my study.
nicae 7th April 2009, 13:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yardstick
Currently playing it through again on my Eee - bring back many great memories.

I love the artwork so much, I still have the original box on display in my study.

The artwork was among the most charming elements of older adventure games. Monkey Island 1 and 2 had so much space for imagination!
The newer games, with high resolutions and more stylezed artwork kind of took away some of the charm.

The lack of space for imagination is one of the reasons why I believe modern games are so shallow and impact us so little. Take Crysis for example. It works so hard on giving you a ready-made world - visually speaking - that the player just goes through the story. In older games, it was the creation of a whole world! Warcraft 1 and Dune were good examples for me (:
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