29: Grim Fandango

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1998
Platform: Windows

Review: How does one review a game that is universally loved by everyone? And I mean everyone. I can’t find one negative review of Grim Fandango anywhere. Oh sure, there are criticisms out there, but this may be the only game that has nothing but choirs to preach to. So I guess the only thing to do is to keep this short.  And once again sing the praises of Tim Schafer.

The last pure adventure game by LucasArts, Grim Fandango tells an epic tale of Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the Land of the Dead. Your job is to give clients their best means of reaching the underworld where their souls can move on. Problem is that your coworker seemingly is getting all the good clients now, while you’re getting all the bad ones. And if you can’t get some saints to give express tickets to, you can’t work off your time (for whatever unspeakable moral crimes Manny committed in his first life) and leave this place. The plot (unraveling over four years and many hours of gameplay) turns sinister as Manny reveals the mystery behind his problems at work.

The graphics are fabulous considering the designers were able to convincingly give pathos to skeletons (albeit well groomed skeletons). The atmosphere is film noir with heavy touches of Mexican mythology and Art Deco. The play control is all keyboard (or joystick), which while allowing for less artificiality to the atmosphere, is rather clunky and annoying at times (as you’ll discover after accidentally whipping out your scythe for the fiftieth time when you don’t want to use it). The puzzles are mostly fair and some are devilishly complex.

But what I believe truly makes this game for the fans is the incredible voice acting. Yes, the dialogue is good, but I’m not sure this game reaches the pantheon of adventuredom without the characterization and emotion that can only be provided with tone and inflection. Nearly every hero, villain  and bystander is marvelously portrayed without devolving into caricature or stereotype. If you’re not reeled in by the introduction, then you will be after speaking with your co-worker and your boss’s secretary.

While I became antsy at times while playing due to the controls and a few inane puzzles, I was never bored. I even forgave the multiple bugs and occasional game crash, which speaks volumes as my patience for such sloppiness is on a very short leash. It’s not one of my favorite games, but there’s not a gamer out there I would have reservations recommending Grim Fandango to, adventure fans or otherwise.

Contemporary RatingMedium. The controls suuuuuck.  Also, very buggy.  But everything else holds up today.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  No way to die, though you still need to save regularly in case the game crashes.  And maybe save twice in case a save file gets corrupted.

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