Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango was the first game to use the GrimE engine. Grim Fandango is so cinematic, with such a beautiful score and a wonderful script, it could easily be made into a movie. Almost everything else in this game is exceptional, as the voice acting, artwork, and sound effects are all top notch.

Grim Fandango is the first three dimensional adventure game that LucasArts made, and the Grim Fandango team decided to use the limits in the technology at the time to their advantage. The characters in video games were blocky with limited expression, so the calavera masks from the Mexican Day of the Dead festival fit the available 3D capabilities perfectly. It let Tim Schafer tell a compelling story without the audience feeling like they were pulled out of the experience by the limited technology.

There are a few problems though. Grim Fandango is the first three dimensional adventure game that LucasArts made, so unfortunately with the change of art direction came a change of control as well. Grim Fandango gives you complete control of the main character, Manny Calavera, rather using than the traditional point and click interface that previous LucasArts adventure games employed. The problem with this is that it didn’t work too well.

Rather than having Manny walk in the direction that you press on the joystick or keyboard, for some reason it was decided to give him a control method similar to those used in racing games. Forward makes Manny move forward and Backward makes him walk backward. Pressing left or right makes him spin around in a circle, but he doesn’t move in that direction unless you are also pressing up or down. The problem is that Manny often enters rooms on the top of the screen, so pressing up makes him go down. I got so frustrated in Rubacava when I kept going down that elevator when I didn’t want to.

Another problem that Grim Fandango has that many other adventure games sadly suffer is odd or frustrating puzzles. Some of the puzzles are borderline evil, such as the infamous tumbler puzzle, since the game gives you no hint on how to line things up properly. Then there are puzzles that are just bizarre. A lot of adventure games have a strange logic about their puzzles, but usually you can get an idea of out of the ordinary puzzles just by applying the game world’s rules to your logic rather than real life logic. Here though, I would never have figured out some of the puzzles without a walkthough, as the solutions of the puzzles are so out-of-left-field. The solution to disarm a bomb is the biggest example of this. I never would have thought of that solution in a million years, and after I completed the puzzle I’m still scratching my head over it.

As long as you can get used to the controls though, the rest of the problems are easily off-set by the game’s amazing length. The game comes on two CD-ROMs and encompasses four game years. The game deals with Mexican folklore, specifically the Day of the Dead and the traditional belief that a person must journey four long years through the Land of the Dead to get to her final resting place, unless she led a very good life. The story weaved through this tradition is fantastic. It evokes a film noir feel, with some similaries to Casablanca, especially in year two. Peter McConnell’s score is one of LucasArts’ best, which is saying something, as most of their games have had exceptional music. Some games I enjoyed had an excellent storyline but had fiddly controls and weird puzzles, so I probably would most likely play them to the end only once, and then never play them again (such as AdventureSoft’s Feeble Files). Grim Fandango is not this way for me. I can endure the weird interface to experience Grim Fandango’s great story, and the odd and frustrating puzzles are very few-and-far-between considering the game’s length.

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