There’s something rotten in the Land of the Dead. Manny Calavera, travel agent to the recently deceased, is desperate for a big commission so he can pay off his dues to the “powers that be” and start his own “four year journey of the soul.”
When he tampers with the system to steal a client from his rival, he falls into an adventure that will have him pointing-and-clicking all over this hilarious Mexican-inspired landscape.
Manny is a compelling character. Witty, motivated, and self-deprecating, he has a knack for making friends and rising to the top in whatever corner of the Land he finds himself in. Speaking of friends…
Glottis, his best friend, is a demon “summoned directly from the Land of the Dead itself” with a single all-consuming purpose: to drive. Glottis’s need for speed even tops his temptation for drinking and gambling, and his perky, naïve demeanor, selfless dedication to his work, and simplistic charm make him a winning sidekick.
Most of the villains come in deliciously jerk-ish or goosebumpy creepy. The characterizations are spot-on, and the accents glorious.
Even the side characters are colorful and memorable. You wouldn’t think drawing skeleton-people in distinctive ways would be very easy, but Double Fine Productions pulled it off admirably.
The puzzles are on the tough side. No kiddie stuff here. Year Two is especially hard, where you have an entire town to explore and run back and forth in, plus a laundry list of tasks to complete that keeps getting more and more complicated the farther you pursue them. Nothing is “just that easy!”
On the other hand, we could probably have figured out the majority of them without help…if we’d been a little more patient.
I found the inability to replay conversations annoying. While verbal trees are provided, sometimes the different choices were just for plot development, and what you selected had no particular bearing on the solution of a puzzle – which gave me a feeling of impotence.
The controls are also a little hard to get used to. I found a mixture of keyboard steering and mouse/trackpad interacting was what I needed to get the most out of it, though something that made interactable objects more obvious would streamline things.
While the ambience and flavor of the game is mostly enjoyable, there are two instances of language that blemish the experience – particularly where a kid yells out a profanity. Not necessary, and a definite detraction to the entertainment.
Which brings me to theology. Suspend your disbelief for the fantasy, and don’t ask why everyone in the Land of the Dead is speeding toward the Ninth Underworld (Land of Eternal Rest) nor what exactly that means. If I knew more about Mexican-Catholic underworld myths, it would probably make more sense, but I don’t believe that doing volunteer work buys you a train ticket to paradise in the hereafter…nor that children who die automatically get wings. Especially not children with mouths like that…
On the other hand, the idea of bad people trying to buy their way out of judgement (and into paradise) is firmly rooted in the real world, and while God doesn’t seem to be present or active in this underworld, there are still inescapable mechanisms for sorting people out to their just desserts.
A brief note on the technical side: GoG.com offers this game for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux…but their Mac version is incompatible with my older system. Thank goodness I have another partition on my machine with a higher version of OS 10, so I simply had to reboot whenever I wanted to play instead of being completely out of luck.
To conclude, Grim Fandango was lots of fun, with mind-bending puzzles, social commentary that avoided both the cliché and annoying, a boatload of over-the-top characters, and a protagonist we could enjoy spending time with.
I guess it deserves its standing as a classic of the genre.
Personal screenshots used for review purposes. Check out the intro here.
Grim Fandango is available the following places:
GoG.com (for Windows Vista and up, Mac OS 10.9+, and Linux, DRM-free; includes a “making of” and artwork)
Steam (Windows Vista and later, Mac OS 10.9, and Linux; includes soundtrack) Bear in mind Steam DRMs their software.