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LucasArts' Secret History: Grim Fandango: Screw That Guy: What Does Everyone Else Think?

30 Aug, 2009

Various Mojo readers like the game too.

brushguy

There isn't anything I could possibly add to the abundant praise that this game has already received, so I'll just say this: Grim Fandango is the closest that an adventure game - or, one might argue, any video game - has gotten to being a work of art. It's that good. If you haven't played it, go play it.

Byron Hooper

This is it. This is the one I've been waiting for... From the moment I saw the "General Public" comments section of the Secret History articles, I've been writing and re-writing this one over and over in my head. The reason is because Grim Fandango is, without question, my favorite game of all time. There have been one or two that have come close, but Grim will always be number one on my list.

What makes the game so special to me is its truly cinematic feel and scope. Everything from the sweeping visuals, to the epic story, to the astoundingly appropriate soundtrack just feels so grand and well executed. The dialogue and characters are all straight out of 40s film noir, as is a good portion of the soundtrack. The art design (especially in the architecture) has an almost Mayan feel to it, and it occasionally creeps into the music as well. The design team did an amazing job mixing the noir and the ancient South American feels together and making it feel so.... right.

Visually, the game is both extremely stong, and woefully dated. The pre-rendered backgrounds look amazing to this day. They may not be very high resolution, but they still look DAMN good. The 3D foreground characters though... they look pretty rough around the edges (literally) these days. Despite their low resolution, the actual character design is excellent. Each character (and there are a lot) has a unique look, which is pretty amazing when you consider that they are all just skeletons!

I said before that the game feels "cinematic". This is especially during the cutscenes, and even more prominent during the transitions between the years. I defy you to watch the approach to the Gate to the 9th Underworld without being awed. The aerial zoom shot approaching the mountain has not failed to do so to me in the last 10 years. The soundtrack to this is a prime example of the excellence of this game; a lone, very Latin sounding guitar picks out a tune that instantly speaks of the long trek the characters have made, and the slowly rising choral sound and percussion come in as we get a view of the mountain and the Gate itself.

In contrast to the epic moments, are the little details. The game is jam packed with these, from hilarious asides, to these tiny moments that are incredibly emotionally powerful and resonant... There are two good examples of this when you return to Rubacava during Year Four. If you go to the lighthouse, Manny will lament the loss of poor Lola. After Velasco leaves the docks, if you look at the moon, Manny will recite a poem to himself, a poem that Velasco would recite along with you during Year Two. After he finishes his solo recitation, he says to himself, "*sigh* It's just not the same without you, Velasco." These are very brief moments. Only a few seconds in the case of the first one, but they hit so hard and so emotionally.... these are the things that help elevate this game to greatness.

The biggest complaint I hear about this game, over a decade later, is the control scheme. I still contend that this is another case of adventure gamers being afraid of change. The controls did take a few minutes to get used to, but the developers did a good job of making them simple and making sure it was easy to navigate. I definitely appreciate how it cleaned up the interface dramatically and added to the cinematic quality of the game. I also remember reviewers of the day commenting on the steep difficulty level. I did have to reach for a hint book fairly often the first time I played, but I can't remember any puzzles that didn't at least make sense after the fact.

Once again, I'm going long here, but I just have one last thing to say: GLOTTIS IS THE BEST SIDEKICK EVER!!! Telltale should license Grim Fandango just so we can see the continuing adventure of our big orange, demonic buddy!

elTee

Grim Fandango, another classic mistake I made in the late 90s. 3D, I said? Haha, no thanks. "But it's great!" they all said. Damnit, they were so right of course. I played it about a year late, and I will never recover from that omission.

Who has played it and doesn't want to go to Rubacava? Jesus, I'd kill myself right now if that was on the route between this life and the next. Limbo, bring it on.

evilguy12

I first played Grim Fandango two years ago. It was also the first time I had played an adventure game since playing Freddi Fish (which really put me off them). Grim Fandango just blew me away. It destroyed all stereotypes I had held of an adventure game. It was vastly entertaining, never a boring moment due to it's great story, fantastic characters and great dialogue. I found it really hard at so I cheated through most of the puzzles which I regret now. Even playing it after I completed it though it is still one of the most challanging adventure games I've played. The only thing that really let it down for me was the controls (and I'm sure everyone will mention this...). It is definately the greatest game I have played though apart from that flaw. I can't believe that once LucasArts were capable of making games this awesome. How the mighty have fallen...

Gabez

Looking at this article really makes me want to play Grim Fandango again; I had forgotten how good it is.

I remember trying to download the demo from the LucasArts web-site. It was so big that it came in sepperate sections, to make it easier for the 56k generation. It proved too big for me, so I had to wait until the full game came out to play it.

I was about 13 years old, and I loved it. I got stuck a couple of times times -- not due to the puzzles (though they were, and still are, very difficult) but because of bugs. Every time this happened I stopped playing, and left it for a year or so. Then I started again, on a different computer, and with perhaps a patch to support myself. I finally completed the game after four years -- so you see, I played the game in real-time, in a way. I don't know if that was the best way or not: I know someone else who completed it in a very intensive weekend.

This is the only LucasArts game that I don't want a sequel too -- but a digitally enhanced HD version would be lovely.

Jennifer McMurray

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.. 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 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.

Jeo

Like many gamers, I'm often asked what's the greatest game I've ever played. It's a hard question to answer and in many ways there is no straight answer. To avoid breaking my brain and freezing in one spot, pondering the great truths of the world of video games when asked this question, I have devised a stock answer for myself to use. Nowadays, when someone asks me this question, I can save huge amounts of time by simply saying: ”Grim Fandango”.

I pretty much love everything about this game. People seem to like nitpicking it, especially over it's different interface, but I love even that. Direct control, no hud... all of it adds to the game's immersiveness. It's a real adventure to experience the Land of the Dead like this.

There might be a lot of nostalgia in these views but it does get me every time. After all, I used to play Grim Fandango over and over again when I was younger. Sometimes I wished I could erase it from my mind so that I'd be able to experience it again fresh. I just kept adventuring in that world and doing different things. I even managed to find a dead end once by putting my scythe on the door of the pantry and leaving for Puerto Zapato. You really have to try if you want to get stuck like that in Lucasarts' later games but that was the only way, that I know of, to hear Manny comment on how he has nothing in his inventory. It was a little hard to get out of that mess.

It's really the atmosphere that affects me the most, along with the epic story and characters that by now feel like old friends. The Land of the Dead feels so real, so vast, so alive (yeah, that is a horrible pun, but that's also the truth, plain and simple). If the world to spend your afterlife in happens to be multiple choice, you know where to find me.

Johnny Walker

What an absolutely awesome game, eh? I didn't even mind the control system one jot. Wonderful, intelligent, beautiful, clever, witty... just plain delightful! If I had to say one thing it would be that it might have been better to have two characters with more distinct names: Don and Dom? Tsk.

Joop

Wow, Grim Fandango. I don't even know where to begin talking about something that changed me as much as this game has. There are only a few games out there that have truly formed me, my interests, my personality. And this is one of them. This is the game that introduced me to Film Noir. I dare say this is a perfect game. Yes, I do.

The art style, the atmosphere, the music, the voices, the places, the characters. Everything in this game lives and breathes. (And that's quite a thing to say about a game about a bunch of dead people.) I could go on for days about the locations and the people you meet, the story (maybe the best in an adventure game PERIOD!), but everything I say is not going to be enough to show the feelings I have for this game. I just want to thank a couple of people for making this happen. Tim Shafer (of course), Peter McConnell (for what is maybe the best game soundtrack ever), Peter Chan (for the amazing art he made), Tony Plana (for making his character alive, maybe even better than Bogie could), Alan Blumenfeld (brilliant), and all the other brilliant members of the cast, designers and anyone I failed to mention.

There's one thing more that I want to say. A few years ago, a list with upcoming Lucas Arts titles was released, among them was Grim Fandango 2. I don't know if this will ever happen, but I say NO!. This story is complete. Don't dare touch this brilliant piece of gaming history.

Kroms

Oh, wow. Now, this is a masterpiece. Unless you go nitpicking on the thing, I'd say it's as close to perfect as you're going to get in the video game industry - or outside of it. Even if you took everything out of context - whether you read it, looked at its art, just listened to its music, heard the voice acting (has there ever been more perfect casting than Tony Plana as Manny?), etc - it works, and the fact that the game as a whole is greater than the sum of its (masterful) parts speaks volumes about the talent behind it.

Just the writing - the writing outruns that gold standard of film screenplay, Casablanca, and then overlaps it. And you have to remember that Fandango had one writer going at it (Casablanca had four); that said writer had to make-up everything from scratch (no plays to base the screenplay on); and that he had to write an extra few thousand lines of dialogue. The fact that the world is rich enough for a sequel (sorry Jason, gotta disagree with you) makes it that much more interesting, although to be honest I wouldn't want one.

Needless to say, I love Grim Fandango and it was one of the few things I've experienced that changed me. This isn't exaggeration; it did. Seeing Chepito walk into the tunnel was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

Matthew Mullen

I must admit I did not play this game when it originally came out. In fact, I didn’t play this game until it came with Escape from Monkey Island… and even THEN, it was still a few years later. I put the game in, played a few minutes, got stuck in a puzzle, and didn’t pick it up. I really don’t know what made me wait to finally play, and beat, this game.

That being said, even with a “more modern” expectation of gameplay and graphics, this game still stood out many, many years later. The wit, the charm, and the music still play with current games.

Tim Schaffer truly is a god among men. Or, well, nerds.

Mike Villasuso

I’m Mexican. I have had dozens of days of the dead and I really enjoy the tradition. I even remember once when I won with my classmates a trophy for the best student "altar del día de muertos" contest for my city.

What a pleasure to write about this game. One of the few I got back then (I was like 16) in its retail form thanks to not having any trouble giving my savings away for Tim's fabulous adventure. I was delighted. Since the moment I opened the cd case and I saw the map of the game in all its art deco glory... I knew I was about to experience something exceptional. But little I knew that I was going to ride a train worthy of the best digital experience that probably any other tradition has gotten on planet earth... or should I say the otherworld?

Grim Fandango it's a classic from the start. It's one of the few games that have captured the attention and emotion of people that aren't interested in games all. I made friends thanks to it. Really. I even have a friend that painted a portrait of Manny and gave it to me as a gift. So random, and yet so beautiful. The story and characters are really unique and the fact that dead in the world of the dead is depicted as "flowering" in the otherworld always fascinated me. It can be interpreted in so many metaphors... but that's something I won't discuss without some tequila my friends. Let's just say that they are just right for what's going on, on the screen. It's like the good old stories... it doesn't matter where are you from or how old are you, they are ALIVE within yourself.

Tim's depiction of the otherworld is a delight. Because he focuses in what's fun and entertaining and takes the best from all the worlds he uses: the Noir movies he references, the characters he bases on his story, the fabulous music by Peter with roots in jazz, blues, mariachi and andean folk tunes. Like Sam, you just want to play them again and again...

I had the great opportunity to get it with the delicious spanish dubbing, the best I have heard in game history. It's so precise and smart that I'm glad the localization people really took their time to adapt contextually the jokes and personalities of the characters. For example: The bad guy, Domino, has an argentinian accent while Manny has a mexican elegant one. (Not a mexican "cliché" one like in the english version) Why is this genius? Because in Latin America Argentineans have the reputation of being very petulant and proud people. And Domino's character is just like that. So it works perfect for the story. These same rules of investing love for attention on the game to make it justice, and I don't know if Tim is aware of this, brought to my attention that the spanish version is in my opinion even "better" than the original in english... And I don't know how Tim's writing got so much justice from the translators. Lucky fella. We are blessed.

One last thing, back then I think I emailed Tim telling him that his game was pretty good, but I was really annoyed that the game was so perfect that one little detail that was off really turned me off at the beginning of the game. And that's the depiction of the "Bread of the Dead"... in the game looks like a French baguette when in reality is round with shaped like loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or "bones" placed ornamentally around the top (google "Pan de Muerto" if you want to see what I'm talking about).

Let's say that now I feel dumb for having done that, but nevertheless it's just an example of the love and passion I had invested into it, possibly to the point of making it personal. Isn't that what all we do with things we adore and admire? To try to get as close as we can? To take care of them?

Years later I will get to know how the game came to Tim's mind and I love to hear that story once and over again... "...when I was looking at the Día de los Muertos, I noticed they built the skeletons as these solid tube-shaped bodies with the ribcage painted on. And I thought, what does that remind me of? It was like cheap texture mapping. It's made to be mass-produced and built really quickly and so it's perfect for rudimentary 3D engines and stuff"... This is a mind of a pure genius working. With a huge heart pumping blood into it. And I respect that. I love it. And I’m grateful he’s still around.

In conclusion, I don’t know how they did it but every aspect of this game is awesome by itself... but together, they are doomed to live forever.

Gracias Tim!

Nickelstein

One of the things I loved about this game was how the time would be split into chapters. It made me feel like the whole game was just one big epic journey. From starting out in the City Of the Undead to the Edge Of the World, this game makes you feel like your on a grand adventure. In my opinion games that do that are the true adventure games. They give you the sense of being on a,well,adventure. I think that Grim Fandango can really give you that feeling of adventure and excitement!

Sam

I remember seeing Grim Fandango in a store, when it came out. I wasn't impressed at all, for some reason the whole 3D thing didn't work for me, and I didn't see the appeal in the living dead. But years later I gave it a try and I probably thought to myself 'gee, I was such a scummbag...'. This is the kind of game that makes me remember perfectly what was going on in my life when I first played it. The story is terrific, the characters are all lovable, and some ideas like the one of having the whole story divided in a 4 year span, are just brilliant. It's not one of the best adventure games I've played, It is just one of the best games I have ever played. Period.

The Tingler

If I was going to forward any game I have ever played to show to people how mature, well-written and artistic games actually are, I would use Grim Fandango. While I have it in my mind that Monkey Island 2 is the best LucasArts adventure, I could easily make the case for GF too. GF also has the distinction of being utterly timeless in a way that 3D often isn't, and Curse of Monkey Island is the only 2D adventure to share this distinction anyway. It still looks gorgeous, with the best acting and score and a setting that rivals Loom for sheer imagination. Yes it's based upon the Mexican Land of the Dead, but I doubt many books on the afterlife have Peter Chan's artwork, any documentaries have Peter McConnell's jazz, or any thing at all have Tim Schafer's knack for wonderful characters and language. I even respect what they were trying to do with the control system.

Grim Fandango will live with me all my life.

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