Will you do the fandango?
Age takes its toll on us all. As the years go by, those grey hairs, wrinkles and peg-legs become more and more pronounced. It’s not clear when it happens. For some it’s around middle age, where the realisation that time doth not stand still inspires them to dye their hair fluorescent pink or drive around in a Honda Midlifecrisis. For 19-year-olds, it’s as the clock ticks closer to their 20th birthday and they melt into a puddle of anxiety at the thought of growing up and living a life that consists of more than drinking their own bodyweight in fizzy alcopops and vomiting up their lunch, dinner and small intestine into a shop doorway. Whatever your age or whatever inspires it, one day you look in the mirror and realise that Time is a cruel mistress who’s started doing one hell of a number on your once virile appearance even though you still have so much to offer.
Its wit remains unchallenged even by LucasArts’ other great point and click series, Monkey Island.
Newly re-mastered and available for the first time in 16 years – and on console for the first time ever – Tim Schafer and LucasArts’ adventure game still retains a special and unique place in the hearts of 90’s gamers the world over. Its wit remains unchallenged even by LucasArts’ other great point and click series, Monkey Island, and its quirky take on death and the afterlife resonates just as strongly today as it did all those years ago. For a game focused around death, Grim Fandango beautifully captures the pitfalls, disappointments and stupidity of every-day life.
A dark comedy neo-noir adventure game, Grim Fandango takes place in the Mexican-inspired Land of the Dead, where recently departed souls aim to make their way to the Ninth Underworld. Good deeds in life are rewarded by access to better travel packages to assist in making the journey of the soul, the best of which is the Number Nine, a train that takes four minutes to reach the gate to the Ninth Underworld.
Souls who failed to lead a kind life are left to travel through the Land of the Dead on foot, a journey which takes at least four years. Such souls often lose faith in the existence of the Ninth Underworld and instead find jobs in the Land of the Dead. The travel agents of the Department of Death act as Grim Reapers to escort the souls from the mortal world to the Land of the Dead, and then determine which mode of transport the soul has merited. Each year on the Day of the Dead, these souls are allowed to visit their families in the Land of the Living.
The game is divided into four acts, each taking place on November 2 on four consecutive years. Manuel “Manny” Calavera is a travel agent at the Department of Death in the city of El Marrow, forced into a job he hates to work off a debt “to the powers that be”. Manny is frustrated with being assigned duff clients who have lived crappy lives and is threatened with dismissal by his boss, Don Copal, if he does not come up with better clients.
Manny steals a client, Mercedes “Meche” Colomar, from his co-worker Domino Hurley and is surprised to find that despite living a flawless life of kindness, Meche has been assigned the four-year on foot journey rather than the guaranteed spot on the Number Nine luxury express she should have had by the company’s computer system. Manny investigates further and finds that Domino and Don have been rigging the system to deny many clients Double N tickets, hoarding them for the boss of the criminal underworld, Hector LeMans. LeMans then sells the tickets at an exorbitant price to those that can afford it. Manny recognises that he doesn’t have what it takes to stop Hector yet and instead tries to find Meche, who has already departed on her perilous four year journey.
Write On The Money
While there are many things to love about Grim Fandango, the razor-sharp writing is by far the most memorable. Watching Manny’s journey across the Land of the Dead unfold as he tries to unravel a conspiracy that threatens to keep him and countless others from moving on to their rightful place in the Ninth Underworld is a joy to experience, as are the every-day challenges he encounters that we can all relate to. His job gets him down, new friends and new opportunities keep him stuck in certain places longer than he expected to be there, and he’s dogged by a determination to learn from previous mistakes and not let the woman he cares for come to harm. For a game that deals with depressed skeletal clowns and literal speed demons, there’s an emotionally real and grounded centre to its story and characters.
You can switch between the newly revamped graphics and the original character models at will.
The game’s artistic design is truly unique, even now, combining Aztec beliefs of the afterlife with film-noir style aesthetics to bring the Land of the Dead to life… or should that be death? The landscapes are packed with detail, the character models are vibrant and the voice acting hits all the right notes to bring weight to the many oddballs you’ll encounter, particularly Manny and his speed-demon driver Glottis. You can switch between the newly revamped graphics and the original character models at will and the default black borders that the game shoves down either side of your screen can be turned off, although doing so changes the aspect ratio and makes some characters look a little stretched. Despite its vibrancy there’s more than a hint of our old 90’s friend the pixelated background on display here and this only becomes more obvious when the aspect ratio is altered. It’s less a complete graphical overhaul and more a slight polishing of what’s already there. This upgraded version of the game also adds three-dimensional movement courtesy of the console’s analogue sticks, which works much better than the original’s stiff and cumbersome control scheme.
Like most point and click adventures, Grim Fandango tasks players with collecting items in the environment and to use them in strange ways to move forward. Logic and detailed exploration of your environment will often be enough to get you through but it’s not always obvious what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s easy to miss a background item that’s essential to solving a puzzle and the camera angles sometimes obscure doors or other areas that you need to access. Even when you have all the items you need it can be tricky to figure out just what it is you’re supposed to do with them. Some of these puzzles are frustratingly unclear, with the developer’s commentary track – which will play throughout the game if turned on – even acknowledging that some parts of the game simply don’t work well. Thankfully the majority of puzzles can be solved by talking your way out of a situation or manipulating events to your advantage in a way that’s quirky but still grounded in some kind of logic.
Grim Fandango Remastered was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
It’s easy to see why Grim Fandango holds such a precious spot in the hearts of some gamers. Effectively the last hurrah for 90’s point and click adventure games, its scintillating wit and endearing characters are no less appealing now than they were back then. It’s just a shame the game’s mechanics – and to an extent its look – haven’t stood the test of time quite so rigorously.