Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Bit of Skeletons: Grim Fandango

I am pretty disappointed in myself that it has taken me this long to write about this amazing game. Considering my love affair with all other LukasArts games, it should come as no surprise to you that I also love Grim Fandango. The game is a neo-noir adventure game (point and click style, like it's sibling Secret of Monkey Island), which did not necessarily do as well as it commercially could have, but is still recognized as one of the foundational (and last) games of this specific genre. It also put an end to LukasArts' creation of these types of games, which makes it pretty impossible to find on the internet. The likelihood of re release has been unfortunately thwarted as the individuals responsible for recreating and re releasing some of these games, like Secret of Monkey Island, do not have the rights to it. Sad faces all around.

You play as crime-solving, travel agent skeleton Manny Calavera who lives in the Land of the Dead, a land where the souls of the recently dead live after being evicted from their flesh homes. The Land of the Dead is, ostensibly, a transitory place where people will only stay until they are able to make their journey to the Ninth Underworld. If you are a good person in life, you will then be afforded a much more leisurely trip to the Ninth Underworld. The basic gist is that if you are a bad person while alive, you will find it difficult to get to the Ninth Underworld, and will usually just end up working in the Land of the Dead permanently. Manny is a travel agent for the Department of Death that essentially serves as an escort for souls moving from the mortal world into the land of the dead. Interestingly, but I suppose unsurprisingly enough, most of the game is built around Mexican culture, and for those that are stuck in the Land of the Dead, they are able to go back and visit their family in the mortal world once a year on Dia de Los Muertos. Pretty cool and well-thought out.

You discover in the beginning that Manny is working this job as a means to repay debts—what type of debts aren't really clear. We learn that Manny is constantly assigned clients that have behaved poorly in life, and hence have to walk to the Ninth Underworld—a journey that takes four years, and is most often quit by the traveler for aforementioned reasons. Growing frustrated, Manny steals one of his coworkers', Domino, clients—a woman named Mercedes who has been wrongly assigned as needing to take the four year journey. Manny decides to dig deeper after getting Meche set on her way, and discovers that Domino and his boss have been wrongly assigning individuals to the four-year journey as a means to hoard extra workers in the Land of the Dead for an infamous mob box, Hector LeMans. Manny, unable to do anything on his own, takes off after Meche on her journey and meets up with an underground organization that has aligned goals with him. The rest of the game hinges on these plot points and takes place over the following four years.

Basically, while I could spend the rest of this telling you how exactly the game goes, I think you should play it for yourself. It really is such an in-depth and well-designed work that I would do it disservice to just type it out here and not prompt you to try to play it. The game play, unlike other LukasArts releases,   does not present information over an item if the player hovers a mouse over it, and instead will alert you that you are doing something right by moving Manny's head and attention in the direction of the item. This makes the game a bit more challenging in terms of maneuvering and discovering clues. The style, though, is similar in the sense that there are pre-rendered static backgrounds with objects and characters placed over them as a means of helping encourage interaction.

As far as DOS-based games went, LukasArts knew what was up. These games are classics even today and still have so much fan interest that it is a shame that they aren't re releasing or partnering with Steam of as a means of getting them out in the air. That being said, if you have a good setup for running DOS-based games, you can purchase Grim Fandango here. Happy gaming!

As an added bonus, here is a picture of me at PAX East last year with a really awesome cosplayed Manny Calavera:

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