Lucas Arts’ Grim Fandango already earned some lauds from other gaming publications and I hate to be the one to tarnish what may become another Myst.
Grim Fandango does contain a captivating atmosphere with a certain film noir meets Antonio Banderas quality. My primary complaint stems not from the remarkable interface or the ambiance or even the general plot. Believe me, the music, a jazz soundtrack, is nearly enough to warrant buying this title. It’s just that someone forgot the basics of an adventure game.
You may consider me a purist, but adventure and strategy games contain a kind of logic to them. To unravel the mystery in Grim Fandango, logic sometimes works but more often than not, it doesn’t. Moreover, a good adventure game contains red herrings. Even with its slick graphics, the items that needed using stood out, and you used every single one of them.
A gamer becomes Manny Calavera, a kind of Grim Reaper in a Latino Land of the Dead. Manny becomes enamored with one particular soul and hopes to help her make it to the crossover point. Of course, Manny doesn’t mind helping his own soul a bit.
Manny tries to unravel a plot to sell the soul tickets to the highest bidders. But getting from here to there might have you out on the Web downloading the walkthrough. Believe me, I finally had to resort to that.
Manny’s trusty sidekick, an alcoholic obsessive gambler speed freak demon named Glottis, turns out to be the comic humor hero to Manny’s oh-too-serious side. Glottis makes Grim Fandango fun.
With interesting camera angles, an eerie but jazzy soundtrack, an incredible landscape along with phenomenal characters, Grim Fandango would be poised to become a classic. Alas, without logic, I just don’t know.
But let me explain just a touch of the lack of adventure gaming logic. Manny and all of the souls appear as skeletons. To kill a skeleton, you "sprout" it, using a gun with rapid-growing flower seedlings. At one point, Manny ends up with an arm from another character. Then he grabs a grinder. Logically, Manny uses the arm and grinder to sprinkle bone fragments on a non-skeleton to make the atmosphere right for "sprouting." That I figured out.
But at one point, Manny needed to go down a dark tunnel. He refused to go because it was too dark for him to see. Well, it’s time to find a flashlight or candle or torch or something bright, right? Or maybe just point the headlights of Glottis’ demon wagon down the path?
You grind more bone and it soothes Manny’s nerves and lights the path. Manny is made of bone, why doesn’t he glow?
At another place, Manny must douse fire beavers with a fire extinguisher. But he cannot snuff the flame except at the precise moment when a beaver jumps into the oil river. Why not?
Grim Fandango, without a doubt, offers something incredible to gaming, but I wanted a credible puzzle. That is the one thing Grim Fandango dances without.