Having a PC back in 1998, was for a family like mine, on a street like mine, something of a rarity. No, we were not rich, and never even attempted to give off such an appearance; I was just incredibly fortunate that my parents really cared about my education. Although on the odd occasion, when my parents’ backs were turned, I’d pop on a computer game. Sorry Mum and Dad, I promise to pay back that squandered money somehow.
Now, back in 1998, computers, by today’s standards, would be comparable to your average toaster. Except you might not actually get any toast. For me ‘Microsoft Word’ and ‘Paint’ were the top programs of the day and if you were fortunate enough, you could run the odd game from it. Now, if I remember correctly I had about 16mb of RAM and a floppy disk drive to transfer most of my home work to and from the computers at school. But I was lucky – I also had a CD drive at the front.
Believe it or not, this little addition made you feel like you could hack into the pentagon. And the use of the word ‘hack’ was also common back then. Sadly, my PC wasn’t the most powerful, and it could only muster enough energy to play box standard point and click titles. Many hours were spent playing ‘Broken Sword’, ‘Worms’ and oddities such as ‘Normality’ and ‘The Feeble Files.’ It was during this time of point and click obsession that I came into possession of a title called ‘Grim Fandango.’ Imagine a time when Lucas Arts made games that weren’t just whoring out Bobba Fett’s face to sell some substandard Star Wars game (not that I’m complaining, it did help subsidise Grim Fandango). Imagine a time where gaming franchises were left for Sonic and Mario to fight it out. Imagine a time where new I.P was frequent and buying a game could give you a headache due to the huge amount of choice on offer. Don’t ask me why, but I bought Grim Fandango on a whim. I think I liked the box art and back then, with limited access to the internet, reviews weren’t forthcoming and gamers just had to take a punt on the unknown.
Fortunately, for me, I didn’t squander my hard-earned pocket-money. Or so I thought.
Grim Fandango blew my mind. From its premise and humour, right down to its distinctive art style and narrative. I went from 2d Megadrive titles to 3D environments, missing out on all the chronological advancements in between. This was like living in the future.
In Grim Fandango you play as Manny Calavera, a wise cracking, dry humoured reaper, or as Manny prefers, “travel agent”. Manny works for ‘The Department of Death’ and his job is to reap the souls of the dead, and in turn sell them the best travel packages in order to help their souls travel to the coveted ‘9th Underworld’. The only thing certain in life is death and sales, or so it would seem. Those who live the most enriched and saintly lives are entitled to the premium packages such as the Number 9 Express, which will get you to the 9th Underworld in less than 4 minutes, but those who led a less than saintly life have to walk a 4 year journey – and with untold perils before them. It pays to be a saint in the afterlife after all. Something Manny Calavera knows only too well, as he himself is in debt because of past life transgressions and must pay off his time owed by helping these lost souls.
Manny at one time was the top salesman of the DOD, but now he keeps getting stitched up with deadbeat clients, something that certainly won’t help him pay off his debt to life. That is until he gets his hands on a saint – Miss Mercedes “Meche” Colomar. But even with this holier-than-holy client, she still doesn’t qualify. Sensing something is wrong Manny attempts to uncover the corruption within the DOD that has kept him prisoner for all these years.
And sadly, that is where my journey ended. For reasons beyond my untechnical mind, the game stopped working. And only a few chapters in too. In the years to come I shied away from PC gaming and converted to console gaming, spending hours on action adventure titles and FPS games on the PS2. The point and click genre had come to an end (with no re-releases on the consoles) and Grim Fandango was never completed – remaining an enchanting mystery to me.
That is until today. Creator Tim Schafer has teamed up with Sony and re-released the remastered version of Grim Fandango for the PS4, via PSN. And besides a lick of paint ,and a trophy list, nothing has changed about the game whatsoever.
The 1930’s art deco setting, married with the film noir stylings of movies such as Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, lavished with Aztec religion, Mexican Day of Dead and Mexican voice acting, really creates a unique, heavily stylised and wonderful narrative, the likes of which I have yet to see in any other game. The puzzles in this point and click are just as difficult as I remember. In fact scratch that, they seem even harder. Even during the initial chapters, even with the puzzles being relatively logical, you are given little-to-no indication of what’s required. Most of the time you don’t appear to have an object and are left to tinker with the objects in front of you. Many hours of Grim Fandango will be spent wandering around aimlessly with several objects stuffed inside Manny’s oversized suit jacket. When all logic fails you’ll be forced to grab each and every item, until one of these random items interacts with something on-screen. Infuriating isn’t a strong enough word.
However, don’t take that outburst as a form of negativity. Grim Fandango was, and still is, one of the finest point and clicks ever made, and its challenging puzzles, along with its sui generis charm, are the reason it has stood the test of time. Yes, the graphics have dated and there is sadly some disparity between the newly rendered in-game graphics versus the old fuzzy and grainy video cinematics, but despite some great advances and a resurgence in point and click titles that feature on the likes of the 3DS, very few can hold a candle to Grim Fandango. Its macabre humour has inspired the likes of the recent ‘Stick it to the Man’, its narrative has fuelled the likes of ‘Hotel Dusk’ and its puzzle solving can at times put the likes of ‘Professor Layton’ to shame. So despite Grim Fandango being 17 years old, it still finds itself without any peers and is still teaching lessons to many new and exuberant wannabe developers out there. So, if you find yourself facing a gloomy evening, why not let the icy touch of Grim Fandango warm your night, and ask yourself this question; why isn’t every game like Grim Fandango?