Scaramouche, scaramouche, let’s review Grim Fandango. Yeah, I know, that’s most likely to have been used in most reviews or posts on this game, but I’m a dad, so I’m qualified to handle these lame jokes. Grim Fandango came out in 1998 – why am I reviewing this now? Because it’s on the Switch, it’s one of my favourite games, and it’s my website. That’s why.
Grim Fandango was a game-changer (literally) for me. A kid from the ’80s/’90s, I was fed on point and click, and it is hands down one of my favourite genres – if not numero uno. If you were a fan of point and click, you would no doubt be a LucasArts fan, and Grim Fandango changed the mould.
I have recently been reading the excellent The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games by Bitmap Books, which covers Grim Fandango and its technical brilliance. The book was an absolute joy to read and pure heaven for any book nerds – especially ‘retro gamers’. After that plug, let’s get on with the review.
Dawn of the Dead
Grim Fandango was the game that introduced me to the Day of the Dead festival. Up until the late ’90s (bear in mind I have a vampire complexion, from the UK and the internet was *just* kicking in), I had never heard or experienced this. Mexico was something I knew about. I read about it once.
The portrayal of the Day of the Dead festival wasn’t a significant mainstay of the game; it was an underlying theme. Quick jump to the story: you play Manuel Calavera, Manny, a travel agent for the recently departed who arrive in the Land of the Dead. He was given the role to pay off some debts, but we never find out why. Based on his clients’ choices in life, they are rewarded with various travel options to help them get to the Ninth Underworld, starting a new… life.
Manny has been stitched up though, and there’s a conspiracy in play as his co-worker Domino gets all the best clients. To get ahead of the game, Manny steals one of Domino’s clients named Mercedes, or Meche, who is guaranteed the top tier ticket on a luxury train, only to be told now she’s got nothing. Domino takes back his client, Manny loses his job and is now on the run after a series of events. Manny joins up with a group of freedom fighters, makes friends with a demon/elemental named Glottis who is a drunk and obsessed with driving and sets out to rescue Meche and fulfil the job he was meant to do.
Day of the Dead
With Grim Fandango, you don’t actually point and click. You take control of Manny and manually control him around each scene. Manny interacts with each object either by pressing B for an explanation what the item is or A, to pick up or activate it. Some objects are a little out of reach to get up close to, but Manny’s head will direct to points of interest, so you don’t miss them.
Like almost all the adventures before it, Manny has an inventory and endless pockets. Though unlike Grim Fandango’s predecessors, there are no icons on-screen to indicate what you are carrying. Instead, you press Y, and there’s a brief animation so that you can scroll through what he is carrying. It’s all in 3D, and he’ll tell you what each item is/his opinion of it, or equip it for use in solving a puzzle.
Interacting with characters is in the classic LucasArts style – you have a list of lines you can respond with to the NPC, and they’re all very witty and well written. Additionally, all dialogue is flawlessly acted. The best part of all, no matter what you say, no matter what you do, you can’t die. You’re already dead.
Land of the Dead
Most of the puzzles are quite straightforward. There’s a lot of going back and forth and experimentation. With any point and click, it comes down to the process of elimination or if you’re on the same wavelength as the developers. Despite playing practically everything in the LucasArts library and loving it, I still can’t relate to some of the logic behind some of the puzzles, and they’re quite mad.
Grim Fandango comes in four chapters, each representing a year of Manny’s (after) life on his journey. If you’ve played through before, you could complete this in one sitting, but for newcomers, it will take a bit of time. While levels aren’t exactly massive, you have to go back to so-and-so to get this item, go back and collect this, speak to blah-blah, and so on. This is my third time completing the game and was surprised out how many of the puzzles I’d forgotten.
I also own this on the PS4 – both titles being called Grim Fandango Remastered. The PS4 counts as my second time completing it. Updates in the remastered versions are sharper graphics, but you can play the original pixelated version. Even for nostalgia, I preferred the new update. You can also play in widescreen, but the ratio is off, so best stick with 4:3 and with some illustrated bars to each side.
Diary of the Dead
The big difference for the Switch is of course portability, and through this playthrough, I switched (boom boom) from docked to handheld about 50/50. There wasn’t any slowdown, and it looks just as good on the big screen, but I did encounter two issues.
My first issue was a glitch. While in year two (no spoilers) Manny started floating around the screens. I exited and reloaded the game, but it did the same thing, also on previous save files and even the dreaded older states from the beginning. I didn’t want to start again, but it hampered my enjoyment. About an hour into this, I needed to interact with an object. There was a brief animation, and the problem resolved itself and didn’t rear its head any further.
After the glitch, my other issue is more of a niggle. After every event, every slight change that will progress you further in the game, there is a saving screen. Ok, so you can turn it off, but after my issue, I wanted to ensure everything was saving correctly. Literally, after every event, a screen popped up to say ‘saving’. It never cut into dialogue, but immediately afterwards and stopped the flow so frequently.
Survival of the Dead
I wholeheartedly recommend this game. For point and click fans, newcomers and nostalgia fans alike. Originally I had this on PC, which I no longer have, but I have the PS4 version as I said and happily paid for this again on the Switch – the same game. The same will apply to Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle if they are ever released.
Even taking into account the glitch I had and the saving annoyance, for me, this game is a masterpiece – I absolutely adore this. I would also go as far as to say I’ve named a few of my gaming avatars and children’s toys after Manny. Lame, yes.
Point and clicks are frustrating but equally rewarding. When I grew up, there wasn’t the internet. You had to find things out for yourself or call a premium helpline (I did this once and got in trouble for it). Now we are spoiled with YouTube and walkthroughs that are online. I’m quick to admit I had to look up a few solutions – mostly as a time factor, but as I’ve finished the game twice before, it didn’t ruin the surprise. If you’re ever playing one of these adventure games for the first time, I highly encourage you to work it out yourself – no matter how hard it gets. It’s all part of the charm.
See you on the other side.