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Born for Wii: Grim Fandango (page 2)

Wesley Fenlon

Grim Fandango's story takes place over the course of four years on El Dia De Los Muertos. Our hero, Manny Calavera, works for the Department of Death and is responsible for helping guide the recently deceased into the underworld. Unfortunately, Manny is stuck in the Land of the Dead, the Eighth Underworld, working off his sins. His only hope to reach the salvation of the Ninth Underworld is to find clients whose good deeds in life qualify them for expensive travel packages in the Land of the Dead, such as a trip on the Number Nine express to a sunnier afterlife.

But Manny's got it rough. Even when he manages to score a client that his rival Domino was intending to collect, things don't quite work out right. Mercedes Colomar, noble and pure of heart, should qualify for the Number Nine -- but all Manny can get for her is the harsh four year walk to the Ninth Underworld, a pilgrimage few complete. The Department is obviously crooked, but what's a guy gonna do? In Manny's case, skip town, find Mercedes and set things right.

The plot of Grim Fandango unfolds during The Day of the Dead across a span of four years -- Manny is utterly devoted to finding Mercedes, and not just for his self-imposed obligation to her. Thanks to great writing and equally impressive voice work, Manny really feels alive (no pun intended). Beneath his witty observations and jokes, Manny puts on his best Rick Blaine -- a little bitter, a little forlorn, and a little love struck, no matter how he tries to hide it.

Grim Fandango's narrative is strong enough to carry the game alone, but the presentation is really what cements it as an all-time classic. The influence of the movies permeates every aspect of the game. Oftentimes the characters and design are straight out of film noir -- everything from the low key lighting and profusion of cigarette smoke right down to the clothing. The soundtrack also falls squarely in the swing era and mixes upbeat and melancholy jazz and bebop tunes that meld perfectly with the art-deco look of the various locales Manny explores in the Land of the Dead.

All the game's environments are created using pre-rendered CG, which makes for some moody lighting and especially detailed, expansive set pieces. Manny's journey takes him from his job in El Marrow to the port town of Rubacava -- and beyond. Each area has a fresh look and feel, but the setting of the Land of the Dead permeates every aspect of the game world and retains a sense of consistency. It also makes each unique character extra awesome -- the cast are especially memorable thanks to that fact that they're all unusually expressive skeletons.

Well, not quite all. A few demons and other unusual creatures inhabit the Land of the Dead, such as Manny's ridiculously awesome beast of a driver Glottis, or the worker bees who bear more than a passing resemblance to New York blue-collar tough guys.

Like most PC adventures, the gameplay itself is predominately puzzle-based, and Fandango has some real brain teasers smashers. It's by no means an easy game and requires a keen eye and the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that most Lucasarts puzzlers of the generation were made for. The difficulty generally makes finding the solution all the sweeter, and also provides a good reason to explore every nook and cranny of the game world and wring it for every drop of dialogue.

It's easy to ramble on about Grim Fandango's positive attributes because there are just so many -- the few faults it has are only minor problems in an overall fantastic game. At a decade old, it's showing some weariness in those old bones. But by porting the game to the Wii, the few faults Grim Fandango has could easily be cleaned up and polished away.

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