It is not often that a game is able to talk about death in very straightforward and direct way, and yet Grim Fandago provides players with a very interesting and stylish look into what the afterlife may look like. Here, players explore a world where the souls of the dead gather to find and a create a new life of their own in the Eighth Underworld. This strange land is a lot like the realm of the living, complete with its own economy, society, culture, and of course, social politics. Players have to navigate this strange yet familiar world in the shoes of a very interesting protagonist, Manny, as they try and uncover a plot that puts all good souls in peril.
Grim Fandago puts players on a massive 12 hour story to solve a strange crime. The victims are unsuspecting and only Manny, the protagonist, seems to know that something is wrong in the first place. Faced against enemies that seem to have no opposition, players must embark on a quest that would span across the distance edges of the realm of the afterlife. This point and click adventure will have players seeking out items and clues to overcome a wide range of obstacles. And many of these break the notion of common sense since a world populated by the souls of the dead is not exactly bound by the laws of physics. Fortunately, puzzles in the game tend to also be humorous and clever, and it always feels satisfying to solve stuff.
Players familiar with Mexican traditions will instantly recognize the game's character designs to be inspired by calaca figures -skeleton dolls that represent the souls of the dead. Like the actual calaca, the souls in Grim Fandago live rich, robust lives -reflective of the concept that the souls do not wish to be thought of as sad or dreary existences. The festive approach of the game stays with the theme of Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead), and this stays prevalent until the very end of the game.
Having visuals that are stylized with a cultural theme is a stroke of genius on the part of the game developers. With this, Grim Fandago has a pretty timeless look and design. Until today, its characters look very impressive (and cool). As the limitations of polygon counts do not matter with the blocky stick-style figures, it is easy to see how these characters models are both good to look at and practical from the design perspective.
The wonderful visuals expand to more than just a smart choice of theme, the actual execution of the game is a wonderful mix of detective noir and urban festive. Manny's got the whole look down: grim expression on the face, a trusty muscle guarding his back, and a neatly pressed suit. Sure, he is a skeleton, but he also comes with a wide range of facial expressions that manage to convey even the most subtle of emotions. This is a pretty impressive feat on the part of the visual artists of the game -despite the very limited ways that a skeleton head express things, they way they designed 2D faces that are both able to express emotion and still stay true to the simplistic calaca look is a massive feat.
The backgrounds are wonderfully done as well. Critics have praised the fact that even with the HD remake of the game, none of the backgrounds needed to be retouched or edited (simply upscaled) and that is a testament to how much characters and depth these set pieces have.
Games like Grim Fandago make us wish that Lucasarts was never shut down. The story is just amazing. The tale follows Manny as he learns about kind hearted souls that were supposed to board the special Number Nine train being prevented from receiving their rightful tickets. The conspiracy does not sit well with him, and players are taken on a whirlwind ride across the eccentric yet beautiful world of the Eighth Underground as he tries to uncover the true nature of the plot and seek out Menche, a client who he believes deserves a spot on the train.
The story, like the rest of the game's other details, is timeless. It may present a stylized look at the world of the afterlife, but the bottom line is that it deals with life and death, and the complexities of the soul, and how humanity, given any semblance of life and society in a completely different existence, can still exhibit the extremes of being good and evil. Manny is no ordinary protagonist, and the mysteries that he must solve go beyond the concept of common logic, and you, the players, must accompany him every step of the way.