Remembering Grim Fandango, Lucasarts’ Most Overlooked Achievement
The noir-themed adventure earned praise and a lasting reputation, but it failed to find commercial success.
In October of 1998, Lucasarts was at the top of its game. After launching in the early ‘80s so George Lucas could explore other artistic mediums, the studio put out a series of well-received titles like Monkey Island 2, Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle. But at the end of the 20th Century, Lucasarts revealed its most ambitious project ever. Unfortunately, it was a flop.
Grim Fandango launched as a Microsoft Windows exclusive on October 30, 1998 to rave reviews. Critics praised its constantly evolving characters, complex storyline, and stunning visuals. But while the game topped sales charts for the first week, it quickly dropped and is generally considered to be a commercial flop.
To be clear, this had nothing to do with the game’s quality and everything to do with a changing market. Grim Fandango was released in 1998, the same year as Ocarina of Time, Sonic Adventure, Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Xenogears, and Crash Bandicoot 3. Can you really blame anyone for not noticing a game locked to Windows computers during such an exciting time for consoles?
But 25 years after its release, Grim Fandango is widely considered to be one of the best and most influential games ever made. So here’s why this sometimes overlooked cult classic deserves a second shot, especially now that it’s available on your gaming console of choice.
Directed by Tim Schafer (the creative mind behind Psychonauts), Grim Fandango puts players in control of Manuel "Manny" Calavera, a well-dressed travel agent who also happens to be a living skeleton. Manny’s job is to assist souls, but he’s only doing it to pay off a debt to the “powers that be” The game’s story takes Manny through the Land of the Dead, a beautifully rendered world that mixes 1950s noir with retro-future elements and an aesthetic inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations. (Most of the main characters are also voiced by Hispanic actors.)
Grim Fandango is an adventure game that constantly finds new ways to grab your attention. There’s a whole conspiracy with Manny’s boss, the story of our travel agent rising the ranks, tons of drama, and even more twists. The game is also designed to make you interested in every nook and cranny of its authentic setting, mostly because it’s just fun to see how Manny will react to whatever he comes across.
Sadly, the case of Grim Fandango is one of “wrong place, wrong time,” but that doesn’t change the impact it had on the industry. Grim Fandango still tops many lists when it comes to ranking the greatest games of all time. And without it, we wouldn’t have masterful adventure and visual novel games like L.A. Noire or the Ace Attorney series.
While it can’t change the past, Schafer’s DoubleFine remastered Grim Fandango in 2015, making it widely available on just about every platform and allowing players to easily (and cheaply) witness one of the greatest and underlooked adventure titles ever made.
So if you’re looking for a spooky but charming game to play this Halloween, you can’t do much better than Grim Fandango.