Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
You met me at a very strange time in my life, Grim Fandango. And I rather think I met you at a very strange time in your creators’ lives too.
The adventure game bubble had burst. For many of us, the joke seemed to have gone as far as it could. Full Throttle consciously took things in a more grown-up direction than the flat-out comedy of most of its stablemate predecessors, and though it’s fair to say that FT probably retains the most killer lines, for me it’s Grim Fandango that best represented the genre’s full-blown existential crisis.
Never mind the awkward blending of 2D environments with 3D models and cumbersome controls – this was a game about a conspicuously wacky character soon questioning his relevancy, then his entire existence, and eventually embracing the calm finality of the afterlife. Given that it was the last great gasp of the point and click adventure (I’m not calling the genre dead by a long shot, but it sure ain’t no superstar any more), it’s not hard to feel that Grim Fandango was a metaphor for, well, itself.
Possibly intended, possibly not. In another universe, Grim Fandango was a runaway success, Lucasarts were fully invested in making more 3D adventures, Tim Schafer and co did not depart to found Double Fine and Escape From Monkey Island was triumph. In that universe, Grim Fandango would have been the herald of a new era of more thoughtful pointer-clickers, and not the (near-as-dammit) swangsong for the outgoing age.
I revisited it for the remastered version the other year, and while its humour was a little broader then I remembered, it was still wrapped in a skein of sadness. It was that which I felt so strongly at the time, when I found it discounted in an airport shop while fleeing home from a botched Summer of travel across Australia. I had fallen out with wealthy companions I did not have the money to keep up with, I had struggled to adapt to upping sticks every other night, I was missing my girlfriend of the time and I had lost track of who I wanted to be.
Manny seemed to be in a similar state. His half-beautiful, half-broken world felt familiar. I identified with him, though he was a far cooler customer than I ever was.
Whenever I feel lost, I think of Manny.