Grim Fandango released on October 30, 1998, and so yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of arguably the greatest adventure game LucasArts ever made. Yeah OK, OK, simmer down Monkey Island fans: it's Manny Calavera's time to shine. And to mark the occasion Double Fine, the studio founded by Grim Fandango writer Tim Schafer, has published a compilation of reminiscences from fans and the developers and collected some of the finest cosplay and other bits people have made inspired by the game.
"Manny Calavera arrived on the scene in 1998 and immediately charmed folks with his dry wit and gritty determination," writes Double Fine. "The Land of the Dead teemed with flaming beavers, dazzling casinos and hot rod driving elemental companions. Grim was a bright flash in the adventure game pan right before the genre went into an extended hibernation. Even so, it left a deep mark on players and its influence can be felt in games today."
Double Fine ran a survey of fans where one of the first questions was about their favourite character, and no prizes for guessing the winner:
- Manny Calavera
- Salvador Limones
- Honorable mentions: Olivia Ofrenda, Hector Lemans, The Balloon Animal Clown. Domino Hurley. Lupe! (I like Lupe a lot!)
Hurray for the Balloon Animal Clown! Manny got around 46% of the vote which is not really surprising, because he's great. And now is probably the time to mention that if you've never played Grim Fandango, Double Fine re-acquired the rights to the game and released a great remastered version in 2015 (there was also a cast readthrough marking the 20th anniversary).
The anniversary post on Double Fine's site includes a fan art gallery, a cosplay gallery, heck even a tattoo gallery for your viewing pleasure. Towards the end it gets a little philosophical about stuff.
"It's hard to really comprehend how time works," says community manager Harper Jay. "It's weird stuff. Grim Fandango has been a part of people's lives long enough now that it's been with them longer than it was without them. And yet somehow that still feels like the blink of an eye. 25 years is a long time in video game years. It marks countless leaps in technology and audience trends, contains the rise and fall of genre, the triumphs and sometimes the tragic closures of studios."
Tim Schafer, among many others, left LucasArts after Grim Fandango, and the adventure genre that the studio had specialised in went through a long dark night of the soul before a later renaissance. But regardless of the ebbs and flows of the games industry, some games last. "Grim Fandango is one of those lucky games. Fans revisit it time and time again. New players pick it up to find the same joy others found decades ago. It's easy to think of games as distractions. You pick them up, get your adrenaline rush or excuse to zone out, drop them and move on. But every now and then they leave a mark on your heart."
Grim Fandango is a classic, but to play it now you'll need to meet it halfway and, ideally, have a walkthrough nearby for some of the frankly bad puzzles. But there's never been anything before or since quite like selling travel packages to souls passing through the land of the dead.
"Thank you to everyone who contributed and collected these beautiful memories," said Tim Schafer. "I'll keep them next to where my heart used to be!"
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Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."