These days, developer Tim Schafer is known for his indie studio Double Fine, which has produced a diverse body of work, ranging from Psychonauts to Brutal Legend, both Costume Quest games, and recently the Kickstarter-funded Broken Age. However, the roots of Schafer’s development career go back to the 80s and 90s, when he worked at the now-defunct LucasArts and helped create iconic point-and-click games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle.
One of Schafer’s final titles from his LucasArts tenure is also considered by many to be one of his best, that being 1998’s Grim Fandango. Besides being the company’s first adventure game to fully utilize polygonal graphics, the title was lauded for providing a rich cast of characters, as well as a very solid plot to back them up.
Over the years, it’s become trickier for modern gamers to actually be able to play Grim Fandango. That’s because the original PC release became notoriously difficult to play properly on more recent versions of Windows, and the game had not seen any sort of physical or digital release on modern devices.
With Grim Fandango Remastered, that’s all changed. Schafer himself has headed a re-release of the game for all major computer operating systems, as well as the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. Sporting remastered character models, proper HD graphic output, and audio commentaries from the team behind it, Grim Fandango is now properly available for both those who remember it fondly and newcomers looking to see what all the hype has been about.
The big question now is how well the title holds up in a world where games have continued to evolve over the 15 years since its debut.
While the plot and characters are still brilliant and unique, as far as the gameplay goes, I’d say that gamers whose only exposure to adventure games have been the likes of The Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead may have trouble with how much Grim Fandango relies on puzzle-solving. There are definitely instances in this game where players might be driven up the wall challenge-wise, but I’d still argue that those parts are worth getting through.
Grim Fandango takes place in the Land of the Dead, with a look similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, where every deceased human takes the form of a stylized skeleton. Players control Manuel “Manny” Calavera, who has taken the job of a Grim Reaper to pay off a debt to the powers that be. The start of the game revolves around Manny attempting to get better clients, but it doesn’t take long for things to expand into a four-year journey, as he gradually uncovers a conspiracy among his higher-ups and attempts to set things right.
The game is cleverly divided into four main chapters to go along with each year, leading to each one having a distinct setting and overall vibe, with the film noir-like second year being my personal favorite. The large cast of characters also provides some clever dialog and good moments, especially when it comes to Glottis, a demon created for the sole purpose of driving and making some good quips (“Now we soar like eagles! Like eagles on pogo sticks!”).
As far as its storytelling and comedic timing were concerned, Grim Fandango Remastered held up great during my playthrough. Where things are a little more iffy is in the difficulty of some of its puzzles.
In conventional point-and-click adventure fashion, Manny can build up an inventory of items he finds and use them on other objects or characters to gradually progress through the story. A good portion of these puzzles, while rarely obvious, can still be figured out without getting to the point of frustration, but that’s not the case for all of them. I’d honestly recommend newcomers to Grim Fandango have a walkthrough handy, because ultimately, I feel that this is a game worth playing more for its story than its gameplay.
In terms of presentation and control, things have predominantly been updated for the better. The character models have been dramatically improved in terms of texture and anti-aliasing quality, and the game can show you just how much better they look at any point, thanks to the inclusion of a mechanic that instantly switches between the old and new graphics. Also, the numerous pre-rendered FMVs that tell key story points, despite their CG looking a bit primitive by today’s standards, no longer have the compression artifacts from the original version, which is a plus. The only real downside is that the backgrounds, and indeed the game as a whole, are still stuck in the 4:3 pan-and-scan aspect, leading to either permanent borders on modern widescreen displays or an awkward horizontal stretching option.
The controls have also seen improvements. In the original version, Manny was stuck with permanent tank controls a la old-school Resident Evil, meaning that the direction he would move in didn’t adjust itself based on the current camera angle. Now, the default control scheme bases itself on the utilized camera angle, making movement less of a chore. The old tank controls are still available for purists, though, and there’s even a PSN trophy awarded to those willing to play through the entire game with them.
The last new addition is the ability to hear Schafer and other members of the development team provide audio commentary on the making of specific areas and aspects. A lot of the stories you can hear from them are genuinely interesting, especially when they describe how they handled specific technical aspects that weren’t easy to pull off in the early days of polygonal gaming. If you’re a longtime fan of the game who’s interested in finding out more about its development, this is a fun bonus.
While certain aspects of its dated gameplay may be a bit cumbersome for modern gamers to adjust to, Grim Fandango Remastered is still definitely worth a look for those who want to experience a good story with a unique cast and setting.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita versions, which we were provided with.
Even though its old-school puzzle design may be off-putting to many modern gamers, Grim Fandango Remastered still boasts an engaging story and a memorable world to explore.