Dead and loving it in HD.
For all the criticisms against “remastering” games, the practice has evolved into a trend with nearly every big-name blockbuster from the previous generation warranting a PS4/Xbox One “port”. Not for nothing though – such remasters need to hook consumers with extra content, bumped up visuals or completely new mechanics. But what about remasters of classics that we’d otherwise never be able to enjoy in HD? That’s Double Fine’s remaster of Grim Fandango, originally developed by LucasArts and director Tim Schafer.
At its time, Grim Fandango was hailed as a masterpiece. Sales were less than encouraging however due to a downturn in the adventure game genre but it didn’t simply fade away. The bizarre, under-stated lunacy lived on in the hearts and minds of its devoted fans until eventually, it made little sense to not bring it back.
Thus we have Grim Fandango Remastered, which follows the saga of Manuel Calavera who functions as a travel agent for the Department of Death. As a Grim Reaper-esque figure, Manny’s job is to escort departed souls into the afterlife, known as the Ninth Underworld, and determine whether they get an express ticket or undertake the long, four year journey through the Land of the Dead on foot. Manny’s quest begins when he has to escort one Mercedes Colomar, thus uncovering a deep web of corruption that dictates who gets the premium tickets to the Ninth Underworld.
"Unlike many modern adventure titles, you'll rely on a point and click interface to decide where to go. The controls aren't difficult to pick up at all, which is a good thing considering the gameplay."
And really, that’s all you really should know about Grim Fandango going in. Words can’t properly describe the sheer mesh of ideas on display here (though the art style is certainly up to the task). The game’s departed souls are portrayed as calaca-like skeletons in the style of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Backgrounds are pre-rendered but collide with film-noir, 1930s Art Deco, Spanish folklore and a myriad of other influences. That’s not even touching on some of the crazier characters – such as the one armed man on a unicycle – or the set pieces like the live poetry reading. Grim Fandango may be pre-occupied with the dead but it’s bursting with soul in virtually every aspect, from its voice acting to its score.
Unlike many modern adventure titles, you’ll rely on a point and click interface to decide where to go. The controls aren’t difficult to pick up at all, which is a good thing considering the gameplay. Grim Fandango relies on the old-school adventure genre style of throwing you into the story, letting you experience all the insanity for yourself…and then leaving you clueless on how to combine items together or solve the seemingly cryptic puzzles before you.
This isn’t to say that the puzzles are impossible and there’s certainly a fair bit of satisfaction when the light bulb in your head finally goes off. But players used to being carried through such situations – or even provided hints – will find themselves in trouble.
"The tale of Manny and Meche is one that deserves to be experienced at least once in every gamer's life, regardless of genre or preferred aesthetic."
That you can nearly ignore all those issues is a testament to the brilliance of Grim Fandango’s story-telling, art design, atmosphere and characterization. If you really want to experience the game in its original glory, you’ll have the option of switching back to the older graphical style throughout. The remastered graphics serve to clean things up slightly, making it less rough and more presentable while still maintaining the key art style that made the game so recognizable. That’s it when it comes to special visual options though – and no, there isn’t even an option for 16:9 aspect ratio. The soundtrack is as loveable as ever though and it’s now fully orchestrated.
Further topping off the additional features of the remaster are the commentary tracks from various designers on the project. You can enable the commentary right off the bat and you’ll learn even more about the game, along with Schafer’s motivations and humorous stories throughout its lifespan, thus leading to a more well-rounded understanding of Grim Fandango as a whole. It’s not a feature that can be included in every single remastered game but it just adds so much more to the experience here.
Even when it released back in 1998, Grim Fandango wasn’t for everyone. It could be needlessly obtuse at times and required a good memory or copious notes to get by on occasion. That’s still the case today though there are numerous walkthroughs available to help guide you. However, even if you need outside hints throughout the entire game, its well worth your time and money.
The tale of Manny and Meche is one that deserves to be experienced at least once in every gamer’s life, regardless of genre or preferred aesthetic. Even if Double Fine could have done a bit more to bring Grim Fandango up to date, the result is still arguably the greatest adventure game available today.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Beautiful graphics and a unique art style. Timeless score is now lovingly orchestrated. Great, long story filled with memorable characters. Developer's commentary makes the experience even better.
Little to no guidance throughout, mixed with some truly confounding puzzles, may turn people off. No 16:9 aspect ratio.
Though not the most visually comprehensive or newbie-friendly remaster, Grim Fandango is still one of the greatest adventure games ever made.