Version tested: PS4
Also available on:Steam(PC, Mac, Linux), PS Vita, iPad, iPhone, and Android
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
I was five years old in 1998, so Grim Fandango wasn’t something I was able to play. The game gained cult status, but copies were extremely rare. Finally, Schafer’s Double Fine Productions has brought the game back for a new generation. Playable on nearly every platform, everybody can experience the tale of Manny Calavera, travel agent for the Department of the Dead (DoD). Player controls Manny as he attempts to work his way to the Ninth Underworld and stop the rampant corruption going on in the land of the dead.
The game gained praise for good reason: the writing, dialogue, characters, soundtrack, and design is top-notch. Everything on display is brimming with imagination. The world-building is fully realized and quite funny. Scratch that, this game is hilarious. I often found myself laughing out loud every couple minutes, and during some dialogue trees, non-stop. Manny is a lovable character and is perfectly complemented by his hot rod demon sidekick Glottis. The voice-acting is believable and the dialogue is always sharp as a knife.
The gameplay is another beast entirely. Grim Fandango is part of the all but forgotten genre of adventure games. Tricky puzzle games often known for their obtuse solutions. In that regard Grim Fandango is no different. The problem is that the style of gameplay is quite dated. Gamers nowadays want to be able to breezily run their way through a game. Those Gen X-ers may be ranting from their rocking chairs about kids these days, but nobody wants to have to feed quarters into their gaming machines either. For those not well-versed in the adventure games of yore, Grim Fandango may be impossible to play without referring to walkthroughs online.
That’s what split me the most about Grim. On one hand you have one of the best narratives in video-game history in a world that’s an absolute blast to explore, but on the other hand the gameplay ends up just getting in the way of the story. Often times, solutions to puzzles utilized game mechanics that I didn’t think were possible within the game. Entrances to other areas blend in with the backgrounds. In certain large areas, such as Rubacava, puzzles and clues are often given out of order, with certain puzzles only solvable once an earlier one has been completed, despite having all the necessary pieces. It’s a largely frustrating experience, and all the more grating when I’d rather be engaging in witty dialogue with Glottis. But alas, I find myself retreading the same environments trying every possible combination and hoping for the best. It may be the nature of the genre, but the only hints given are the direction in which Manny leans his head detect something that can be interacted with.
Grim Fandango Remastered allows the player to toggle between the original graphics and the remastered ones. There’s definitely a difference (models are smoothed over and lighting added), but overall the game still doesn’t look that great. The backgrounds are left largely untouched, many of the animations are still very clunky, and everybody still look like their made out of blocks (especially an alligator encountered later on in the game). The controls can be switched between tank controls and camera oriented ones, but vehicles feel counterintuitive as do some other moveable objects. Overall, it feels less like a complete remaster and more like a re-release.
One of the perks of the enhanced features is an optional commentary track that can be activated in certain areas. The commentary features a myriad of the games creators from all different departments, including Tim himself. The information is entertaining and very informative, especially as a look back on the game industry in the 90s. Grim Fandango is heavily influenced by old-school film noir such as Casablanca and On the Waterfront and hearing Schafer discuss what movie influenced each scene in the game is a treat.
For those who never got a chance to experience the tale of Manny Calavera or those looking to revisit and learn more about the game Grim Fandango Remastered is highly recommended, however don’t feel bad about resorting to a walkthrough when stumped, we’re all here for the writing anyways.
Grim Fandango Remastered is out now on Steam(PC, Mac, Linux), PS4, PS Vita, iPad, iPhone, and Android for $14.99.
Have you played the PC classic? How did you like it? Let us know in the comments below!
Freelance writer and screenwriter living in Pittsburgh. Film buff, video game buff, and music buff, but not actually buff.