I’ve said it before about other games, but it seems almost pointless to review Grim Fandango Remastered. It’s a good game. It’s a wonderful game. You’ve probably heard every big name from Jeff Green (of Computer Gaming World fame) to PushingUpRoses (of YouTube fame) sing its praises many, many times since it came out way back in 1998. So why bring it up again? Well, the recent re-release has had some time to simmer, and this might shock you. A lot of folks didn’t play it back in the day. Plus there are a lot of folks who weren’t around back in the day, and five of you may have somehow missed all of those other reviews, articles, and episodes.
PROS: The Lucas Arts classic adventure game in High Definition!
CONS: Not much replay value. Light on extras.
LAST OF THE GIANTS: Despite the critical acclaim, the original game didn’t sell as well as Lucas Arts needed it to.
Before delving into the game itself again, I’m briefly going to go over the extras. To be honest, Grim Fandango Remastered does not offer a lot in the way of extras, and bonus content. It doesn’t even offer much in the sense of settings in the PC version. You get a handful of sliders, and aspect ratio options. That is all. While this is a re-release of a fairly old game, this is pretty threadbare. The game was originally on PC, and while this re-release was shooting for the PS4 audience, the PC should have added some drop menus at the very least. Thankfully, one really helpful inclusion is the added mouse controls. Originally the game used a setup similar to Resident Evil’s tank controls. Those are still present in this version, but the mouse controls are much nicer. The game ends up feeling much more like the point, and click games that inspired it as a result. They’re not perfect, as sometimes you’ll want to go in one direction, and the game will think you indicated something else. It can be annoying, but it is a lot better than trying to navigate the game with tank controls.
If you’re insistent on using the tank controls, they’ll take you right back to the days of Resident Evil 2. They work exactly as you would expect. You use the arrow keys to move, and a handful of other keys to perform functions.The problem with them is that going back to that scheme can feel very clunky. Particularly when trying to navigate around some of the objects. Even if it does give you the convenience of using a game pad or a keyboard. Still, if you prefer them for whatever reason, you’ll be happy they’ve been left intact.
Moving the mouse about the screen will pull up various icons when you discover an interactive object. One of them will have a description recited to you, another will be a command to take the item, while others will use an item. When moving your character with the mouse, you’ll just click wherever you wish him to go, and he will begin the long walk. Double clicking the mouse will cause him to run. Something handy to know when you want to get somewhere right away. This version also has much sharper graphics, and textures, which is great because you can see certain interactive items much easier. It also makes reading crucial text easier as the crisp resolutions are easier to see.
Grim Fandango tells the story of Manny Calavera (played by Tony Plana) who works in a travel agency in the afterlife. As a Grim Reaper, he has to get souls from the land of the dead to the ninth underworld. Clients who lived with enough virtue have more clout in the world, while those who lived pretty dastardly ones have very little. The worst of which are seen to have to make the journey on foot. Of course, Manny also has to deal with his overbearing boss who demands he turn high margins off of clients that are essentially loss leaders. Things get exciting, and terrifying when he manages to snag a higher ended client away from a coworker though, and that is when the game goes into high gear. The story has a number of twists, turns, involving mystery, and betrayal along the way. I won’t go into it here in case you’re one of the many who missed it in 1998. But there are tons of places online that go deep into the storyline if you want to see spoilers. Being an adventure game, I would advise against that, as the story is pretty much the point of playing the game.
Grim Fandango has a lot of great things going for it. It has hours of superbly voice acted audio to go along with dialogue trees. It has many well designed puzzles in it, many of which you’ll solve by accident. The game implores you to explore each area, at your leisure. Taking your time, checking out every nook, and cranny of every area. The game’s areas are laid out very similarly to Capcom’s Resident Evil. Each room is a huge pre rendered background, and you explore these rooms for items, puzzles or other characters to interact with. Sometimes the story will lead you to back track to somewhere earlier for something you may have missed. But it never feels tedious, or boring thanks to the addictive atmosphere. The game has a four act structure that you’ll eventually play through. The game is almost impossible to lose. So those worried about high difficulty need not worry. Adventure games of this ilk, are, and always have been about the narrative, the characters, and the world presented. The best of them will keep you invested with all of these elements. That’s why Grim Fandango is considered one of the best.
There are excellent performances from Tony Plata, Maria Canals, Jim Ward, Alan Blumenfeld among others, as well as a lot of creativity. The game blends a lot of Aztec folklore, with film noir to create not only a really fun story, but a really great aesthetic too. The game’s visuals are heavily inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead imagery, but has its own unique spin. Combine this with hints of Humphrey Bogart movies, and you have a winner. If you already own an original copy of Grim Fandango, there are a few positive reasons to pick up this remaster. First, (assuming you’re getting the PC version) you’ll be able to run it on a modern system natively. You won’t have to fiddle with DosBox emulation. Second, the improved graphics, and controls are a Godsend, that make an already great adventure game even better. The extras again, may not really do it for you, and again the lack of graphics, and performance options are a little bit disappointing. Nevertheless, with all of the improvements, and even some overhauls (some of the content was actually redone as it couldn’t be re-acquired, or imported properly.) it is still a title worth considering buying again. Especially if you are a big fan of Tim Schafer’s other major work.
For those who have never played this game previously, you pretty much need to experience it. Whether you buy the PC or PS4 version is immaterial. This game is almost essential due to the historical relevance, and its well deserved reputation in the realm of point & click, and adventure games.
Final Score: 9 out of 10