Review: Grim Fandango Remastered
In late 1998, Tim Schafer fine-tuned its latest game with Lucas Arts, Grim Fandango, one of the first 3D adventure games and probably his most personal. A black history with dense characters, less focused on laughter than Double Fine’s previous titles, which preferred word play, sweet tones and subtleties. Now sixteen years since the original Grim Fandango launch, Tim Schafer and Sony announced the remastered edition of the game (in partnership with Lucas Films, now part of Disney), to reconnect with the fans, and finally share their love to a new audience.
More than a remake, Grim Fandango Remastered was a great way for Tim Schafer to also share its game to a greater amount of players, thanks to digital download, on both Steam and the PlayStation Network in comparison to the on-disc release that you might find on eBay in rare amounts.
Since its release in 1998, Grim Fandango has been considered a cult pillar of the PC catalog. One of these odysseys that have shaped the link between adventure and video games in general, on the sideline of titles like Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island and Full Throttle. At that time, console junkies were drowned deep into Squaresoft’s RPG Final Fantasy VII, and probably missed Grim Fandango.
Right, so enough with this gaming history session, and let us get on with this review, shall we? Grim Fandango tells the story of a Department of the Dead travel agent called Manny Calavera, and his routine life in the land of the dead. His job? Selling cruises to the eternal resting place of departed souls, and winning a nice commission in the operation. But lately, business goes from bad to worse: his rival Domino multiplies lucrative contracts and picks up the crumbs. If this was not enough, it is the appearance of Mercedes Colomar that will break the routine life of Manny: promised a ride in a super-luxury train to the afterlife, she is forced to foot the most perilous journeys of the dead. There is something rotten in the Land of the Dead and Manny hopes to discover secrets and corruption. Following the footsteps of the beautiful Mercedes in the company of Glottis the demon, he will have to deal with atypical characters, products of a world influenced halfway between Casablanca and 1954’s On the Waterfront movie, a weird dream of Tim Burton and Mexican funeral celebrations.
To go through this adventure, Manny sneaks in the settings and lives of the characters by touching their motivations, even if it meant leaving some behind or join hands with some shady people to protect its own interests. In terms of feelings, the team gave birth in 1998 of an amazing love story arc that shows restraint and modesty in perfect harmony with the tone of a romance between mortals. The writing topped with an amazing voice acting full of emotion, makes dialogues lines like “I just locked an open door… strange, yet symbolically compelling” more fun to hear than ever.
Like with all reboots or remastered titles, the story is never the focus of a change. So what about the gameplay? Sixteen years later, the title does not show a single wrinkle and plays the same way as the original. It is the same puzzles imagined at the time, with its numerous item collection and use in certain context. I should note something to modern gamers: Grim Fandango Remastered is an adventure game that lacks automatic backups or hint system.
Hailed for his artistic direction, the deep world, characters’ charisma, soundtrack and smart puzzles (and a lot of them) when it was launched, Grim Fandango had only one problem: the control scheme. LucasArts back at the time was testing out their first 3D adventure game, leaving the legendary SCUMM engine with its point and click system, switching to a keyboard layout. Tim Schafer even defended throughout the years their controlling scheme, arguing that they were one of the studio aiming to erase this “distance” between players and the protagonists in point and click games. In this sense, the usual. Schafer had great intentions, but unfortunately drew the contours of a genuinely bad good idea.
But this was back in the 1990s. Loosely based on the work of modders, Double Fine reintroduce the point and click system with traditional LucasArts click-actions like “observe”, “talk”, “interact” automatic pathfinding for moving Manny in the scenery. If the option to discover or rediscover the game in a new light is key to the Remastered release, nothing prevents you to prefer a controller or even a keyboard: these alternatives have also been redesigned with directional camera angles to give it more of a natural hand. And hell, say you want to be truly purist about the experience, you can switch to the original button scheme. With such diversity in the approach to the title, some may find it a shame that Double Fine has not fixed the clunky inventory system.
On the graphical point of view, Double Fine gave back some life to the original title. The settings although not completely reworked, show a little more detail than the original, which could strike to the eyes of old gamers. It is actually not that bad even if it must be recognized that the difference between the version of the 1998 game are not really obvious. This is also implied by the fact that you play in 4:3 ratio to keep the correct proportions, and although you can do the transition to 16: 9, this would stretch out the textures. At least, the ability to switch between original and Remastered graphics with a push of a button is also in the game (like in Halo 2 in the Master Chief Collection), this concept is far more limited than at the time of the Monkey Island Special Edition. However, Peter Chang’s artistic direction and the coherence of the world of Grim Fandango makes it up for its lack of extra high definition graphics.
Then, what in this remastered version is going to appeal to an original fan? The simple pleasure of a walk in the attic assisted by better controls? Not quite. Double Fine made the extra effort for their long time fans, recording an intense and fun behind the scene commentary that you can listen to in some parts of the game. Schafer and the gang detail the inspirations of the various settings, pitfalls and triumphs of the title, but also deliver a gaggle of human stories, with fifteen years old memories ready to loosen tongues. Sadly, I’m a big fan of the artistic part of the game, and regret the absence of Peter Chang, despite the presence of his fellow colleagues. But to make it up to us, it was captivating to hear lead composer Peter McConnell’s thoughts, and how he came to deliver a reworked soundscape of Grim Fandango.
Grim Fandango Remastered was reviewed using an PlayStation Vita retail version of the game purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 (bundled with the PS Vita version) and PC. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A cult figure of the adventure game genre
• The Land of the Dead in all its timeless originality
• Rich developer commentary
• Perfect mix of humor and drama
• Charismatic characters
• A reworked control scheme for both console, handheld and PC
• A re-orchestrated OST with lots of love
• A restoration, not am HD remake
• Cutscenes were sadly not reworked
• Relearning to do manual backups