The 1990s were a golden age for the adventure games genre, ranging from educational offerings that kids may have played in school to the more game oriented LucasArts titles. Tim Schafer was a very important part of LucasArts for a number of years, but Grim Fandango was easily his magnum opus upon its release in 1998. Over 16 years later, the reigns have been handed over to Double Fine Productions to bring gamers Grim Fandango Remastered, whose film noir inspired story and accompanying puzzles, are every bit as compelling and intriguing as they were in the original.
The adventure game genre has always been defined by its well crafted stories, with Grim Fandango: Remastered bringing gamers one of the best from the genre’s past. The story itself starts out relatively simple with the protagonist Manny Calavera acting as one of the Grim Reapers for the Land of the Dead. However, soon many twists and turns come upon Manny and take the story in both expected and unpredictable directions. This variable style of storytelling has allowed Grim Fandango to hold up very well, with a fresh story that feels inspired by classic films, but still remains modern in other ways.
While the story itself is well designed, the game would not work at all without the unique cast of characters that show up throughout Grim Fandango Remastered. The archetypes are pretty much by the book, with the somewhat reluctant hero in Manny, the lovable but dimwitted sidekick in Glottis, as well as both a love interest and villain down the line. Each character offers something different to where one can appreciate the interactions between each all the better.
The array of characters found throughout the game would also not be anywhere near as memorable without the excellent voice acting found in Grim Fandango Remastered. A large majority of the game features voice acting, which was impressive back in the day and still pays off very well in the re-release. The Spanish style and feel of the game is largely helped by the decision to fill out much of the voice cast with Latino actors. This allows for a more authentic feel, which may sound a little strange for a game about The Land of the Dead. However, this setting is excellently depicted in not only the voices, but many other nuances throughout the game.
While the story and characters are vital to the package, the other piece of the puzzle in Grim Fandango is literally that, puzzles. Rather than the simplistic style found in games of today, Grim Fandango Remastered is a little more complex. By interacting with many of the previously mentioned cast of characters, as well as searching each location, Manny will come across a variety of different items that he can hold onto. Not every item is required to complete the game, but many of them are necessary to advance. This means that talking to each and every character and examining every nook and cranny is the best strategy.
The adventure style games of today, including Telltale Games’ various franchises, rely more on personal choices and decisions that shape an undetermined outcome. However, this throwback style that features more defined puzzle gameplay and a predetermined outcome is a welcome change that helps to shake up the genre.
Adventure games thrived on the PC, due to the ability to point and click to solve puzzles with ease. While many games could be played with a controller, the mouse was typically the accessory of choice for PC gamers. With the jump to both a console and handheld, in addition to PC, two new control schemes have been implemented called “camera relative” and “tank,” the latter of which is mostly a cruel joke, outside of the ability to unlock a trophy for completing the entire game that way.
Just like the original, Grim Fandango Remastered’s puzzles can be hard to solve on occasion, due to the placement of objects in the foreground and background. There are times where a table may be in the way of where an item needs to be picked up or the item itself may just blend into the ground, sometimes causing a wild goose chase of pressing the interact button all over the ground after an NPC drops an item.
The overall control can feel a little stiff and difficult at times as well, especially with the game often interacting with the incorrect object or person. This leads to more of the constant blind pressing of the button, as discussed above, just to interact the way you want. For a game that relies on interaction, this can get annoying quickly.
Grim Fandango Remastered just oozes with charm all around
Coming from the pre-widescreen era, Grim Fandango Remastered’s default setting has the game at a 4:3 ratio, with designed borders along the side. There is also the option to keep the 4:3 ratio with just black borders, or the most drastic change to 16:9. However, while 16:9 fills out the screen completely, it is not recommended as it stretches the image too much and hurts the overall intended design of the game.
As expected with any remake, Grim Fandango Remastered has seen graphical changes in some ways, though nowhere near many of the HD remakes of old games from consoles. Grim Fandango already looked quite good on the PC and changing it too much would ruin the aesthetic of the game. Instead, Double Fine Productions implemented high resolution textures and advanced lighting to upgrade the game to today’s standards.
One of the game’s best features is the ability to switch between the Remastered look and Classic look at anytime with the simple press of a button, specifically Select on PS Vita and the Touchpad on PS4, though this cannot be done during cutscenes. Switching between the two really does show how impressive the original Grim Fandango was for its time in the late 1990s.
While the graphics have improved in a smaller capacity, Grim Fandango Remastered has overhauled the soundtrack with a brand new live orchestral score, courtesy of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This updated music really does a fantastic job at improving upon the game, while fitting perfectly with the aforementioned Spanish setting. Also included is something that many more games should have, director’s commentary. By enabling this in the Special Features menu, players can listen to commentary from a number of the game’s original team with the simple press of a button. This inside look into Grim Fandango really makes the experience all the more special.
Grim Fandango made quite the impression back in 1998 and now has the opportunity to do just the same on a new generation with Grim Fandango Remastered. Told with a very unique film noir story and engaging characters, Grim Fandango Remastered just oozes with charm all around. While quite complex, the style of puzzles found here is something that gaming is missing today and works just as well now as it did back in 1998, though the controls can get in the way at times. At only $14.99 for both the PS Vita and PS4 versions through cross-buy, Grim Fandango Remastered is well worth the money for both those that played the original and newcomers that want to experience it for the first time.
- This article was updated on January 28th, 2015