Grim Fandango Remastered Review

Grim Fandango was released for PC in 1998. Remastered in HD and released just over 16 years later, has the game stood the test of time?

Back in 1998 when LucasArts was developing some of the most noteworthy adventure titles around, Grim Fandango was one of Tim Schafer’s final titles with the company. Now that LucasArts has moved on to video game licensing, it only seems apt that Schafer’s new studio, Double Fine Productions, gained the license to remake Grim Fandango for a modern audience. Just over 16 years later, how has the game fared with its new shiny coat of paint?

“But now we dance this Grim Fandango”
Manny Calavera is a travel agent for the Department of Death (D.O.D.), located in the Land of the Dead. He must do his time and earn his way to the Ninth Underworld, where the dead can finally be laid to rest. To do this, he must sell tickets for the Number Nine train to the souls who have been good in their time amongst the living. Each ticket earns him a commission but his rival, Domino Hurley, always seems to get the best clients. In an attempt to get a better client and his commission, Manny steals a “perfect” client from Domino, only to find that she must embark on a four year journey through the Underworld. Determined to find out what is going on, Manny sets out to uncover the conspiracy and save his client from danger.

The Land of the Dead is a world heavily influenced by Aztec mythology — more specifically, the belief that the dead must take a perilous four-year journey through nine levels of the underworld to reach the final destination of Mictlan. The story is separated into four chapters, each of which takes place on the Day of the Dead over a period of four consecutive years. The characters themselves are based on the Mexican calaca figures that are used to celebrate the Day of the Dead. When you add in a touch of Art Deco and a heavy dose of film noir, you have a game that has a very unique feel.

“I was just wrenching it for fun, but your idea’s good too”
Despite the game’s bizarre premise, you are left with a story that is engaging and entertaining. This is aided by the eclectic cast of characters that support or hinder Manny on his journey. Not only are there the many calaca characters that all have their own pasts and their own reasons for reaching the Ninth Underworld, there are also demons that have been summoned to perform specific tasks within the world. The most notable of the latter is Glottis, Manny’s faithful sidekick for the majority of the game and the character that has all of the best lines.

A standard playthrough would take between 10-15 hours. Of course, your playtime varies on how well you can solve puzzles where the solution can be simple, complicated or just downright bizarre. If a solution does not present itself, the chances are that you’ve not quite explored a location fully, you’ve not realised that your earlier conversation with a character held a vital clue, or you just haven’t tried using an item in the right place — there are no multi-item combinations or lengthy strings of logic to be found here. It’s a good job, then, that you feel like you want to explore the world around you and talk with the characters as much as possible. Unfortunately in adventure games of this era, the solution to your situation didn’t always have to make complete sense, meaning that the only way that you may solve some puzzles is by stumbling upon the solution by accident.

“Is there an engine that can resist the love that’s in these hands?”
At the end of the day, though, in story and settings the game is the same title that was released 16 years ago. The most important part is how the Remaster alterations have affected the game. The pause menu allows players to toggle between the new HD graphics, rendered at 4:3 ratio (although they can be stretched to 16:9), and the game’s original graphics. In comparison to some of the more modern HD remasters, very little has changed between the two versions. The game’s static backgrounds have received a slight upscaling and the game’s lighting has been improved to create effects like more meaningful shadowing. The most dramatic improvement is to the character models that, while still blocky, are much smoother than they used to be.

Meanwhile, the game’s control scheme has received a bit more attention. Although the original version’s Tank Controls were appropriate for the game’s period, they never really seemed to fit properly within an adventure title, though this control scheme does remain within the game. Now, players also have the option of using a camera-relative system that is a bit more forgiving, although the pièce de résistance is the new point-and-click mouse interface. The mouse cursor will indicate areas that can be explored, or items/characters with which the player can interact — this makes the playing of this title so much easier and negates the need to wander around aimlessly.

“That might be them now. Let’s see just what they deserve”
Overall, the graphics may not have aged terribly well, but the title is a homage to a time where storytelling was the most important part of a game. In an age where single-player campaigns seem to play second fiddle to online multiplayer battles, a campaign that lasts 10-15 hours is a rarity. With memorable characters and puzzles that don’t feel like you need a degree to solve them, this is an experience that players both new and old can enjoy.

Hit; The new mouse-oriented point-and-click controls
Miss; The characters look great, but the backgrounds look a bit out of place.
Need: More Glottis. Remember the glory days Manny?

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I'm an avid gamer across many platforms, and I love to write about them. I'll try most games once, but I draw the line at fighters and racing sims.
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