So you may have heard something over the last fifteen years (more so this past year) about one of the many point and click titles from the now defunct studio Lucasarts called Grim Fandango. Well since being rescued by the game’s original Director Tim Schafer, this noir inspired PC classic makes it’s way to to both console and handheld audiences via the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita.
Brought back to life by Schafer’s studio Double Fine (well as much as you can when talking about a game starring a dead protagonist), this Remastered edition includes updates to graphical textures, controls and brings in a full orchestral soundtrack.
Grim Fandango’s plot takes place over a four year span, following Manuel “Manny” Calavera – a down on his luck Grim Reaper/Travel Agent looking to pay of the debt he racked up in life and pass on to his eternal resting place in the Ninth Underworld. Scheming to cut corners and make one of the big sales he desperately needs, Manny unwillingly causes a saint-like client to be refused safe passage. Racked with gilt, Manny must make his journey across the Land of the Dead and try to save this innocent damsel in distress of his own creation.
The story is beautifully detailed and also something we’ve rarely seen replicated over the past fifteen years; You can’t help but form a bond to these fictional characters, their relationships and their struggles, all thanks to the game’s voice acting, style, plot and charm. This of course is a compliment that has been formed from playing the original game around half my life ago and playing through again really has just been a walk down memory lane for me, so let’s take a look at the changes in Grim Fandango Remastered.
In terms of the game’s new look, it is gorgeous for sure but then again so is the original in my opinion. New textures have been added to character models, shadowing and interactive objects but not really much else. If any of the game’s backdrops have been changed at all then I really did not notice, not even when switching the game’s graphics from original to remastered. I’ll admit that this is me essentially tugging at straws because it’s a minor criticism, visuals aren’t so aged that they look muddy (they look even better on the Vita’s smaller OLED screen) and even most of the original FMV cutscenes hold up today.
In terms of gameplay, the remastered edition is very much reminiscent of older titles from past Lucasarts titles like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle in that you pick up an item and rub it on every object available until being presented with the answer – not that there’s anything wrong with this style of play as I’m a huge advocate of the 90’s style story driven clickers. With Grim Fandango however, often you may find yourself in a scenario where the relevant answer foreshadowing is either confusing or just plain missing in action. This means that you can often find yourself lost or confused and having to seek solus within a walkthrough guide. I’ve actually spoken to several friends who upon picking up Grim Fandango for the first time, have found themselves stuck during the game’s second chapter (the Petrified Forest).
But of course, making your brain sweat over just how to free the Bone Waggon using vomit and liquid nitrogen gives you a real sense of achievement before you move on to hit the next puzzling hurdle. I truly believe that in this case however, you can try to challenge yourself with the game’s complex puzzles if you like but really this is an experience for the game’s story over anything else and as long as you’re enjoying yourself then who cares? Personally I can remember playing through the first two Monkey Island titles several times without guides but I can only attribute that to the muscle memory of playing them with my older sister when I was younger, with her figuring out all the hard stuff on our first play through. Because those stories held up their end to me, they remain to be two of my top games ever and I believe that the experience of Grim Fandango holds the same candle.
Definitely a highlight of the game for me and a welcomed edition in this remastered format was the inclusion of an overhauled soundtrack. The combination of an orchestral composition mixed in with smooth Jazz no only built suspense and drama during some of the more tense or fantastical moments but the Spanish Jazz helped the game’s overall tone. Which when when looking at a world influenced by Día de Muertos and each character stylized to resemble calaca dolls, this can only be a good thing.
New controls have been brought in too, mainly for use on consoles. Now you have the choice of a traditional point & click system, dual analogue sticks, one stick tank controls (frustrating as Hell but do come with a special trophy for sticking with them) and then on the PS Vita, a combination of twin sticks and touchscreen style point & click. I found the Vita’s combined control approach a much more comfortable fit, as a console gamer I naturally gravitated towards the twin sticks nut would often find that the smaller screen would mean I’d be within need of some precision touching (of the screen variety).
Speaking of the PS Vita, while I’ve found it to be the most part an enjoyable experience – which now I couldn’t possibly play Grim Fandango any other way, others have not been as complimentary regarding the handheld’s port. There have been massive reports of the game crashing at random moments (some to the point of corrupting save data) and when you’re playing a title that uses and old school saving method from a time when such luxuries as an auto saving was far from common, I can imagine that would be a rather large inconvenience. During my experience playing through the game’s campaign, I only experienced one such crash some point during the last chapter but nothing so major as losing all my save data. Another problem I did come across however was actually the PlayStation platforms cross-save feature. After switching save date from the Vita to my PlayStation 4 and pack again, saving the game could take up to around five minutes at a time. Luckily this only lasted for about four saves and hasn’t come back since, I guess the Archangel Schafer smiled down on me that day.
My final verdict is that Grim Fandango is a highly engaging and entertaining game but then again, it has been for the past fifteen years. If you still have the original title then this remastered version isn’t likely going to warrant a second purchase (unless you really like listening to commentary tracks while you play). For fans of Lucasarts’ other titles that have never played the game, this is definitely worth playing but don’t feel too bad if you need to refer to a walkthrough from time to time.
If you’re a fan of the original Grim Fandango from long ago and no longer have access to a copy, then just why have you not picked this up yet?