“I played it, but I never finished it. Great game though”. That’s the mating call of the average 90s gamer when you mention Grim Fandango to them. Tim Schafer’s classic point and click adventure has been given a little helping hand from the folks at Sony, and gets remastered for the PS4, Vita and PC. How does Manny Calavera’s “Epic of Crime and Corruption in the Land of the Dead” hold up, almost 17 years after its initial release?
Game: Grim Fandango
Developer: LucasArts/Double Fine
Publisher: Double Fine
Reviewed on: (Review Code provided)
As Gari and Asim will attest, I was excited for Grim Fandango. Very excited. When it was announced at Sony’s E3 press conference last year, it was a huge surprise and I practically screamed with joy, much to their amusement. I was one of the folks firmly in the “Played but not finished” camp, and despite being only 12 years old at the time of its release, I’ve dabbled in the land of the dead a few times in the years that have followed.
In case you’ve yet to experience Grim Fandango, the game focuses on Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the Land of the Dead, whose job it is to provide people with transport to “The Ninth Underworld”, which is essentially a non-descript concept of a heaven. Those who have been as good as they could have been in their lives get fast-tracked on the Number Nine express train, with decreasingly glamorous transport offerings for those with increasingly unscrupulous lifestyle choices. After Manny gets disheartened with what seems to be a permanent string of poor quality clients, he takes matters into his own hands and looks to land a big bonus by swiping a client from under the top salesman’s nose, and before he realises it, he’s skull-deep in a world of scandal and intrigue, with only his former driver, Glottis, for company.
Fundamentally, the game is exactly the same as the original release, with two major exceptions. Firstly, the audio has been reworked from the ground up. All of the classic Midi sounds that used to permeate the world have been replaced with a fully orchestrated score, beautifully recorded and laid over the top of the backgrounds to fully immerse you into the game, and presumably bringing this version closer to the way it was initially intended. Secondly, the character models have been completely rebuilt for modern systems. Manny, Glottis and the rest of the Land of the Dead certainly look sharper, and with the enhanced lighting effects, the game’s atmosphere is improved quite a bit, and for easy comparisons you can switch between the original graphics and these updated models with a click of the R3 button. It’s a subtle difference at times, but elsewhere it’s really quite striking to see the changes, with Manny’s skeletal features being rendered to fit a native 1080p resolution. Having said that, it’s quite jarring at times that the original backgrounds have not been updated at all, and nor have the cut scenes. However, it still holds up in a nostalgic sort of way, and it reminds you of how great the art style really is, especially on the Vita.
Speaking of the Vita, one of the only things that disappointed me with this release is the Cross-Play functionality. I just couldn’t get it to work after a certain point. Whether there was something up with my save file, or whether there was an issue with me starting before the game’s patch was released, I’m not sure. But unfortunately the only way I could play on the Vita was to start from scratch, or to Remote Play to the PS4. I’ve seen a couple of other reports that suggest this isn’t an isolated case, so it’s probably worth taking a bit of caution if you want to use the cross save functionality. The other slightly disappointing thing with the release is the lack of touchpad/touch screen functionality. With it being a point and click adventure game, I’d have liked to have seen an almost mouse-like function being replicated by the touch controls available on both platforms, but it’s bafflingly absent.
If anything, Grim Fandango Remastered has highlighted just how much games have changed in the last 17 years. It will appeal to folk of a certain ilk, and if you’ve never played a point and click adventure game, it will probably frustrate you to within an inch of your life. As I approached parts of the game I’d never done before, I started to become more than a little confused with some of the puzzles in the game (Use the turkey baster with the what, to do WHAT?!). It’s easy to see how this could result in some people being turned off from the game. Even with Broken Age, the puzzles are relatively straightforward compared to the deliberately obtuse nature of Grim’s more devious tasks. I suppose it could play into a larger commentary about the nature of today’s instant gratification culture, and the seeming need to complete games as quickly as possible to stay relevant with the general zeitgeist and discussion, but that’s another story for another time. Instead, I’ll just say that my attitude to gaming has certainly changed, and I imagine that there will be many players who give up on Grim Fandango at a very early point, and that in itself is a massive shame, as it deserves everyone’s time.
Thrown in for good measure alongside the remastered assets is a nice little bonus in the form of a developers’ commentary that plays out as you navigate through the eighth underworld. The nuggets of information highlight nice little stories to do with the development and creation of the game, as well as some of the history and legacy that surrounds Grim Fandango as a title. It might not plumb the depths as some of the commentaries offered by Valve with their PC titles, but it’s a great little addition that’s more than welcome by fans that are looking for a little bit extra.
Grim Fandango is very much a product of the late 1990’s. It’s an extremely well put together story, with interesting and funny characters that you begin to care about as the tale unfolds. It’s an absolute stone-cold classic of gaming history, and is a title that everybody should play. The remastered character assets and re-recorded audio simply look and sound great, and whilst the overlaying of these on the classic VGA level of backdrops is sometimes disjointed, it never feels “wrong”. In fact, Grim Fandango Remastered holds up so well it’s a little scary. I would like to think this isn’t nostalgia clouding my judgement, but it was hard to suppress a smile the first time I bumped into Glottis and he knocked together the Bone Wagon for me.
If you’ve got the patience to deal with some devious puzzles, and want to experience the final hurrah of the LucasArts point and click legacy, this reissue is more than worth the download. Vita cross-save bug aside, I absolutely loved the chance to get back into Manny’s Land of the Dead, and I can now proudly say “Grim Fandango? Yeah, finished it. Great game.”