Grim Fandango Remastered / 5th of February 2015
It’s been over fifteen years since Tim Schafer unleashed his epic story of the dead into an unsuspecting world, and now, this cult classic has been given another chance at life in an enhanced version that his new team, Double Fine, have just made available on PC, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. Despite being a commercial failure upon its original release, this point and click style adventure game has been praised consistently over the years to such an extent that it’s regarded by many industry professionals as one of the finest games - in its genre - of all time. And so its re-release, with enhanced graphics, an orchestral score and various additional features ensures that Grim Fandango Remastered is, at least one, re-release that doesn’t feel like a gratuitous cash grab.
If you’re at all familiar with the plot of Grim Fandango you’ll know it charts the misadventures of one Manny Calavera, an indentured employee at the Department of Death striving to pay off his debt by selling luxury travel packages - to those who qualify - that aid the recently deceased in their journey through the underworld. Unable to sell the best packages, and on the verge of being fired for his poor sales record, Manny opts to steal a saintly client by the name of Meche Colomar, from his rival co-worker Domino. However when it transpires that Meche, even with her record of charitable works during her lifetime, doesn’t qualify for a luxury package, things begin to unravel. Before long Manny is caught for stealing clients, Merche is mistakenly left to walk through the underworld and a dastardly conspiracy is revealed.
Thankfully Manny swiftly escapes, resolving to pursue Meche and save her from hopelessly wandering across the underworld. It’s this adventure that forms the majority of Grim Fandango’s plot and, in the fifteen or so years since its original release, it’s an adventure every bit as enthralling as it was in 1998. The dialogue is as crisp and witty as if it had been written yesterday, and from it Grim Fandango concocts many of its funniest moments. Outside of dialogue the script is still impressively polished as it continuously opts to show rather than tell, something many modern games should take note of. Despite creating a rich and complex storyline which builds its world on ideas borrowed from ancient Aztec beliefs, and depicts itself in a film noir like style, the game never gets hung up on explaining the various rules and mechanics at play. Instead Grim Fandango assumes you’re smart enough to understand what’s going on without the need for lengthy exposition. It’s something that’s truly refreshing, particularly in an adventure game, and helps explain why it’s a game that’s been praised so highly over the years.
As for the mechanics of the adventure game itself, they tend to fluctuate erratically between clever use of logic and complete random unpredictability. It’s something that’s often a problem with adventure games, and here even Grim Fandango occasionally fails to provide you with puzzles that don’t force you to resort to a process of elimination, interacting with everything in as many ways as is possible. For example one early puzzle involves having to block a mail tube using inflated dead worms, something that clearly makes no logical sense at all and could easily drive you insane should you attempt it unaided. Thankfully more often than not the majority of puzzles can be overcome with a little common sense, and for those that can’t, a cursory internet search can provide you with a guide to help tackle the incomprehensible. However that doesn’t excuse the fact that it should be better, especially considering how almost every other aspect of the game feels so tight and well thought out. Much like single screen point and click games, where players just click on every object in view until a solution presents itself, Grim Fandango’s ‘game’ can occasionally act as an unwelcome barrier to the story it’s trying to tell. But that’s not to say that Grim Fandango may have benefitted more from being depicted in another medium, its multiple choice style dialogue and many unique moments are all dependant on player agency, and help it to serve as one of the finest examples of a narrative driven videogame.
There’s something about Grim Fandango that continually reminds me of the 1998 classic Who Framed Rodger Rabbit?, perhaps in the way both expertly balance comedy, their unusual style and the level of fondness they both warrant. In any case it’s a game everyone, whether they’re interested in videogames or not should experience. And should you, as you might with a blu-ray re-release, want more from a remastered edition then Grim Fandango acquits itself admirably. Not only have the 3D models of each character been made sharper and easier on the eye you can, should you be inclined, switch back to the game’s original graphics and see just how rose tinted those memories of early 3D graphics are. There’s also a feature that allows for the inclusion of a directors commentary to run while you play, however doing so overrides the wonderful new orchestral score, something no one should do on a first time through.
So assuming you can overlook the occasionally poor puzzle design, Grim Fandango Remastered is one of the finest remakes of one of the finest games you’re ever likely to come across. The attention to detail in regards to both the original, and the care given to the remastered version must be credited. If you’re a fan of the original then it’s a collector’s item actually worth having, and if you’ve never had the chance to play it there’s no better time to change that.