Grim Fandango Remastered Review: Like Eagles on Pogo Sticks
Originally released in 1998, Grim Fandango represented, at that time, the pinnacle in adventure game story telling, character design and art design for many gamers. 16 years have gone by and the game is largely unsurpassed in terms of charm, fleshed-out (no pun intended) Latino characters and overall creativity. Now, a new generation of PC, PS4 and PS Vita players can enjoy Double Fine’s classic adventure for the first time to learn what all the fuss was about.
Grim Fandango Remastered stars Manny Calavera, a travel agent with the Department of Death who can’t catch a break. His clients all suck and he’s the office joke until he discovers corruption in the land of the dead and ventures out on his own (with his hilarious driver, Glottis) to save Meche Colomar and give her the ticket on the Number 9 express that she rightfully deserves. If it sounds wacky and unique its because it is. There is truly nothing like Grim Fandango in terms of theme, art, music and humor. The game draws inspiration from noir films like Casablanca and Aztec culture.
Gameplay consists of typical point and click mechanics though with much more personality. Players collect a wealth of items with no knowledge of their true purpose, eventually using them to solve puzzles in clever ways. The puzzles in Grim Fandango will be very hard for those who haven’t played many adventure games, especially without the experience of pushing through some of the more unforgiving adventure titles from the 90’s and turn of the century. These puzzles will almost always be a smile on your face even if you’re cursing at the screen because, “how the hell would anyone know to do that anyway.”
Visually, Grim Fandango is a stunning game without the changes made in this remastered version. The art direction is detailed, using the pre-rendered backgrounds popularized in the 90’s. The Aztec and Latino influence is clear, a style not seen much since 1998. As far as the visuals being “remastered”, its hit and miss. Character models have been updated and they are much improved, especially with superior lighting that would have never made it into the original. Still, the backgrounds and most non-character art aren’t really all that prettier, looking more or less the same as they did in 1998.
Manny, Glottis, Meche and company all look easier on the eyes but it is disappointing to see just how small the amount of true graphical remastering was done. This is likely cut down on the game’s production costs and helped it cost just $14.99 so I suppose the trade-off is worth it if it means more people get to play it.
Story-wise, Grim Fandango is a charmer. You’ll be talking about this game for decades. If you can brave some of the tougher puzzles and not give up on it, you’ll be repeating comical lines of dialogue for years. The puzzles, environments and universe created by Double Fine are truly memorable.
Controls are vastly improved with movement feeling like a game design today rather than for 90’s tank control enthusiasts. You can still opt to use the old-school controls if you hate yourself, which will unlock a trophy for playing through the whole game with those ancient, unbearable controls.
Commentary from the developers is included in various scenes and provide an interesting glimpse into the thought process behind making some of the game’s most iconic scenes and characters. Its a nice touch that more remasters or re-releases should copy, humanizing the staff behind the game. The commentary doesn’t just make you more of a fan of Double Fine but of each individual developer who speaks in it.
The PS Vita version suffers from some frame rate issues while switching between rooms/areas though its forgivable. The PS4 version runs relatively smooth though I did run into a few game-breaking bugs (like Manny getting stuck in an animation) that would force me to close the game and restart, losing progress due to the lack of auto-saving.
In the end, Grim Fandango Remastered is worth so much more than $14.99. Its a once in a lifetime gaming experience with some of the most original, creative writing ever seen in gaming. The iconic characters, clever (though frustrating at times) puzzles and superb art direction would push the title into any top 10 list of best games during any given generation. More work could have been done to live up to the title “Remastered” but its hard to argue with somewhat disappointing changes when the original package is this good.
Grim Fandango Remastered is a steal at its launch price of $15. Everything about the game, from its characters and art direction to its music and puzzles, is timeless. Review copy provided by Double Fine, PS4 and PS Vita versions tested.