Herald as one of the all time best PC gaming experiences, Grim Fandango has always been a game I had intended to play. Double Fine thankfully facilitate that desire in 2015, with a remastered iteration of the cult classic available on the Playstation 4, Vita and PC. Remastered has become something of a value laden term within the industry, and Double Fine’s use of it with Grim Fandango is no exception. There’s an automatic expectation that the game has undergone a process of ‘remastering’ or enhancement, however in many cases to what extent that is true, remains unclear. Here, with this review,, we delve into the dark and humerous world of Grim Fandango, while attending to both the old and new, assessing the titles relevance in 2015.
Grim Fandango centers around character, Manny Calavera, as he attempts to pay debt for his sins committed within the world of the living. In order to do so Manny undertakes the role of a salesman, serving as a grim reaper, who sells trips to the 9th underworld to the recently deceased who are deemed eligible based on their lives in the land of the living. Things quickly take a turn, as you uncover and expand your understanding of this unique world that Manny exists in, travelling through various locations and engaging in conversation with a wide range of characters, each with very unique personalities.
Indeed, it’s this that Grim Fandango does best. Every individual character in the game feels both entirely unique, and at the same time interesting to interact with. Irrespective of them aiding on your quest or not (almost everyone does in some way) the dialogue is written in such a way that it’s continually engaging and relatable. Despite the games obscure thematic, characters and their plights feel distinctly human and its easy to quite quickly build an emotional connection to the game and its cast. The universe this all exist in is equally intriguing, as it functions within its own rules, yet at the same time is grounded in much of what we know as reality. Its constantly interesting to see what’s around the next corner, yet avoids alienating players by remaining at least partially grounded in reality, and human characterisation.
That’s effectively all Grim Fandango has to offer too, a fantastically unique, interact-active narrative. In between these segments are what could be described as the games puzzles but trial and error conversation and environmental interaction will largely be what gets you through these. Unfortunately most of the games puzzles both defy logic, and require terribly specific solutions with little to no deviation, or creative resolution available to the player. These really skew the pacing of the game and could be seen to detract from its narrative. The definition of a good puzzle should be the sense of reward one gets for completing it, yet Grim Fandango rarely offers a significant sense of reward simply because the puzzle solutions aren’t attained by hard thinking, but rather randomly attempting different combinations of interaction with the limited number of items available to interact with. It’s unenjoyable, and you may quickly grow tired of the experience if means of progressing the narrative aren’t clear, indeed running around shaking your Robert Frost balloon at random characters and objects is only entertaining for so long.
Changes with the Remaster
Many who’ve played the original game may be curious as to how Grim Fandango has changed over the years. Indeed the term ‘remastered’ has come to hold an inherent value, and in honest its unclear if Grim Fandango lives up to that value. Perhaps the most crucial change to Grim Fandango from 1998 to 2015 is the games controls. To explain, when originally released, Grim Fandango’s protagonist controlled as if he were… what can perhaps most aptly be described as a tank. The player turned Manny Calevera with the left and right arrow keys, while up moved him forward. In order to travel, you had to slowly turn your character in the direction you wanted to go, then hold up until you wanted to stop. Of course you can direct yourself while moving, but because these controls weren’t camera relative and Manny required constant re-orientation, it was slow and cumbersome in comparison to other titles using three dimensional models at the time. The purpose here is to iterate the difference in Grim Fandango Remastered, while having only undergone a simple change in the games controls, the difference is one of night and day as can interact with the game much more comfortably, and naturally, with intuitive controls. Grim simply moves in the direction the analogue stick would suggest him to, and the game is considerably better as a result.
In addition are some small, visual improvements. To keep things brief, the character models themselves have been spruced up considerably, although they remain relatively low in detail they’re textures are of much higher resolution giving the game a crisper look. Despite this the games environments don’t appear to have changed a great deal from Manny’s first outing, and the fact that the game is still stuck in a 4:3 aspect ratio (without distortion) reflects Grim Fandango Remastered’s status as more of a port than a remaster. You can switch between the classic and remastered aesthetic at any time by pressing L3 on the PS4 version of the game, however on the single occasion we decided to try this functionality out, it caused our game to crash. That’s not something one wants to risk on a game that doesn’t automatically save your progress, therefore we decided to leave this and stick to the updated visual presentation.
Bad In conclusion, Grim Fandango is a conceptually flawed narrative experience that expects players to progress through poorly paced, ill-designed scenarios best resolved through tedious trial and error, and to make matters worse the remaster is hard to justify for those looking for any considerable update from the original iteration. Despite this, Grim Fandango is held together by a phenomenally well characterised, unique, and engaging world, facilitating a strong emotional connection with its cast as you progress, and providing countless hours of entertainment through witty, engaging and intelligent, interactive dialogue. While in 2015, Grim Fandango doesn’t entirely hold together and can be seen to feature some especially poor aspects of game design, the quality of its narrative and uniqueness of its world make this one trip to hell that’s well worth the price of admission.
In conclusion, Grim Fandango is a conceptually flawed narrative experience that expects players to progress through poorly paced, ill-designed scenarios best resolved through tedious trial and error, and to make matters worse the remaster is hard to justify for those looking for any considerable update from the original iteration. Despite this, Grim Fandango is held together by a phenomenally well characterised, unique, and engaging world, facilitating a strong emotional connection with its cast as you progress, and providing countless hours of entertainment through witty, engaging and intelligent, interactive dialogue. While in 2015, Grim Fandango doesn’t entirely hold together and can be seen to feature some especially poor aspects of game design, the quality of its narrative and uniqueness of its world make this one trip to hell that’s well worth the price of admission.