By: Casey Curran
For years Grim Fandango has been seen as one of gaming’s Holy Grails. Critics adored it, but the title unfortunately was a commercial flop, resulting not only in copies becoming scarce, but the death of the entire point-and-click adventure genre until its recent revival.
As the years passed, creator Tim Schaefer has received a huge cult following with his company Double Fine, but many of his fans have yet to experience what is supposedly his greatest work. Now, over 16 years later, the title has been given a second chance with Grim Fandango Remastered. Turns out the critics of 1998 were right: this game is really good.
Grim Fandango Remastered can be played one of two ways. The first is a classic point-and-click adventure setup, move the mouse point where you want to go and click to move or solve puzzles. There is both a hotkey and clickable space to bring up your inventory while you can select multiple actions, such as examining or picking up an object. The game also allows movement with the keys if you prefer something more interactive.
The second of the two is with a controller, where you control the main character, Manny Calavera, directly while the face buttons are used for interacting, examining or putting away items, and bringing up your inventory. Holding the shoulder bumper meanwhile, will allow you to run. The interface is designed around the PS4 controller as you will see squares and triangles on the screen — the upside is that if you have a DualShock 4 it plugs in automatically.
Here’s my advice: Play with a keyboard and mouse majority of the time. This is by far the better of the two as the mouse lets you move a cursor around to get a sense of what you can and cannot interact with in the environment. I am not sure if the PS4 version uses the touchpad for this, but it was not available on PC.
There are instances, however, where the controller allowed me to interact with the world easier, mostly in more cut-and-paste scenarios. These scenarios were rare, but a mouse just felt wonky. It may be just some kinks from the early build, but keep a controller handy just in case.
In some ways, Grim Fandango’s visuals show their age. The pre-rendered backgrounds are not made for HD and have some weird animations resembling stop-motion visuals. The characters also have blocky, simplistic designs to them. Demon characters are especially guilty of this, as the art style definitely favors the skeleton designs of the other characters.
However, this does not change how gorgeous this game looks. The Día de los Muertos inspired designs to the characters themselves hold up really well, especially with the touch ups put into the re-master. Yet it’s not just the designs themselves, but how well everything blends together. The Mexican-inspired music blends very well with the visuals, which combined with the phenomenal voice acting truly makes this game’s presentation better than the sum of its parts.
Despite being 3D, unlike many of the old point-and-click adventure games of the ‘90s, Grim Fandango’s gameplay is about as old school as you can get. You won’t see any quick time events or focus on how your dialogue changes the outcome of the story here. Rather, you need to find items and talk to people to try to figure out how to achieve a clear set of goals.
An annoying pitfall of the genre is that often puzzles employ bizarre uses of items or spending too much effort searching for an item rather than critical thinking. While Grim Fandango is not completely devoid of these, instances of them are very rare. If you keep a sharp eye in every area, you will find the items you need. If you pay attention, you can figure out how to get to solve a puzzle.
That’s not to say the game gives solutions away, however. You need to pay attention to what characters say, what the environment is like and any special characteristics about the items you collect to solve these puzzles. Even a joke can be a good clue on how to solve a puzzle, which ends up being one of the game’s greatest strengths. No solutions are given to the player; it actually requires critical thinking and a good sense of mischief.
These puzzles are used very well on a gripping story in a creative world. The story focuses on undead Manny Calavera, a salesman in purgatory who sells the deceased travel packages to the afterlife until he can get enough money to move on himself. The quality of one’s travel packages is determined by how good a life a person lived before they died. But Manny is having trouble getting good clients, which causes him to steal a lead on a top-notch client only to uncover a conspiracy behind the company he works for.
The premise behind this feels very original, like something Pixar would have released during their golden age. The world you interact with feels very alive and believable despite being populated by nothing but the dead. The characters are goofy and memorable, able to consistently deliver plenty of laughs and add more reason to enjoy exploring this world.
For all the praise Grim Fandango deserves, I did have three issues I feel are worth addressing. First, some areas can be too big for their own good, resulting in spending way too much time roaming around empty space. While not a huge deal, they do hurt the pacing of the game a little. Secondly, elevators are strangely tricky to activate, with one instance even causing me to get stuck in some weird elevator limbo and forcing a reload. Also last, the game only employs manual save with no checkpoints, so save often or you may have to repeat a lot.
Double Fine has always been a company I wanted to like more than I actually do. I love the style to their games, but the gameplay usually leaves something to be desired. With Grim Fandango Remastered, however, I found Tim Schaefer’s masterpiece — a game before Kickstarter, before Kinect and before Jack Black. I’m not sure if I would call it the best adventure game ever, but I certainly wouldn’t argue against anyone who does.