Grim Fandango is one of a select few games that have earned – and more importantly, deserve – a universal reputation as a true great of the medium. LucasArts’ 1998 classic is still held up as the pinnacle of the adventure game – rivalled, perhaps, only by The Longest Journey within the genre. Even if this remastered edition didn’t exist, players would still be drawn to it because of the mythic status enjoys, even if that would mean jumping through compatibility hoops and suffering through a positively prehistoric graphical experience.
Thankfully, the remaster does exist and Double Fine – headed by original writer and designer Tim Schafer – has done a marvellous job making Grim Fandango approachable for modern audiences. Improved visuals and lighting, camera-relevant controls, and a newly orchestral score all bring the tale of Manny Calavera, travel agent to the dead, bang up to date.
Schafer’s plot remains as engaging as ever, a potent mix of detective pulp noir sensibilities and Dia de los Muertos iconography that sees Manny uncover a shifty plot to short change the worthy dead on their passage to paradise. The dialogue still sparkles, pitch perfect for a Bogart film from his heyday, and it’s easy to be drawn into the world despite its wildly disparate influences.
However, while the good remains, so does the bad. Unlike most adventure games, there’s no menu or onscreen clutter, which draw you further into this strange vision of the afterlife. The downside is that – and this goes double for newer gamers used to step-by-step tutorials – it can be tricky figuring out what to do, and when. There’s no hand-holding in Grim Fandango, and the only concession it gives to its genre-mates is an inventory screen that lets you scroll through puzzle-relevant items you’ve collected, with Manny’s comments the only clue as to what they’re for.
It’s also not quite the perfect recreation of the game that it could be. Everything looks notably jagged, particularly in widescreen mode, a far cry from the crystal clear upgrade many were hoping for. Crossplay on the PlayStation formats is a nice touch, but everything looks so small on Vita that you’re unlikely to want to spend lengthy sessions on it. A shame, since the narrative nature of the game would be perfect for longer journeys.
Returning players will appreciate the raft of bonus content (including director’s commentary, the option to shift between original and remastered graphics, and a variety of aspect ratios). Too much trial and error to progress remains Grim Fandango’s biggest flaw though, and the visuals can’t help but slightly underwhelm given expectations. Still, this is undeniably a significant improvement on the experience of playing the dated original, and the game maintains its positive reputation.