A good remaster of one of the best adventure games ever to be released
Calavera, Manuel Calavera, is the man. Lucas Arts’ Grim Fandango was one of the buggiest, yet most enjoyable adventure games when it first came out in 1998. You are playing as “Manny” Calavera, grim reaper and travel agent in the Eighth Underworld, sending the freshly deceased off to their journey to the Ninth Underworld. When Manny’s latest client, Mercedes “Meche” Colomar, basically a saint during her lifetime, strangely doesn’t qualify for the premium travel pack to the next Underworld, he uncovers a vile trail of corruption, deception, and murder in the Department of Death.
The game takes inspiration from Aztec mythology and combines it with elements from film noir classics and bebop jazz music. And though highly acclaimed and often revered as a staple amongst video games, it fell flat with audiences at the time and Lucas Arts subsequently ceased to develop any further adventures, which is where this remastered version from 2015 steps in. Announced at Sony’s press event at E3 in 2014, this updated version was highly anticipated and generally well received with audiences.
The original release of Grim Fandango had players control Manny via keyboard, while this newer version let’s them freely choose between using the gamepad, the keyboard, or the (for adventure games typical) mouse. Voice acting and subtitles for all major Western languages have also been included in this version and the models as well light effects have all been refurbished. Simultaneously, players can not only switch between the original graphics and the updated ones (either by going into the menu or by pressing backspace on your keyboard), they can now also switch between a 4:3 and a stretched 16:9 aspect ratio at will. If they feel like it, can toggle between the original “tank control” scheme as well as modern control options; Other features include game’s design art and optional audio commentary from the developers. Most importantly, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra lend their talents for the soundtrack of this new version.
Downsides and Issues
What the game is definitely missing is a hint system, like the Special Editions of The Secret of Monkey Island (2009) and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (2010), for the more difficult puzzles or whenever players get stuck. A feature that Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards: Reloaded (2013) was also missing. Unlike the original, the game also limits players to “only” four save states which is comparatively restrictive considering one major flaw in this release.
Although I cannot deny how enjoyable the trip down memory lane and video game history is, the game could have done without the bugs. There were a few video sequences that would show a mainly black screen, unless one switched back to “Original Graphics” and for some players, some sections were unsolvable due to some errors. It is therefore advisable to save moderately frequently and use the different save states available.
The biggest issue with the game is that the pre-rendered story cutscenes from the original were not refurbished for this remastered version. When playing with the modern graphics, the switch to low resolution old graphics are definitely jarring at first and need getting used to.
- Does Grim Fandango hold up?
Definitely, even the side characters, especially in Rubacava, are well-rounded and the humor is spot on. If you’ve played the game before and sort of remember most of the solutions, you’ll be able to beat the game in about 10-12 hours, which makes it definitely worth the admission fee of $15 USD or your regional equivalent.
Like most Lucas Arts’ adventure games it is impossible for the protagonist to die or fail, only for the player to get stumped by a puzzle. The new control schemes also even invites veterans to do things they might not have done back when the original was first released, like trying to show your inventory to other characters and hear their often very witty reactions or songs (in Year 3, for example).
- Can/should new players pick it up?
Yeah, if you’re a fan of adventure games, Grim Fandango is definitely a game worth playing. There are no puzzles that are simply meant to lengthen the playtime (like the three cups in Monkey Island 1 to break out that one prisoner), or puzzles with seemingly arbitrary solutions for the sake of having puzzles.
The inventory cannot be filled with unnecessary objects either. So, at any point you’ll only be able to pick up or have objects that you need for the current area. However, there are one or two puzzles that require you to pay attention to your surroundings. In Year 2, you should be aware of what the announcer in the arena says in order to solve a puzzle revolving around an incriminating photo. In Year 4, so as to understand the solution to the mug puzzle (despite being easy to solve due to the very small inventory in that section, some players didn’t understand why the solution was the way it was), you might want to recall what the pink maintenance demon said while repairing the server in Year 1.
- Does it play on old computers?
Surprisingly so. It even runs with 30fps on a 32-bit Windows Vista with a GeForce 9500 GT, an Intel Duo Core processor, and 3070MB RAM without any modifications.
The game is a 9 “We’ll always have Paris” out of 10
Where to get
The original version of Grim Fandango was sold in retail stores, but this remaster is available both on Steam and Good Old Games for $14.99 USD or your regional equivalent:
Feel free to visit my Steam curator page for other reviews:
All screenshots taken by me during my playthrough and recorded using the Steam Overlay feature.