Grim Fandango, the game everyone has heard of, but likely never played. To some, the game brings back nostalgic memories of childhood or at least times gone by, but sadly that isn’t quite close to my connection to the game. About a year or so ago, after hearing much buzz about it and adoring what I saw of the art style, I picked up a copy of the game on Steam. However, due to oddly specific system requirements that left my laptop reeling, truly investing in the remaster was a struggle. So when I came across Grim Fandango Remastered in the PlayStation 4’s Totally Digital Sale for the sweet price of £3.69, I couldn’t say no. At last, I could play the remaster without worry, and truly see if the game has stood the test of time and is still worthy of such a passionate audience.
Like all of Double Fines’ games, Grim Fandango has a story that is one part mental and two parts charming. It follows Manuel “Manny” Calavera, a salesman for the Department of Death, as he makes his way through the underworld in search of a woman he wronged, all the while accompanied by an adorable demon named Glottis. The story follows Manny through four years of his afterlife, and it does an amazing job of humanising him. From his quick-witted sarcasm to his growing need to protect those he cares for, much life (ironically) was written into Manuel, making him a lovable protagonist who most definitely trumps some of modern day’s main leads. On top of that, the game has some outstanding voice acting even by today’s standards. Tony Plana comes to mind first for his laid-back approach to Manny, and the addition of his fluency in Spanish, but other talents like Alan Blumenfeld as Glottis really bring out their characters and make them feel real.
One of the first questions people ask when faced with a remaster of a game is if the updates are worth the purchase, and it is a fair one to ask. For the most part, the additions to the game really revitalise it, adding to the already beautiful aspects of the game’s design. Improvements on elements like the lighting and shadow on the character models really show, and help relieve some of the games more dated artistic choices. However, when toggling between the remaster and the original visuals, the differences between the 2D backgrounds and perspective shots can be tricky to ascertain, at times maintaining the aforementioned dated artwork.
There is one update that vastly refines the game though, and that is the new, entirely orchestrated soundtrack. While the original music still sounds great, some instruments and chords have an obvious digital facet, and the re-attempt does away with it in favour of pure artistry that fits better with the tone and setting of the Grim Fandango. Both in and outside of the game, the soundtrack is a treat to listen to.
With so many delightful parts to it, Grim Fandango Remastered may sound like a dream to fans of narrative-driven games, but if there is a catch to the whole thing: the fact that it is an adventure game. I am aware that simply reading this will shy away a substantial group of people, and that is understandable because the game does land in some of the pitfalls. Even when following its logic, Grim Fandango has moments that are frankly frustrating, ranging from puzzles that require precise timing to deducing where to go when no clues point you a certain way.
On top of that, there appears to be a commonly shared belief that consulting an outside guide spoils the entire point of the game, and it is not being played correctly if the player approaches it with these tools. To a degree I can understand this idea; as a great feeling of victory comes when solving a puzzle unaided. However, it is my belief that there is no problem whatsoever with having a guide at hand if the game’s logic doesn’t quite match with the players, and if it allows them to get through the more irritating moments to reach the great parts such as Year Two, it is perfectly fine. Either way, a solution is reachable no matter how the game is played, though the amount of times a player will hear Manny declare ‘I don’t want to mess up my blade’ may vary.
In spite of the flaws, be it due to dated design or stressful scenarios, Grim Fandango is still, without a doubt an absolutely stunning game with so much good to give, especially in its remaster. In my opinion it warrants at least one playthrough, which isn’t that difficult to do with the game’s eight hour story. Pick it up if the positives sound worth it, and step into a world of life, death, laughs, and a great amount of heart.