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I’m in the weird position of having to review my favorite game.
Grim Fandango originally came out for PC in 1998. It was clever, funny, beautiful, and exciting. Even though it wasn’t initially a huge commercial success, it earned plenty of love from critics (like me now) and adventure gaming fans (like me then). Now, it’s getting a facelift thanks to Double Fine Production’s Grim Fandango Remastered, which is out today for PlayStation 4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Now, if you really wanted to point (and click — ha) a gun to my head and make me score this masterpiece, I’d be very tempted to heap as much praise on it as possible. However, the actual remastering does produce a few flaws for me to talk about.
What you’ll like
Still a classic
Grim Fandango is as wonderfully imaginative today as it was in 1998. You play as Manny, a grim reaper/travel agent who works in the afterlife. He eventually gets caught up in a web of lies and intrigue, resulting in a years-long journey for redemption and justice.
Being an adventure game, Grim Fandango is more about puzzles than action. You have to explore your environments, collect items, and talk to strange characters if you want to progress. If that sounds dull, it shouldn’t. The hilarious script constantly keeps things entertaining, and Manny is as likable a lead as you’ll find in any game.
Grim Fandango manages to skip around genres. It’s largely a comedy, but it has a sincerity and darkness that makes it much loftier than a Monkey Island or Space Quest. Really, it’s an epic, largely thanks to the scale and scope of the game’s world and adventure.
New control options
In the original Grim Fandango, you controlled Manny much like you would a tank. He could turn left and right and move forward and backward. Thankfully, these new versions give you more options. You can now move around with full analog control on every platform. The computer versions include point-and-click controls that will feel familiar to any fan of old-school adventure games. The Vita has a similar control scheme that uses the portable’s touch screen.
Honestly, each of these new options feel better than the original tank controls. You no longer have to waste time turning Manny left or right. Sure, the static camera can make the analog controls a little cumbersome since moving to a new scene changes your directional reference. Still, even after you waste a second adjusting, you’re getting around a lot faster than you would have in 1998.
Some of the new stuff
Grim Fandango always had a great, jazzy score. For the Remastered edition, Double Fine rerecorded the soundtrack with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It sounds fantastic, and the music beautifully blends from scene to scene.
The Remastered version also comes with developer commentary. When turned on, you can listen to banter from the game’s original staff. It’s a fun feature for anyone who loves Grim Fandango or has an interest in game design.
What you won’t like
Not very remastered
Grim Fandango’s visuals did get an upgrade for the Remastered edition, but don’t expect a shocking difference. The character models look cleaner and the lighting is a lot fancier, but that’s it. Anything that was pre-rendered, including all of the backgrounds and cutscenes, looks exactly like it did in 1998. Thankfully, the backgrounds still hold up pretty well, but the cinematics are definitely showing their age.
I have to be honest. When I was originally playing it on the Vita, I barely noticed a difference at all. You can switch between the new and original graphics by pressing a button, but I could really only notice the new lighting on the Vita’s tiny screen. When I turned on the PC version, the high-res character models were much more noticeable.
Also, since the backgrounds aren’t updated, Grim Fandango isn’t available in a widescreen format (unless you stretch out the standard 4:3 ratio). Instead, you’ll either have to live with black or decorative borders on the side.
A few bugs
I mostly played Grim Fandango Remastered on the Vita, and I experienced a few bugs. A lot of them were small and graphical. A plume of smoke would appear behind a character’s head when they puffed on a cigarette when it should have been in front of them. Small objects, like cups, would flicker annoyingly. These problems always went away when I went back to the original graphics.
I also suffered at least one game-crashing bug late in the last quarter of my adventure. Since Grim Fandango doesn’t auto-save, I had to spend a little time backtracking to make up the lost progress.
Grim Fandango is still one of the best stories anyone has ever told in a game. If you’ve never played the original, the convenience of a multiplatform release (and the better control options) really should push you to finally try this classic.
If you’re an old fan, don’t expect the visual upgrades to blow you away. Sure, Grim Fandango definitely looks better, but it’s not as significant an update as you’d get from Resident Evil HD or Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. But it’s still Grim-freaking-Fandango, the greatest adventure game ever made. And, after playing it for the dozenth time thanks to this new release, I can still happily confirm that it’s my favorite game of all time.
Double Fine provided GamesBeat with codes for the PlayStation 4, Vita, and Steam versions of the game for the purposes of this review.