Grim Fandango Remastered
Grim Fandango Remastered is, as its name implies, a remastering of the classic adventure game Grim Fandango, which was released way back in 1998. However, unlike some other old adventure games recently made new again, like Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded and the 20th anniversary edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, developer Double Fine Productions (which was founded by Grim Fandango project lead Tim Schafer) didn’t recreate the game using a new engine, and they didn’t add any new content. The remastered edition is simply the original Grim Fandango, only better.
In case you’ve never played Grim Fandango, it takes place in the Land of the Dead. You play a “travel agent” named Manny Calavera, and your job is to hook up the newly departed with a travel package so they can reach their final destination as quickly and comfortably as possible. Manny has been having a rough time recently, though, and his clients have tended to get walking canes (complete with a compass) or foam-filled caskets rather than tickets on swanky trains or ocean liners.
As the game opens up, Manny steals a good client named Meche from one of his competitors, but then is surprised to find that her travel options are much more limited than they should be. This leads to Manny realizing that something fishy is going on, and together with his demon driver-mechanic Glottis, he sets out to determine what’s going on and why — and also to rescue Meche from her predicament. This of course leads to poetry readings, sing-alongs, and domino bombs, just like you’d expect.
Grim Fandango is an excellent adventure. It has wonderful dialogue, challenging puzzles, imaginative locales, creative camera angles, and a unique premise. However, my review today isn’t about Grim Fandango (which is worth playing regardless of the version you have); it’s about the job Double Fine did in remastering it. So that’s what the review score reflects.
The remastering improvements come in three flavors: sound, graphics, and interface. Let me start with the sound. The voice acting from the original game remains the same (which is a good thing since the voice actors did a great job with their lines), but all of the music has been re-recorded using the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I went back and tried playing the original game so I could compare the new music to the old, but during the limited time I could get the original game to work, I couldn’t tell the difference. If you have a more discerning ear than I do, then maybe this is a great change, but all I can say is that it at least doesn’t hurt anything.
For the graphics, the game is still played using a 4:3 ratio (with borders added to support wide-screen monitors), and the 3D objects didn’t see any increase in their polygon counts (which means, among other things, that Glottis still looks as blocky as ever). But the textures were given a makeover so they have a higher resolution, and new lighting effects were added to improve shadows and glows (such as when Manny lights a cigarette). While you’re playing the game, you can press the backspace key to switch between the new graphics and the old, making it easy to see the difference. But again, while the graphics are improved, the improvements are subtle, and you might not notice the differences. Grim Fandango Remastered looks a whole lot like Grim Fandango.
Where the remastering effort gives the best improvement is in the interface. The original Grim Fandango strangely didn’t use the mouse at all. It had a “tank” interface where you had to use the arrow keys or numpad keys to move Manny, and where you had to use the E, U, and P keys to interact with objects. Worse, in order to detect and work with a hotspot, you had to walk Manny over to it and then get him to look at it, which was awkward and tedious, and it made exploring locations difficult.
But now in the remastered edition, you can skip the keyboard almost entirely and just use the mouse (except in a couple of places where the mouse interface doesn’t show you everything you can do, and you have to go back to tank mode). The mouse makes the game much friendlier to play, as you can scan scenes with the mouse to find the hotspots, you can double click to get Manny to run to a location, and you don’t have to remember which key to push, as the three interaction options are labeled in the interface. About the only thing missing from the interface now is some sort of a quick travel system, so you don’t have to watch Manny run / swim / climb his way from one side of a scene to the other.
Another nice “improvement” with the remastered edition is that it works just fine on modern computers and operating systems. Like I mentioned earlier, I tried going back and playing the original Grim Fandango, but I couldn’t get it to work. It kept locking up after a few minutes of play, and I couldn’t get anywhere. If I had kept at it, then maybe I could have gotten it to run properly, but the nice thing about Grim Fandango Remastered is that you don’t have to worry about all that. You can just install it and play it, and it works fine.
Along with the improvements, the remastered edition also comes with a few extras, including about 200 pieces of concept art and a “director’s” commentary during the game, which you can hear whenever a clapboard icon shows up on screen. The commentary comes from a large selection of the original Grim Fandango team, including Tim Schafer (project lead), Peter Tsaykel (lead artist), and Bret Mogilefsky (lead programmer). If you ever wondered how Frosty the Snowman influenced the game, now’s your chance to find out.
Overall, while Grim Fandango Remastered has far fewer changes in it than some of the other recently re-made adventures, it also has far less need of them. Just Grim Fandango with a mouse interface is a wonderful thing, and Grim Fandango Remastered delivers that and more. So whether you’ve played the original Grim Fandango or not, the remastered edition is a worthwhile purchase, especially at its $15 price tag.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
This review is based on a digital copy of Grim Fandango Remastered for the PC provided by Double Fine Productions.