Grim Fandango Remastered
Publisher: Double Fine Productions (Originally by LucasArts)
Developer: Double Fine Productions (Originally by LucasArts)
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Release Dates: 27 Jan, 2015 (EU & NA)
Price: 14,99€ (Steam)
Grim Fandango Remastered is a rerelease of the 1998 PC classic and I am calling it that because it barely does anything to earn the "remastered" branding, but despite that it is still an enjoyable adventure game, be it with quite a few annoyances that came with the late 90s hardware era, which still haven't been addressed in this version. If you've never played Grim Fandango before, the story follows Manny Calavera and his journey across the eight underworld, meeting interesting characters, each with their own personal agenda, including his love interest Meche. The entire world of Grim Fandango is built around a modern concept of the afterlife, where each soul ends up in the eight underworld where they have to spend various amounts of time depending on their accumulated sins during their lifetime, only to get a chance to move on to the ninth underworld afterwards. Since apparently not even the afterlife is safe from bureaucratic shenanigans each lost soul is assigned to a travel agent, whose sole job is to help them find the best way across the eight underworld depending on their profile and selecting the best travel packages available for each candidate, with the worst option being The Excelsior Line which is basically just a walking stick with a compass where souls must find their own way, and the best option being the Number Nine train which is an express railway straight to the ninth underworld.
Courtesy of a mistake that I will let you discover for yourself in the first 15 minutes, the story picks up when Manny's client Celso Flores gets The Excelsior Line even though she was qualified for the best package, leading to Manny's dismissal from the job and a few moments later his recruitment into the resistance led by Salvador Limones. Since adventures are better shared with companions, Glottis, a mechanic demon decides to join Manny as his driver and so they set on an adventure to make it to the ninth underworld while uncovering a nefarious scheme along the way, which resulted in many souls having their Number Nine train ticket stolen. On the way you will meet a bunch of different characters each enjoying the eight underworld in their own way, as the world is filled with clubs, bars and gambling dens, making some people not want to move on to the ninth underworld at all.
The biggest problem with Grim Fandango's world and story is that your objective is never quite clear, each year you will end up in a different area with a bunch of different sections where you must figure out which item interacts with what and where you're supposed to be next. This might not be a problem for people who have played old school adventure games and enjoy the type of game where this constant search for your next objective is part of the gameplay and especially it won't be a problem for those who have previously finished the game when it originally came out, but I could easily see someone picking this game up for the first time now and giving up at some point and just looking up a walkthrough in order to proceed, since there is no map, no quest log and a lot of times item interactions don't make sense at first.
The truth is that the majority of Grim Fandango's gameplay has been corrupted by the passage of time, as even a genre as simplistic as point and click adventure has evolved quite a lot since the 90s and things like fixed camera angles, 3D models over a 2D background and tank controls have been long gone in modern games. This is not necessarily a critique since Grim Fandango can still be quite an enjoyable experience for people looking for a trip down memory lane when it comes to adventures games, but it is something that I feel should be mentioned above everything else, since it might detour some people who are not used to older games. Its age aside, Grim Fandango can be quite a confusing game at times, since not all item interactions make sense and you could spend literally hours running in circles trying to figure out what you're supposed to do with that one item in order to progress forward, but since we're no longer in the 90s the solution to your perplexity is always one Google search away if you get tired of running around trying to figure it out yourself, nonetheless a hint system would've been a nice addition to avoiding pausing the game every time you want to look something up.
One thing that is still very much enjoyable today is the character interaction, just a quick look over the achievements shows how many optional conversations you can have with different characters, which are either triggered by giving them an item or responding in a specific way during a dialogue, and the comedic moments are definitely the star of the show here, smartly integrating humor in almost each character conversation. Originally the game had no gamepad support whatsoever since no console version existed, that has been addressed with this release and the movement control has 2 different settings: tank controls and camera relevant; even though there is an achievement encouraging you to play the game with tank controls I wouldn't advise you to do that if this is your first playthrough since it will most likely ruin your experience with the game a bit, but it is a cool feature to have if you want to keep the authentic feel of the original game. Playing with the camera relevant controls feels much better and closer to the modern equivalent of point and click games, but since the game still has those fixed camera angles in each scene, it can still be quite tricky and you will accidentally go back to the previous scene a lot at least until you get used to it. The fact that the game is now playable with a controller is certainly good news, but if you want the best control scheme, mouse and keyboard remains your best option.
Now here's the problem with the "remastered" part in the title of this game, in addition to the previously aforementioned modern movement scheme the only actual additions to the original version are the modern character models and the upscaling of the backgrounds in each scene to support higher resolutions, since none of the standard resolutions we use nowadays existed in '98. Since those backgrounds are not redesigned, they are just low resolution images from over 20 years ago that have been upscaled to HD, 4K or whatever resolution you're playing on in between, playing this game on a 4K screen especially shows how pixelated and overall low quality those images really are, and since the background is the majority of the scene, as your character is literally walking on top of a still image that leads to overall poor graphical quality. The main reason why I think slapping the word "remastered" to this rerelease is pushing it is the fact that you have an option in game to switch between the original look and the remastered version, where you can clearly see that the only difference is the character model, which isn't even that modern honestly, but it does certainly help not having to look at a pixelated skeleton face.
Luckily all the voice actors are still here and their lines sound even better thanks to some amazing mastering work, with Tony Plana taking on the lead role of Manny Calavera, supported by a great cast of side characters, with Glottis being voiced by Alan Blumenfeld and Salvador Limones by Sal Lopez. The music has also been remastered and sounds great, however the sound effects for some item usages or interactions seem to have been neglected and sound quite a bit off when next to the other audio aspects that have been reworked. Nonetheless that epic theme song will still greet you each time you boot up the game and the more calm musical tones will always be in the background during gameplay.
As most point and click adventure games are, this is also a one time shot experience, unless you missed some achievements during your first playthrough and want to give it another go, but there is only one ending and the game isn't that long to begin with, however as I mentioned before if you decide to finish the entire game without looking up anything online you can add a few more hours of searching and experimenting with items to the normal playthrough time, but even so an average playthrough shouldn't take longer than 10-12 hours.
Grim Fandango Remastered is yet another old school game in a never-ending basket of older titles receiving ports with the word "Remastered" slapped next to it, it is in no way a bad one since Grim Fandango is still a fantastic adventure game, but a questionable remaster since the game has only addressed the audio and character models, leaving the biggest issues of the era such as camera controls, invisible walls and overall graphics quality unresolved.