Normally I try to include a little personalized intro that helps to explain, in some weird manner, why exactly this review exists other than the game was next in my game library. However, that was exactly the case for Grim Fandango Remastered, a game I checked out on a whim due to its level of reverence and praise, knowing nothing about the game that was not included in the initial trailer I watched about a year ago.
Grim Fandango Remastered Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), OS X, Linux, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, iOs, Android
Developer and Publisher: LucasArts and Double Fine Production
Grim Fandango’s story is one that I am actually quite hesitant to talk about. If only because, after investing ten hours into its campaign, and going through the game’s bizarre breed of logic in the form of adventure game puzzles, I can’t help but feel I ultimately missed a rather crucial element to what made this game a classic. The core elements of the story are there, with Manny Calavera being a skeleton sales representative in a Mexican noir inspired world with a healthy dose of classic Lucasarts creativity, going on a quest of redemption and justice along with a woman he unknowingly wronged and his quirky demon friend Glottis. It’s imaginative, distinct, and certainly has a clear amount of love and care from all of its staff.
However, in the larger picture, the story really does not quite add up into a nice presentable package. All of the key moments are there, and there is a storyline that ultimately makes sense from beginning to end, but the actual adventure to the end feels both understated and overly detailed. There is not a ton of explicit growth to Manny of any of his friends as he embarks on a four-year long journey, but there are dozens upon dozens of extra peripheral characters who, in the grand scheme of the story, are often very disposable. Each of them do manage to make an impression of some kind, due in no small part to the excellent voice cast of this 1998 PC title, but there is little reason to care about a character when they only exist to say a few lines before petering out into nothingness beyond their appealing personalities. There certainly are more than a handful of enjoyable moments, but the shift in location, tone, and scenario as the game goes on makes the entire experience a bit lopsided, an amalgamation of well thought out and well done ideas that are scattered throughout a game where the creators tried to fit in as much content as they could under several constraints.
It is certainly an enjoyable adventure in spite of all this, but that is often a given when exploring critically acclaimed and older adventure games, and with that, less than stellar gameplay and puzzle designs are often hand and hand. Grim Fandango is no exception, as it had abstract and difficult to understand puzzles in spades. Within the first quarter of the game, you are expected to fill two balloons with a packing fluid, and place those in a mail tube so that you may extract a lead from one of your co-workers. But in order to get in, you need to be sure to lock an open door, punch holes in a playing card, and shove that playing card in front of a mail tube so that you may read its contents. They make sense in some regards, but I have no clue how people managed to solve these puzzles without ruining the pacing of the game for them, as they really are not fun, and are mostly centered around making Manny look like a destructive nutjob.
In Grim Fandango, the main character commits corporate espionage and theft, destroys private property, fakes a man’s death, fuels his friend’s drinking problem, twice, blackmails a lawyer, fuels the formation of a labor union after hearing one side of the story, abandons dozens of skeleton slaves, and abuses a woman’s trust so he can steal her metal detector. It asks a lot from the player, and many of these actions seem a little out of character for someone who is portrayed as a rather upstanding skeleton. This may be a genre trope that I am simply unfamiliar with, but it is distracting regardless.
I truly do believe that the most enjoyable part of playing this game was weirdly walking around through the numerous prerendered backgrounds and seeing the artistic vision and talent behind them past their, by modern standards, low resolution. The angles are excellent, and there is quite a lot of imagination employed in these backdrops that really does enhance the experience. The character models held up pretty well given their simplistic designs, as every one has some distinctive feature, and all of the skeletons manages to look good in spite of the restrictions of the time. Excluding the more monstrous character with abnormal body types, who look very disjointed and weird due to these restrictions. I don’t know, something about Glottis just never looked quite right to me, and I don’t know how that Purple Bulgarian ape demon is suppose to even function.
Though, the models look good partially because they could be restored, while the full motion video cutscenes could not, and they look disproportionate and notably worse than any other part of the game. Heck, I’m pretty sure they were converted into film based on the number of imperfections I witnessed. The game is a mismatch of new and obsolete technology, which certainly gives the game its own unique charm, but it is also a relic from a bygone age, one that thankfully has been given some minor adjustments to make sure that it can at least be played by future generations without jumping through any absurd hoops.
In the end, Grim Fandango Remastered is an odd little curiosity that I have had a passive interest in since I first heard it, and while I can understand why it accumulated so much praise and adoration back in its heyday, I was also pretty underwhelmed by it. It was an enjoyable little ten hour tale that I do not regret playing, but I did not find it to be a long lost classic or anything as grandiose. The game is a scrapbook of concepts and ideas that do work to create a cohesive and enjoyable game, but not as well as I had expected.