- + Interesting story, with colourful characters
- + Great art direction, presenting a charming, yet disturbing world
- + Remaster's directors' commentary is insightful
- - Puzzles almost too hard without help
Want to look beyond the score? Read the full written review below…
In the middle of Sony’s E3 2014 press conference, I watched with intrigue as Grim Fandango Remastered was announced, with a huge roar of the crowd filling the room. Originally being released in 1998 for PC, for one reason or another, it’s been virtually impossible for anyone to find it since. But after a few strokes of luck (rights to the license were with the now-closed Lucasarts), original game director Tim Schafer has remastered the game with his own studio, Double Fine, allowing fans of the original to rejoice, while waving a big hello to newcomers, myself included.
Anytime I review a game I try my hardest to complete it before giving my final verdict, however, Fandango proved to be a slightly different process for me. I’m not an adventure game veteran, the only titles I’ve played closest to this are TellTale’s episodic games. Of course your aim in those is to click on everything in sight and eventually find out what you need to do next. I’ve found them easy to get into and relatively simple to progress through, but Grim Fandango pushed this click and collect mantra to a whole new level.
For some reason I couldn’t work out how to progress without using a walkthrough. There’s no way I’d have ever considered using one in a review before, though here I was quite literally stumped on how to progress, pretty much from the offset. After getting to the end of Year Two (there are four in total that cut the game into quarters), it was easy to come to a conclusion. I understand it might be a controversial decision but with time constraints and the same pattern of gameplay, it made sense.
If you’re reading this as one of the many unaware of Fandango’s legendary status, here’s a quick skim over the story. You play as Manuel “Manny” Calavera, working in the Land of the Dead and operating as the Grim Reaper within a facility called the Department of Death. With the underlying role of a travel agency, the Department of Death’s main job is to provide the best travel package available to souls that pass through, eventually getting them to the Ninth Underworld. The quality of life a soul has led will have consequences on their package. If they had a good life without much sin, then expect a ticket on the Number Nine train, taking only four minutes to reach the Ninth Underworld. Having had a sinful life may well put you on the path to your destination on foot, taking four years, not four minutes. Through many twists and turns, Manny must use the space where his brain used to be and try to make it out of the Land of the Dead, overcoming obstacles along the way.
I absolutely loved the art direction of the game, with a great mix of neo-noir inspired locations, and a newly-added orchestrated soundtrack to boot. Pretty much all of the game is created using pre-rendered backgrounds, and the only notable change from the original is the updated character models. By clicking down an analogue stick on PS4 you’ll immediately be taken back to the original’s graphics, something which veterans of the game will love. I was surprised by how well the pre-rendered backgrounds have held up, particularly for a game over fifteen years old. Most of the characters you interact with are of a Mexican or Spanish origin, and it helps give the game another unique flavour. Taking part in conversations is vital and you’ll learn a lot through interaction with other people. Each time you enter a lengthy conversation you’ll be treated by a selection of dialogue. I more often than not chose to click all of them and get as much info as possible.
There’s something about Fandango that always wanted me to progress, despite the use of a walkthrough. There were plenty of times I wanted to pull my hair out, but it didn’t matter, I always wanted to see what happened next. The voice acting is superb and each character has a real sense of personality, which is often backed up by their particularly edgy design. The remaster features a more fluid control mechanic, opposite its original tank controls. Much like the recent Resident Evil remaster, you can still change back to them for nostalgia, but expect a far slower pace. The added directors’ commentary is also a very cool addition, complete with many of the original team, you get to learn a lot about the technical magic at work, proving how at the time Fandango pushed the boundaries in almost every area.
This game packs a tonne of value when it comes to longevity and quality. Your whole journey is basically one huge puzzle. I have no idea how people would’ve progressed back upon its original release. The Internet was hardly what it is today, and I’m sure it must have taken some people months to progress. How would I have known to get two empty balloons from clown, fill them up with another item, put them through a tube to break a machine – not to mention remember to dead-lock a door to stop it from closing. To any veteran of the series it’s more than likely another day in their adventure gaming life, but to me it was near-impossible. Yet with all of the complexities, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If there were messages and arrows pointing me where to go next, it’d probably ruin what makes the game so great.
I can clearly see why Grim Fandango is a cult favourite. It has a plethora of interesting and funny characters, wrapped together with an interesting story and countless puzzles to overcome. If you’re a die-hard fan of the original then I shouldn’t need to recommend this remaster to you. If you’re newcomer such as myself, I’m more than willing to suggest you take a risk and experience a classic. There will be times you get stuck, but through persistence (or the help of a guide), you’ll find yourself eager to reach the end of the journey and soak in the beautiful aesthetics and charming atmosphere. As for me, it looks as though my travel package through the game is the four year route, though rest assured I’m going to make it to the Ninth Underworld, even if it kills me.