Released: 29 October 2020
Originally Released: 30 October 1998
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Original Developer: LucasArts
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
A Brief Background:
Grim Fandango was the brainchild of noted creator Tim Schafer, whose success with Full Throttle (LucasArts, 1995) allowed him to pitch a surreal, Day of the Dead-inspired concept that LucasArts hoped would revitalise the declining graphic adventure game genre. Despite initially being a PC-excusive title, Grim Fandango received widespread critical acclaim. For my part, I had been aware of the game thanks to gaming magazines and its enduring reputation as a much-loved title but it wasn’t until the Remastered version of the game became available on Xbox One that I actually got the chance to play, and finish, it for myself.
Grim Fandango Remastered is a truly unique videogame with an equally unique concept; taking place in the Land of the Dead, players control a Grim Reaper, Manuel “Manny” Calavera, who is actually more like a corporate travel agent who inhabits a very film noir-style version of the afterlife.
The game takes a very bare-bones approach to its mechanics and interface; with no heads-up display (HUD) clogging up the screen, the game’s unique graphical style gets a chance to shine front and centre. Like the early Resident Evil titles (Capcom, 1996 to 2000), Grim Fandango utilises 3D models over static, pre-rendered backgrounds that must be interacted with to find objects, acquire clues, or advance the story. Unlike in those games, though, there’s very little in the way of onscreen prompts to point you in the direction you need to go, meaning that you have to interact with non-playable characters (NPCs) to figure out what’s going on.
The world of Grim Fandango is populated by a wide variety of 1940/1950-inspired clichés, such as molls, femme fatales, gangsters, and the like, all of whom are skeletons within the Land of the Dead. When you talk to them, you are given a wide variety of dialogue options and conversations can drag on (…and on) for some time, fleshing out the world and the characters and delivering important exposition that you need to pay attention to or else you’ll end up wandering in circles. Helpfully, you can skip these dialogue sequences with the push of a button to speed things up, which is very useful on replays or if you make a mistake but can easily mean you miss out on vital information (as I did).
Perhaps fittingly, there’s no danger of losing, dying, or getting a game over here; there’s only a handful of moments where Manny takes any kind of damage or gets into a fight so you don’t need to worry about searching for health, power-ups, or extra lives. Unfortunately, a great deal of the game’s focus is on obtuse puzzles, which are solved either by acquiring and using certain items and bringing them to NPCs, performing frustrating time-sensitive tasks, and a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error puzzle. Manny can hold a wide variety of objects in his suit or cloak but the most useful and versatile of these is his scythe, which can be used to hook out of reach objects and interact with the environment. However, I found that, a lot of the time, I was holding objects with no idea of how to use them and questioning whether I would actually have been able to figure out how to progress without a guide.
To be fair, I did complete the game but, to be brutally honest, I didn’t enjoy it all that much and I was forced to turn to a guide soon into my play time. I managed to recruit the demon Glottis as my driver, visit the living world (which was a surrealist nightmare), and get into the office of Manny’s boss using the window but then found myself running around in the lobby and the few rooms available to me trying to figure out what to do with the assortment of balloon animals I had on me.
As a result, I turned to a guide and, following it, proceeded to skip and rush though all of the game’s dialogue, story, and sequences in order to earn all of its Achievements. When I first started the game and saw that it was much different to what I expected (I thought it was a noir-style murder mystery but it turned out to be much more about Manny’s existential crisis and misadventures), I wasn’t expecting to actually enjoy or finish the game but, thanks to this approach, was able to blast through it in a day or so.
Of course, the downside was that I largely missed out on the story and the more immersive aspects of the game but I found that it wasn’t really gripping me from the start, to be honest. As impressive as the game looks and as unique as its aesthetic style and concept is, I found the story a bit more convoluted than I expected and I was incredibly put off by some of the more frustrating puzzles. As I mentioned, there are times when it seems impossible to figure out what to do, like when you’re running around in a desolate forest trying to place a road sign in a pixel-perfect spot, or the puzzles were just needlessly annoying, such as lugging a giant axe around in a bathroom or desperately trying to move locks on a safe door or sing along with some literal worker bees.
I went into Grim Fandango Remastered excited to experience this cult classic of a game, was impressed by is visuals and unique concept, but quickly became overwhelmed by the lack of direction and confusing elements. I’m all for being given a lot of leeway with exploration and experimentation but Grim Fandango was a little outside of my comfort zone. I can definitely see what people liked about it and I’m sure that fans of this genre of game were probably well in their element but, for all its impressive voice acting, innovation, and imagination, I can’t say that I was inspired to come back to the game after earning all of the Achievements.
Are you a fan of Grim Fandango? How do you feel the Remastered version holds up to the original? What did you think to the game’s unique visual style and concept? Did you also struggle with the puzzles and figuring out what to do or were you fully immersed in the experience? Would you recommend that I revisit the game someday and play it properly to actually get a better idea of the story and characters or did you, too, simply blast through it to grab some easy Achievements? Whatever your thoughts on Grim Fandango, feel free to leave a comment down below.