It delights me to no end to talk about Grim Fandango in 2015. I’m not alone in declaring Tim Schafer’s creation to be the best thing to come out of LucasArts and the adventure game genre’s swan song before it reemerged years later. The game blends the mysteries and thrills associated with film noir, the colorful and symbolic festivities associated with Dia de los Muertos, and a sprinkling of Schafer’s style of silliness.
Grim Fandango is a story of love, greed and murder set in the Mexican Land of the Dead. Manny Calavera works as an indentured travel agent for the Department of Death setting up travel packages for the newly departed as they prepare for their “four year journey of the soul.” Manny used to be the DoD’s top salesman until he hit a slump and forced into selling walking sticks and parcel post coffins (complete with packing foam) to low grade clients. In his pursuit for a better commission, Manny steals a work order from his rival, Domino Hurley, and picks up a saintly nurse. In doing so, he stumbles onto a nefarious conspiracy to rob souls of their just rewards.
Grim Fandango is a masterpiece of fiction with characters that shine with different, and realistic, personalities and mannerisms. These dead souls feel for one another, be it out of love or seething jealousy. When I finished the game for the first time in 1998, the ending left me a minor wreck, devastatingly saying goodbye to characters I had grown so fond of. Manny’s journey through the Land of the Dead is so heartfelt and it is a credit to Schafer and his writers for creating stories and scenarios that really draw the player into their world.
The remastered edition of Grim Fandango mostly cleans up the character textures, eliminating the jagginess and low quality JPEG feel of the original assets. Important musical cues, like the scores that play during cutscenes, have been re-recorded by a live orchestra but with the exception of the introduction music, the reworked audio wasn’t noticeable to my ears. Unfortunately, the cleaned up visuals are limited to characters and usable objects. The pre-rendered backgrounds look the same as they did in 1998. Also, some of the bugs and quirks from the original, like trying to step into an elevator, haven’t been fixed and these segments can be a trifle annoying. The game’s tank controls are a relic of a happily forgotten era and mercifully, the remaster allows you to play with a refined, camera relative scheme (if you’re going to use tank controls to earn the achievement, use the D-Pad on the controller for best results). These concerns, however, are mere quibbles in light of the bigger picture: Grim Fandango runs unassisted! This is huge, people! Trying to get the game going on a modern PC was a chore that required extracting files, jerryrigging additional applications, and passing the entire thing through a special launcher. Grim Fandango works on your PlayStation 4 and PC, and that’s all I could ever ask for. The cleaned up textures and re-orchestrated cutscene music? Delicious cherries atop an already delectable sundae.
The most exciting addition in the remaster is the inclusion of a commentary track featuring Tim Schafer, Peter McConnell and the Grim Fandango development team. The crew offers some amazing insights and fun factoids about the game’s development and remastering process. For die hard fans who have poured over the game all these years, these nuggets of behind the scenes content are valuable.
I’m so thrilled for a generation of gamers who haven’t had a chance to play Grim Fandango. The technical barriers that once made it inaccessible to a modern mainstream audience are gone and there’s no reason for anyone, first timers or veterans, to miss out on the best game of the genre.