The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for…
Wonderfully written; Eclectic cast and delightful visual style; perfect upgrade of the original that maintains everything that made it special while offering unobtrusive quality of life improvements
Poison Mushroom for…
Slower pace might turn off some, as well as the retro visuals
LucasArts is a name that many gamers of a certain age are likely to remember with fondness. There are plenty of Star Wars titles like Rogue Squadron that fans will probably immediately think of when reminiscing about LucasArts, but of equal importance are the studio’s more original offerings, which provided equally powerful experiences and memories over the course of its 31-year history as a developer. One title that lands firmly in this category is Grim Fandango. Released in 1998, the game pushed the boundaries of the adventure genre while also simultaneously sounding its death-knell. Grim Fandango was beloved by the critics and fans that played it, but it was also a massive commercial failure for LucasArts that ultimately pushed the company away from developing adventure games.
LucasArts ceased to be a game development house in 2013 and subsequently jettisoned some of the franchises formerly under the company’s purview, including Grim Fandango. Tim Schafer, the head of developer Double Fine and director of Grim Fandango, worked in tandem with Sony to help bring the title back under his control. Successful in this endeavor, Schafer then worked diligently to produce Grim Fandango Remastered, an improved version of the original boasting better graphics and controls to be released on contemporary gaming consoles. Now, Grim Fandango Remastered is on Switch, and all y’all need to give it a download.
Grim Fandango Remastered follows the exploits of a travel salesman in the Land of the Dead. Manuel “Manny” Calavara is that salesman, a short, insightful fellow who just so happens to be an ambulatory skeleton in a suit. Manny’s Spanish accent mixes very well among the abundant throngs of Dia de Los Muertos calacas (candy skulls, skeletons, etc.) that are so predominant in Grim Fandango‘s visual design. Mixed with bits of art deco and noir design cues, the juxtaposition of all these different aesthetics coalesces into an immensely pleasing whole, evoking movies like The Maltese Falcon while also incorporating a pinch of Latin flair. It’s a bold, unique approach that still feels fresh today. As a Mexican-American, I couldn’t help but be amused at hearing someone like Manny in a video game, and I also appreciated the fact that he’s never once portrayed as a pandering stereotype.
For this remastered version of Grim Fandango, all of the original game assets have been modified for modern screens. Everything displays in 1080p while also boasting better textures and optional aspect ratios depending on the player’s tastes. While it will be easier for most people to appreciate the art direction of Grim Fandango Remastered versus its original form, some might still gripe about its polygonal character models and old-school pre-rendered backgrounds. While Schafer and company could have opted to build Grim Fandango from the ground up, they instead chose to preserve the general look and feel of the ’98 version of the game, a decision I totally support.
It’s easy to forget, what with praise for games like Shovel Knight so commonplace these days, but there was a time when pixel graphics weren’t looked at with such fondness. Many pundits saw pixels as archaic relics of the consoles of old. Today, the same sort of myopic mentality is levied at polygons from the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era of gaming. It’s a ridiculously limited way of looking at video games and something that you won’t find in any of my reviews. Grim Fandango Remastered‘s polygons are beautiful and its pre-rendered backdrops equally so. It’s reminiscent of the original trilogy of Resident Evil games on PS1 but (ironically) nowhere near as grim. I can’t gush enough over how pretty this game is.
Grim Fandango Remastered plays as well as it looks. As Manny tries to uncover the secret behind the conspiracy surrounding him, players are able to interact with a number of different characters and elements within the game world. Like the best adventure games, there’s a bunch of stuff to see and do, and logically trying to determine what goes where or with whom to speak next is the crux of all the fun. All of the puzzles are cleverly designed and engender a true sense of gratification when solved. Perhaps even more importantly, though— how many games ask players to pick out balloon animals for crying out loud?! It’s all part of the quirky, unique vibe of Grim Fandango Remastered.
Perhaps because of the nature of adventure games like these, Grim Fandango Remastered doesn’t have the fastest pace. It’s a methodical adventure through the Land of the Dead, which means that those without the wherewithal to sit and become ensconced in Manny’s world might have trouble sticking through to the end. For those willing to invest in this layered, meaty adventure, however, Grim Fandango Remastered is as relevant and fun as ever. Indeed, the fact that games like this are still the exception speaks volumes about the lack of progress the industry has seen in terms of diversifying the types of experiences that are available to fans. If you never had the chance to play Grim Fandango when it first released or are due for a return visit, give Remastered a download.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.