Grim Fandango Remastered Review

No one knows what happens after you slip from the mortal coil. Of course there are ideas from all over, with some beliefs suggesting you either go to paradise or to Hell depending on your actions in life. Others believe that you come back in a different form. In the universe of Grim Fandango if you’ve committed some sins you’re destined to work them off before moving on, unless you’ve been particularly bad. Of course if you’ve already played this you know all that, but for the uninitiated welcome to Grim Fandango Remastered.

First released in 1998 Grim Fandango tells the story of Manny Calavera, a dead guy who is trying to work off his time so he can move on. Pretty soon though everything changes, after Mercedes Colomar, aka Meche, walks through his office doors, and he finds that a major conspiracy is taking place. Soon Manny is on the search for answers, taking him to various corners of the Land Of The Dead. Along the way he’ll meet a varied cast a characters who will either help or hinder him.

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Grim Fandango is a classic adventure title which won’t be overt with the clues it hands you to solve puzzles. The key is to pick everything up, listen to what the other inhabitants of the world say, observe their actions, and don’t expect the most obvious solution. You might not know right away why you need a balloon shaped in the image of poet Robert Frost, or some nitrogen, but it all comes in handy. The puzzles vary in difficulty and some will require you to backtrack across locations, while others can be worked out very quickly.

There were times where I was left scratching my head and walking/sprinting around the different areas trying to find an item that I may have missed to move on. There were times where I did get a bit frustrated with solutions sometimes feeling they were way outside the box. Now and again the solution almost felt too absurd. While that in itself was actually kind of expected I found the pace of Manny’s stride could really break immersion because of how slow he would move across the screen. I found myself occasionally just checking other things like my emails on my phone while I waited for Manny to trek across a bridge. At least his destinations usually turned up something worthwhile.

In terms of the actual remastering of the game there are improvements visually for the character models which certainly look smoother, but there are only slight improvements in textures for the environments.  You can easily see the difference as there is the option to switch between the original look and the remaster. You can also choose to play the game in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect, though I recommend the 4:3 view since 16:9 makes the game look very stretched.  The remaster also features some dynamic lighting, so you can see Manny’s face light up as he ignites a cigarette undersea. The music has also been re-recorded by The Melbourne Symphony, and that really does add to the atmosphere of this neo-noire styled world.

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The remaster isn’t without its problems however. For the most part everything ran smoothly but there were three locations I noted where performance took a huge nose dive. The first is a club called The Blue Casket, which when I visited everything slowed down, and the music stuttered. It was quite frustrating because when clicking on something that input would take a few seconds to register. The same problems were faced in the high roller’s club, and the dock of Rubacava. The voice track and screen animations also didn’t always match up with character’s mouths moving, with the words following a couple of seconds later. It should be noted though that Double Fine were still working on the game’s performance this week.

One of the things that makes Grim Fandango memorable is the humour throughout the script, from Manny’s own observations to the way the rest of the characters reacted to his actions. The voice acting holds up well and the delivery of the lines often had me laughing. Double Fine managed to capture something quite unique in the bizarre normality of this world, where some of the situations shouldn’t make sense but do. You wouldn’t generally expect skeletons to get tattoos, but in Grim Fandango you don’t even bat an eye at it. However, and some fans may hate me for this, I found the character of Glottis to be a bit too annoying, especially his constant car-noise making shenanigans. Of course it fits his character, but the noises he made could be very distracting while trying to do something. I muted the sound a few times.

What’s Good:

  • The humour is brilliant, and the voice acting holds up.
  • The character models and dynamic lighting look good.
  • The reworked score by The Mebourne Symphony sounds fantastic.
  • The puzzles are challenging and make you think outside the box.

What’s Bad:

  • Manny’s pace is clunky.
  • Some technical issues, like framerate drops.
  • Glottis is quite an annoying character.

Grim Fandango is considered a great game almost 17 years after its release due to various reasons, though the main one has to be the humour within. It’s a game that makes you laugh out loud, and Manny is a great lead character.  I do enjoy noire-esque stories, and Grim Fandango is something like that. If you like adventure games then it is definitely worth playing Grim Fandango Remastered, be it a replay or for the first time. However there are a few technical issues that need to be addressed including the voice and lip syncs being way out in some cases, as well as the frame rate drops within a couple of the game’s locations. Having said that, whilst Grim Fandango Remastered isn’t perfect it is certainly an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Score: 8/10

Version Tested: PC

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15 Comments

  1. I’m intrigued having never played the original but I’m completely put off by puzzles that I usually get stuck on and backtracking to get answers to problems. Shame because I like the basic premise, but any game that I need to refer to a guide to progress puts me off these days, I just find that frustrating. Nice review Aran.

  2. Oh, another Remaster – knock me down with a feather. Presumably there have been some rather good technology advancements in 17 years, and yet it still has frame-rate issues, and the “voice and lip syncs being way out in some cases” isn’t really good enough, no?

    I love Double Fine but I’m a bit annoyed after they offered zero update on the release of Costume Quest 2 on PS4 (in Europe). An official statement, Tweet wouldn’t have been that difficult. Not sure I’ll pick this up.

  3. This is where sentimentality in review becomes interesting.
    Now don’t take me wrong, I loved Grim Fandango. But just thing, if this was a brand new game with a brand new franchise and had:
    – slow, frustrating, clunky movement
    – technical issues despite not being graphically outstanding
    – annoying characters
    – puzzles so obtuse they become annoying
    – plenty backtracking (combined with slow movement)
    Would it really get an 8/10?

    That’s the big question regarding remastered,p games, should they be reviewed against their original peers or their current peers. Should they be reviewed with rose tinted glasses.
    As I noted I loved the original game. But if I didn’t already know Grim Fandango from my youth, and I read that review, I just wouldn’t be able to link the words in the review to the score at the end of the review.

    • I never played the original. I gave it an 8 in the end because the other issues were minor. It is quite difficult, as you note, on choosing how to review a remaster like this. In the end I kept it in mind that this was a product of its time, so not to expect modern gameplay ideas in it.

      • I hope it was clear that I wasn’t criticising your review at all.
        Just acknowledging that reviews for remasters of older games are particularly tricky.
        What would be interesting, given the time, would be to review a game like this based on the peers of its time (as you did above) and then have a contra-review based on how it holds up against its peers of today.
        But then again all reviews are inherently subjective so it’ll always boil down to differences of opinion either way!

    • It is an interesting idea to consider. Adventure games are a lot different now compared to what they were.

      Don’t feel I was offended either. I like it when reviews generate discussion.

  4. I loved the original and still own it. it still plays as well as it did before, I’ll be giving this a miss unless I can pick it up for under a fiver

  5. Now this is a remaster I can get behind, the original was years ago, multiple gens of hardware. Also the love the community has for it has endured, making it a true classic I’d say…

    Not like Sleeping Dogs and bloddy boobie raider….

  6. I’m able to play old games without holding them too much to modern standards, but for a remaster of a game from the late nineties to have performance issues is damn near inexcusable. It’s a real shame they’ve not worked out a true 16:9 ratio either. Perhaps a remake would have been better?

    I was planning on getting the Vita version, but now I’ll get the PS4 one on a sale.

    • So to clear things up, performance issues and 4:3 is fine in the old version, available digitally on PCs. Being a remaster raises my expectations.

      I’m still very interested, but if the PC version has issues, I’m not trusting the Vita one.

  7. Really excited about this. I’ve got the original “big box” copy sat in front of me now, one of the best tales and world of any game ever.

    Just curious, when controlling Manny do you still spin on the spot or have they updated the controls as well?

    • You have the option to use the old tank controls. In fact if you’re going for the platinum you’re required to.

      • Thanks for that. Not to bothered about trophies, but do I go for Vita or PC? Or both!?

  8. Great review, this has definitely made me more excited to play this game. Given the rise in popularity of ‘point and click’ adventures from Telltale Games it will be interesting to see how many people connect with one of the originals of the genre.

  9. Great review, just a small note tho, holding R1 makes u run ;)

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