Review: Grim Fandango Remastered

Feb
23

Review: Grim Fandango Remastered

Although it’s a beloved classic, a point and click game that requires a walkthrough to play has missed the mark in a crucial area. Unfortunately though, the developers didn’t take this opportunity to sharpen an older game that’s not aged gracefully.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-Player
Genres: Point n Click
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: 26 January, 2015

First Impressions

I got Grim Fandango Remastered (GFR) from a monthly Humble Bundle deal, knowing nothing about the game at all. However, it received strong reviews on Steam, and turns out to be a highly acclaimed game from 1998. Though the positive reviews were a factor in my interest in the game, most of it stemmed from the visuals, as I really liked the look of a skeleton/Grim Reaper in a business suit. Swanky. On that basis, I decided to give this game a shot, and to find out why it had gotten the remaster treatment.

So uh… what are you looking at there, Manny?

Gameplay

GFR is a point and click game, and despite coming out in the late 90’s, it more or less follows the conventions you’d expect from that genre. Guiding the protagonist, players will speak with NPCs, gathering up spare items whenever possible, and finding creative ways to use them as solutions to hindrances. Who knew talking with people, rummaging through trash, and bartering could accomplish so much? Being in the underworld doesn’t make as many changes as you might expect, though it does surface in a few areas. For example, when recovering a demon heart or fending off burning beavers.

I hadn’t realized people looked so hideous back in the good ol’ days.

There’s a few problems with the game’s design though. It’s functional, but having to scroll through Manny’s inventory each time instead of having an inventory bar is less than ideal. If nothing else, being able to see all the items available helps the player consider their options while walking around. Along with the inventory, I found the scythe to be aggravating in the sense that I never knew what its limitations were. There were times it might have been handy to whip it out to slash or break something, but it was used sporadically and in ways I wouldn’t think of, such as to help open a vault. This issue applied to some items in general, as it wouldn’t always be clear what they were capable of, like the balloons. That’s why it didn’t take me too long to decide to play the game while following a guide the entire time.

I’ll give you 3 guesses what this is used for.

Controls

It’s possible to play this game using a controller, but I wouldn’t recommend it. As a point and click game, it’s designed around those mechanics, so it’s easier just to use the mouse as intended. There’s no problems with this control scheme after all. If you double click on the screen, it’ll make Manny run towards that area. Some locations are large and somewhat sparse, so even while running, it can still take a while to traverse so much space.

Welcome to Mario Kart!

Story

The main character of GFR is Manny, who is a Grim Reaper. However, going to the recently deceased person and escorting them to the underworld is only the first half of the job. From there, he serves as a travel agent, trying to sell them on the most luxurious accommodations they can afford to get to the next realm of the great beyond. I don’t really get how this would be his responsibility though, because a person’s ability to afford the best means of travel revolves around how righteous they were while alive. He can’t upsell a wicked person a package beyond their means, and there’s no reason why someone who warrants a better ride would snub it. Regardless, this issue makes up the conflict in the opening act, as Manny deals with a coworker who seems to be getting all the good leads. It doesn’t take long for Manny to discover a larger conspiracy, which will see him pursuing a saintly woman he failed to help, and trying to set things right.

What a way to grow.

Graphics

As this is what first drew my attention, I was glad to see that the Dia de los Muertos aesthetic suggested by Manny’s skull design remained consistent through the game. In fact, specific bread was made on the starting point of the game for that holiday, which is obviously no coincidence. There are downsides in the graphics though, even with the character design. For instance, the demon Glottis looks like oversized, poorly held together polygons, made all the more obvious when he speaks or moves. When originally released, this would have fit the time period, with Super Mario 64 coming out in 1996, but since this is a remastered game, I’d expect a prominent character to look better put together.

How do you even get bones to be that color? Diet?

Sound Design

The music is nothing to overlook, as it was played by a professional orchestra, so all of the notes are vibrant and clean. There’s several songs throughout the game, and though they may not get stuck in your head, they’re enjoyable to listen to. Another nice feature of GFR is that there’s voice acting for both the handful of cutscenes in the game, as well as all of the conversations Manny will have with the NPCs. There’s a lot of dialogue in GFR, let alone the optional discussions you can have, so it’s impressive that all of it is voice-acted.

*Cue SpongeBob Narrator Voice*

Pros

  • I really enjoyed the voice acting, especially Manny’s. He sounds like someone that would be helpful and friendly. I also like the accent.
  • The setting changes place every act, showcasing more of the underworld as interpreted by the game.
  • Despite only being skeletons, many characters look expressive.

Cons

  • When considering the entirety of the villains’ scheme and the implications of the underworld, it doesn’t hold up. If the bad guy wanted to steal legitimate tickets to get himself to the next location, how many was he theoretically accumulating or thinking he’d have to use? He was evil before this, was doing further wicked acts to meet his own selfish needs; did he think a few hundred would balance that out? Plus, there’s seemingly no oversight for any of these systems with how easy it was for only a handful of people to corrupt it.
  • The game suffers from moon logic, or when a point and click game presents a solution using tools and items in a way that defies what anyone would normally figure out. For instance, using a can opener to open a keg of wine, climbing into it, and using that to get into a cargo elevator.
  • In the third year, I seemingly soft-locked myself. When moving the anchor along the conveyor belt, I climbed down it while the belt was turning it downward, and I couldn’t climb back up after speaking with Glottis. With no other options, I had to restart from my last save.

Tips

  • Unless you have previous experience with the game, and a pretty good memory for how you tackled it before, spare yourself the hassle and follow a guide as you play. If you’re going for all the achievements, this is especially prudent, as there are many that can be easily missed.
  • With no auto-save feature, it’s not a bad idea to make alternating saves every so often.
  • Many achievements require talking to people several times, more than you’d expect.

Final Thoughts

I’m pretty surprised how tolerant people are with GFR, considering how many reviews mention their need to look up a guide to get past some sections. It’s not a death sentence for a game to include a tricky area or two, as a puzzle sometimes stumps more people than the developers may have expected. However, with the sheer amount of back and forth movement and incredibly specific actions and sequence of events included in this game, it makes the experience tiresome. The second chapter was particularly egregious in this regard.

“So, do you like my new hat?” “To be honest, I think you’re sky-scraping the bottom of the barrel with that design.”

Making matters worse, the story keeps building tension and delays any payoff or satisfaction. Having to wait until the very end for anything to come of resisting the bad guys and trying to save the damsel in distress makes all the earlier tedium feel unrewarding, especially when the enemy forces seemingly could be counted on 1 hand. I think it was supposed to be the story in particular that made GFR worth playing, but to me it comes across like a generic, old school man saving a damsel movie and didn’t make the gameplay worthwhile. When developers take the effort to resurface a classic game, it’s worth asking if it should be remade 1:1 with minimal changes, but most people probably wouldn’t complain if blemishes and faults were corrected for and removed. Why go to all the hassle and effort otherwise? Seeing as how the gameplay is less than ideal and improvements weren’t made despite being called Remastered, I wouldn’t recommend this game.

The underworld… it’s more horrifying than I could ever have imagined.

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