A Masterpiece Returns
When fans and critics talk about the classics of the adventure genre, invariably, two titles tend to sit at the top of the list, Ragnar Tornquist’s The Longest Journey and Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango. TLJ made the jump to modern PCs and mobile devices a few years back, but Grim Fandango remained lost in legal limbo for years. Until now. Grim Fandango is back, and, unlike The Longest Journey, it’s gotten a bit of modern spit and polish for its console/PC debut, and it goes without saying that for fans of adventure games, this is a must own title.
That HD Twinkle
Unlike most of the games that are getting remasters after having only come out a year ago, Grim Fandango is a necessary HD port for a number of reasons. The most pressing is that the game is simply unavailable to anyone who didn’t buy the original CD in 1998, or stumble across it in garage sales. The other big change is, of course, the graphics. Like other remasters of much older games, Grim Fandango allows players to toggle back and forth between the original 90s appearance and its modern graphical update. Surprisingly, the change isn’t that gigantic; not compared to something like The Secret of Monkey Island or Halo. Because Grim Fandango’s backgrounds were all pre-rendered, aside from looking a bit sharper, they haven’t changed much. The characters themselves were an early foray into polygonal graphics, but because Schafer’s team went with a simple, cartoony approach, the only real benefit of the HD upgrade is real-time lighting effects, and nice, sharp, aliased textures for a smoother look. One thing I’d strongly advise players to do for this game is maintain the traditional 3:4 aspect ratio of the screen. Switching over to the modern 16:9 widescreen ratio simply causes a “squash n’ stretch” effect that makes all people and objects look short and fat. Because these are upgrades to original graphical assets, they were never intended for the widescreen format, and suffer visibly as a result if people are trying not to “waste” screen real estate. For audiophiles, the music has also gotten a major, orchestral touch up with fantastic noir/big band sound that plays great on modern speaker systems.
Another big change, and certainly a welcome one for 21
century gamers, is the addition of modern, screen-relative controls, as opposed to the “tank” controls of the 90s from games like Resident Evil. Manny Calavera is now much more nimble, making the solving of puzzles faster and less clumsy. Players still have the option of switching over to the old style tank controls if they prefer a purist experience, or just want that gold trophy Tim Schafer insisted on having for people that play the game old school. Finally, and this is a nice treat for the big fans, Double Fine assembled much of the old Lucasarts dev team that worked on the original Grim Fandango, and they’ve recorded a commentary track that activates when Manny moves towards certain areas of the levels. Artists, programmers, and, of course, Tim Schafer himself, all chime in about the stories and observations that came about during the making of this game back in the 90s. It’s fascinating stuff for people that want to delve deeper into the legacy of the game.
The original game itself is untouched. Same puzzles, same voice acting, same brilliant humor and writing. It holds up as a strikingly original and charming adventure game with some occasionally wonky puzzle logic that a quick consultation on the Internet can solve for those tackling the game for the first time. Best of all, thanks to this new, modern adaptation of the game, players no longer need to resort to downloading and installing programs into their PC to deliberately impair performance so that the infamous conveyor belt puzzle can slow down enough on modern machines to be solvable.
There’s really little that can be said about this game that hasn’t been said for years. It’s a classic of the genre, and a must own for anyone with an interest in adventure games. You simply won’t find a funnier, more original, more thought provoking adventure game, and now, people who missed out on it the first time finally have a chance to see why this game is so revered. A necessary title for fans of the genre that deserves to be in every classics collection.