You Should Play: Grim Fandango Remastered is a creepy, classic adventure game brought back to life
These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.
With distinctive art, weird premises, and humorous dialogue, LucasArts classics like Full Throttle, Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango earned a devoted following on the PC. But sadly, the studio ceased making games in 2013, ending the era of a trusted brand in game development. Luckily for us, Double Fine Productions and Tim Schafer, one of the masterminds behind the original, stepped up to re-master Grim Fandango for an entirely new generation of fans, bringing this much-loved classic over to mobile with ease. Even if you’re new to the franchise, here are three reasons why Grim Fandango is a must-own for any adventure fan.
Noir to its bones: Grim Fandango is a neo-noir mystery that takes place in the Land of the Dead. Fans of classic black and white noir films will appreciate the witty dialogue, art deco decorating style, and slithering, moody jazz soundtrack. There are plenty of nods to other films (Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity). Expect to meet a Pete Lorre impersonator and several women who would put Lauren Bacall to shame.
Grim Fandango isn’t just a love letter to noir films, but also to Mexican folklore. As denizens of the Land of Dead, the characters’ design, including protagonist Manny Calavera, are heavily influenced by Mexican calaca figures. These skeletal creatures have their own desires and wants, and even though they’re dead, doesn’t mean they’re saints. When Manny uncovers corruption in the Department of Death, he starts a journey through the underworld that is both bizarre and hilarious. The four-chapter story takes hours to explore and the artistic aesthetic is as central to the game as the writing.
Trade puns with lost souls: Like many of LucasArts early adventure games, the writing is sharper than a knife behind a femme fatale’s back. You’ll utilize Manny’s intelligence (and sometimes his scythe) to negotiate with demons, outsmart sarcastic clowns, and woo dangerous women. The dialogue options are always amusing, and Manny’s best weapon is always his wit. This isn’t a game that features a lot of gunplay or action sequences, but the cut-scenes and puzzles help move along the plot.
The game doesn’t hold your hand, either, letting the interactions unfold without hints or a tutorial. You don’t get a dossier on each character, but instead get to take part in their conversations and understand things by context: Lupe, the coat check girl, asks about another woman and in the interaction, and we learn that Lupe has been smitten with Manny’s longtime confident. Similarly, the way Charlie, a shady con artist, tells Manny his club is nice and Manny replies. “Yeah, it is. What are you doing in it?” you not only get a sense of the character’s personalities, but also their relationships.
Puzzles big and small: You’ll want to spend time getting to know the various distinctive characters, because that’s how you’ll eventually unlock the grand mystery of Grim Fandango. Along the way you’ll also have to solve numerous puzzles—some more obscure than others. An early puzzle has you sabotage the server system of Manny’s employer, and the ingredients necessary to gunk it up are pretty evident. Others, including how to steal some pigeon eggs, require more outside the box thinking.
While some of the more obtuse puzzles will likely frustrate modern players, that’s part of the game’s charm. But there are other issues with Grim Fandango that can’t be overlooked. While Double Fine has sharpened the artwork and translated the game’s previous mouse controls to the iOS touchscreen format, there are still some hiccups. Some of the details of the game, particularly in the Petrified Forest, become so minute that unless you know what you’re looking for, finding the next path or the particular interactable object becomes guesswork. The road-sign puzzle was especially hard to solve because my small iPhone screen shrunk the sign to just a couple of dots. So while I think players who have completed Grim Fandango in its original format (or those who use strategy guides) won’t mind the smaller screen, for the more casual or unfamiliar player, Grim Fandango Remastered is best enjoyed on the larger iPad screen.
I’m one of those poor souls (forgive the pun) who never played the original on the PC, but I was always intrigued by the premise. After playing Grim Fandango Remastered the last few days, I’m happy to report that the game’s hype didn’t disappoint. Go immerse yourself in this strange, funny, and exceptionally enthralling world and pray that Tim Schafer makes another.