Wot I Think: Grim Fandango Remastered

Grim Fandango (official site) is considered the end of Lucasarts’ imperial period (no pun intended): its first 3D adventure game, its last to be helmed by Tim Schafer, and arguably the most mature and character-focused offering from the Monkey Island/Day of The Tentacle/Sam & Max studio. Naturally, it was a commercial failure.

17 years later, and everything has changed. This Mexican folklore and film noir-influenced tale of sometime grim reaper Manny Calavera’s attempt to reach eternal peace in the Ninth Underworld has become beloved enough that it’s been ‘remastered’ with more modern and bearable graphics, sound and controls (its original ‘tank’ controls being faintly nightmarish). There have been many fan attempts to enhance this rapidly-ageing game, but Double Fine worked out a deal with Disney and were able to go back to the source. Is this the Number Nine train straight to happiness, or does it reach into our chest, pull out our heart and throw it into the woods?

A disclaimer, in order to demonstrate that there is no chance whatsoever ever that I could be remotely objective about Grim Fandango. Please seek other articles if this nostalgia concerns you.

1999. Singapore airport – the only part of Singapore I’ve ever seen. I’m returning, alone, from a disastrous two-month trip to Australia in which I ran out of money while attempting to keep pace with my vastly more affluent travelling companions, who I’d also found to be very difficult company. For that reason, I’d turned down a dodgy offer to earn some pocket change by picking rocks out of a farmer’s field – the only work available to someone without a visa – and elected to take an earlier flight home, one month in. My flight transferred at Singapore airport, where I had to spend 12 hours waiting for my connection. I was miserable, lonely, shoulders heavy with a sense of failure, the growing certainty that I’d abandoned the holiday of a lifetime rather than suffer a few hard knocks to get it back on track. Life had gone wrong, and it was my fault.

Singapore airport was an amazing construct, almost a small, sci-fi city, at least compared to the pipsqueak terminals of Europe, and while I longed for sleep and escape at least there was no shortage of shops to look at, to cast about in hoping to find something to salve my snowballing existential crisis. In one, a toy shop, I saw Grim Fandango. I was dimly aware of it, and that it came from the company as Sam & Max and Day of the Tentacle, which I remembered fondly, but I had paid little attention to games for my first year of university and knew nothing more than that. I also knew almost nothing of art deco or noir, so Grim Fandango’s cover looked like a game from another universe. Sombre, stylised, relatively grown-up, mysterious, dangerous. And I so wanted to go to another universe. Its price just so happened to match the small amount of currency I had left – the equivalent of eight or nine pounds, as I recall. Unable to sleep, books all read, tape player batteries depleted, I pored over the box and its contents for the duration of my flight.

Upon reaching home, some 30 hours later, Grim Fandango was the first thing on my mind. Avoid the mingled concern and scorn of my parents, and the terror of how to resolve my costly overdraft. Flee. Escape. Disappear into whatever that place on that CD was. It did not disappoint. It was funny, it was beautiful, but it was about loss and regret, a quest to leave the mistakes of the past behind and find peace. I have not been back to it since.

Let’s start with the technical side of things, given the likely majority of this title’s audience are people who already know the game itself well. Grim Fandango Remastered is no remake. It is Grim Fandango, with graphical and interface changes subtle enough that it simply looks and feels to 2015 eyes that they’re playing the game they did in 1998. Where they to actually play the game they did in 1998 – and an optional mode allows a simulacrum of this – they would think it unacceptably low-tech and hampered by obtuse controls. (Edit – the original control set is still available if you prefer it). In other words, it’s the right level of change.

It significantly softens the blow of 17 years’ worth of age, rather than replaces too much wholesale. It looks like Grim Fandango, and feels like Grim Fandango – I don’t know about you, but I’ve repressed the trauma of the original’s notorious tank controls so the new point and click option simply feels entirely natural.

The main gain is higher-res models and textures for the 3D characters in the game. This is good, in that Manny, Glottis and co no longer look like fuzzy paint-smears, but bad in that their relatively sharp edges sometimes appear anachronistic with the blurrier 2D backgrounds. In some scenes, it looks like models from a newer game superimposed over an older game’s environments, which is essentially what the Remastered edition does. The backdrops have been upscaled to some degree, but clearly there limitations on the source material and only so much the remastering team could do.

Surprisingly often, I found myself switching to old-school mode simply because the characters then seemed to blend in rather than stand out, especially in some of the birds-eye view shots intended to demonstrate vast spaces. It could look like someone who stuck a papercraft figure to my monitor. Only occasionally, though.

The same issue is true of the cutscenes, which while better-animated altogether look worse than the game proper as the models haven’t been redone in HD (presumably because they couldn’t without entirely re-recording every movie clip). There are even some moments where an item you need to pick up is far too obvious, because it’s all gleaming and crisp against this ornate yet muddy 2D background, which somewhat impacts the thrill of the hunt.

Overall, though, the remastering is a successful one. Grim Fandango doesn’t look modern, exactly, but higher resolutions, a new lighting and shadowing system and an optional widescreen mode allow the intrinsic beauty of its Art Deco/Mexicana mash-up to shine through and look acceptable on a modern monitor. The shadowing on characters is particularly lovely. At times, it does look like a bodge, but especially in close-ups characters benefit hugely. Compromises or not, the game’s certainly far better off for this remastering. To some degree, it looks better at lower resolutions too – the character/background dichotomy was exacerbated by my monitor’s native 2560×1440, but dropping to 1080p (while not ideal) helped a little.

There’s so much care and detail in Grim Fandango’s art and architecture. It’s not just a technological leap from the cartoonish adventure games which preceded it, but almost a philosophical one – ‘we can build more than just an adventure. We can build a world.’ There’s so much done to maintain coherence, to suggest that this is a lived-on (ho ho) place. That said, there are some scenes where either technological or budgetary limitations make areas of the world seem perhaps too unlived in, but then again this can be waved away by saying that most locations are just stopping-off points on a voyage through an undesired afterlife. For all the ornate decor, most places in the Eighth Underworld are supposed to feel bleak and empty, right? Well, it’s a useful excuse, at any rate.

Meanwhile, the remastered, orchestral score is an unmitigated delight, taking what was already a far more thoughtful, diverse and elaborate soundtrack than earlier adventures and blowing it up into the size it deserved to be. Its mix of Mexican music, jazz and simmering doom is a huge part of Grim Fandango Remastered’s atmosphere even if, again, it essentially makes the new version feel like the old version did to younger, lower-standards ears (and speakers) back in ’98.

Less positively, as a PC game it’s got issues, and I can’t say yet how many of these are down the limitations of the original game, to what Double Fine wanted to spend on it, or to simply prioritising console/gamepad. In particular, video options are extremely limited, and primarily relate to turning off the visual enhancements in favour of returning Grim to something like its original state. You can’t even select resolution, instead choosing between ‘Native’, ‘Lowest’ and ‘Low’ under ‘Resolution Scaling’, though native is going to be just fine for most people. The lack of anti-aliasing is a particularly sad one though, as jaggies are exaggerated by that dichotomy between high-res 3D model and low res 2D environment. I’m not usually too much of a tech pedant, but the nature of this game really does exacerbate this particular problem. I didn’t have any luck forcing AA on in drivers, though doubtless someone will find a fix shortly after release.

Then there’s the controls. Point and click for the most part is the intuitive, reliable interface Grim Fandango was always crying out for, but sometimes Remastered has issues with the mouse. There were occasional conversation options that I couldn’t seem to select with the cursor, while some of the menu options – including confirming save and quit – would only accept arrow keys and enter. It’s not quite infuriating, but it’s certainly on the road to it. Hopefully these are minor issues which can be patched easily, but clearly it’s always a shame to see a game born on PC given shorter thrift than the console edition.

I should also mention that Grim Fandango hasn’t had any kind of autosave added into the Remastered edition, so do remember to save manually. Unfortunately, there’s no quicksave button either. I did suffer one crash at one point, discovering to my horror that I hadn’t saved for some two hours, so fair warning and all that. (You can at least blow through most sections pretty quickly if you already know how to solve the puzzles, though having to extinguish three flaming beavers all over again did little for my mood).

For your reference, here’s before(ish- this is the ‘original’ mode in Remastered rather than the original itself):

And after:

Like I say, it’s subtle but effective enhancement, for the most part.

OK, that’s the dry stuff covered. Let’s move onto the game. The Big Fat Question Of Questions: does it still hold up?

Yes, absolutely. There are moments where the humour seems too obvious, there are puzzles which grate, and there aren’t too many big belly laughs compared to the earlier Lucasarts games, but without question it still feels like a more mature and thoughtful adventure game than the vast majority. Even though it’s about skeletons and hot rod-driving demons.

The world-building, in its combination of early 20th century American architecture and Mexican mythology, remains both inspired and nuanced, with occasional diversions into both the unexpectedly bizarre and the surprisingly dark. It might not find that sweet spot of slick interface and big, punchy humour that Day of The Tentacle and Sam & Max did, but Grim Fandango is far braver than anything else from its stable, and then a great many story’n’puzzle games since. It did and does have a rare focus on character, though I would say that in this regard it doesn’t seem quite as intelligent and mature as it did at the time. This is pulp, not literature. It is first-rate pulp, however, and I’m not sure I’d have it any other way, even if I am a tougher audience in 2015 than I was in 1999.

I’m particularly impressed still by how it evolves across its act structure. For instance, the relatively light and constrained first ‘year’ at Manny’s office gives way to the sweeping Casbalanca homage that is Rubacava in its second year (very much the game’s highlight), replete with a more sombre tone and sense of character growth. Huge amounts of in-game time passes, and this affords Grim Fandango the opportunity to switch things up, meet a new cast and give its protagonist big objectives to strive for, rather than just stumble through various tomfoolery until a conclusion hits. The game changes both setting and theme repeatedly, but without losing sight of its own tone: it builds a consistent and appealing world out of far-flung parts.

Sometimes the visual age of the environment sells the game short, sometimes an excessively patience-testing puzzle does (e.g. the magnetic sign post, the cat racing), sometimes there’s too much backtracking, and there are those technical shortcomings on PC, but all told Grim Fandango still hangs together beautifully without quite feeling like a relic of bygone era. Whereas most 90s adventure games simply inspired more cartoon slapstick (in most cases with diminished returns), there’s a clear line from this to Kentucky Route Zero, which picked up Grim’s bold baton of introspection, architecture and cultural homage and ran a minimalistic mile with it.

Grim Fandango, in other words, still seems like a game from another universe, albeit now one which seems closer to ours than it did at the time. The Remastered edition might not be quite as modernised as we’d hoped, and it’s sorely in need of a little more PC-specific TLC, but it is such a pleasure to have it back, so much happier on a modern monitor and good speakers than the original edition, and with non-crazy controls too.

Grim Fandango Remastered is out now.

119 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    I got this on GoG AND Steam just to be safe, and I don’t regret it for a second!

    This, and Pillars of Eternity in March, this is already looking like one of my favorite years in gaming.

    • Barchester says:

      I did the same, but for GoG and PS4/Vita, and got my roommate to nab a copy off GoG as well. I like to think that will send a sign to the people in charge of these IP’s.

  2. Neurotic says:

    I’d love to see a Zak McKracken re-do, that’s my favourite of all the classic LA adventures.

    • deadfolk says:

      Yes, the forgotten classic and the first one I played. That was the first time a computer game played the “what do you mean you’ve only been playing 20 minutes, it’s 4AM” trick on me.

      The second time was Civ II.

    • Humppakummitus says:

      Zak wouldn’t even need much polishing. Maybe update the UI to Monkey Island 2 type to add default actions and pictures of the items, then rearrange the verbs and you’ve got your widescreen mode right there. Oh, and remove the bloody mazes.

      • kalirion says:

        And remove the dead ends. That’s the reason I never got into it, or most Sierra games.

        Edit: And to clarify, I mean getting stuck in an unwinnable situation due to having used an item or an action when you weren’t supposed to many scenes ago.

        • Humppakummitus says:

          It’s been a *while*, but if I remember right, Zak was pretty gentle with the dead-ends. You could run out of money and oxygen, but those you see coming. The other bits generally make you feel like you’ve messed up, like taking off from Mars early or washing away the breadcrumbs.
          Still, probably won’t cut it today.

  3. amateurviking says:

    I’M AT THE JUNKYARD.

    WOOOOOOOO.

  4. lowprices says:

    I will be getting this, as Grim Fandango is the big gap in my LucasArts/Schaeffer collection. One question though: is it buggy? That’s two reviews (yours and Eurogamer’s) that have mentioned crashes?

    • Alec Meer says:

      It’s a bit buggy. Not a lot buggy, but you’ll almost certainly encounter some issues.

    • Choca says:

      I’ve had one single crash on the pre-release beta version and a couple of buggy cut-scenes ending abruptly (Double Fine warned me that this might happen on the pre-release version) but aside from that it was a joy of a ride.

      I do think that you’re better off using one of the 4:3 options (either with black borders or cool looking borders) for the game though as the 16:9 stretches the backgrounds a lot and they’re already stretched quite a bit to begin with.

  5. frymaster says:

    As someone who never played it originally, this sounds perfect for me

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Oh you are in for a treat. I played it twice, when it came out and a few years later, and I recently booted it up to see if it would run and played for a few hours and it holds up exactly as excellently as I remember.

  6. cpt_freakout says:

    This is a game they made for me, everyone, but I will let you all play it because I’m just that nice.

    • P.Funk says:

      Anyone’s who’s doggedly maintained a Grim avatar for the last 17 years is about to become labeled a band-wagoner by association with a whole slew of people who’re going to act like they loved this game for the last 17 years despite having no idea how the coral in Don’s office was supposed to be used until they pulled up a guide 26 minutes ago.

      • Jigowatt says:

        Or ‘bone-wagoner’ even…

      • Rich says:

        I’m racking my brains, but I can’t remember what it’s for. I’m sure it’ll come back to me.

        Gracias Toto Santos.

        • cpt_freakout says:

          And good night, Rubacava!

          P.Funk: oh, the danger of old internet avatars! Still, Grim Fandango hipsterdom sounds like the kind of hipsterdom I can get behind. I think.

      • crazyd says:

        My faded GF tattoo is all cred I need.

      • Sidewinder says:

        Before you go accusing people of being Manny-come-latelys; you might wan to get your facts in order. The coral is in Dom’s office, not Don’s.

  7. drewski says:

    God I love this game.

  8. P.Funk says:

    Oh just shut up about the Tank controls already, they’re awesome.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure I never had any issues with them. This game was designed for those controls, and while I had some misgivings when I originally heard about the control scheme, I’m pretty sure that in practice they worked fine. At the very least, it took very little time to become accustomed to.

      Also, it’s nothing like controlling a tank. Why are people saying that?

      • Jackablade says:

        The inventory, while a cute idea, got a bit tedious once you started lugging a lot of items around.

        • P.Funk says:

          Again, something I never had problems with. Using the numbers was pretty easy once you remembered where certain items were.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        Tanks can move forward, back, and swivel in place. It’s not car controls because you can swivel in place, but it’s not person controls because you can’t sidestep or turn quickly. I think that’s the idea, anyway.

        • Shadowcat says:

          Hmm. I can see that the resulting movements are something that tanks are capable of doing; but the actual controls of a tank (i.e. independent control of the left and right tracks) surely bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the turning controls of Grim Fandango (rotate left, rotate right). That being the case, and given that tanks are capable of more varied/nuanced turns besides, I think the “tank controls” moniker remains a ridiculous description.

          • P.Funk says:

            I’m sorry, perhaps you’re under the false impression that 95% of the population actually has a more refined understanding of Tank driver controls than just “rotate in place, forward and back, no strafing”.

    • piedpiper says:

      I had some issues with some puzzles, but tank control never was even a slightest problem for me. IDK why everybody hates it so much.

    • Nogo says:

      Manny’s knee pumping rotation is forever seared in my mind.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Don’t understand this either. I remember people were annoyed at the time, being forced, NAY INVOLUNTARILY STRAPPED to a control scheme other than point&click, but I got used to it in about 30 seconds, and I actually thought it was nice because it somehow strengthened the feeling of controlling a character in a (pseudo-)3D world.

      Also, there were maybe like one or two scenes or places in the entire game where it became just the slightest bit awkward because the camera would switch to a different view where you didn’t expect, but nothing that could explain the outpouring of hatred for the direct controls. Looking back, I think adventure gamers were just very conservative when it came to changing something that they erroneously considered to be essential to adventure games (which subsequently died a slow uneventful death, sort of).

      I have no idea if I’ll be replaying this with direct controls or point & click, I’ll try p&c out at any rate, but I think I still much prefer the direct controls.

  9. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Is it time to dig out the amazing Manny Mrs Jams made for me? I think it might be.

  10. MeestaNob says:

    How have Double Fine managed to extend their reputaion for making “just all right, but not good enough to be considered GREAT” games reputation to a remaster??

    Why dont they ever do the whole job?

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Psychonauts, Brütal Legend and Broken Age part 1 are all great IMO. Sounds like they did a great work on this too, apart from not being able to select screen resolutions.

      • MeestaNob says:

        Haven’t played Broken Age yet, but the other games are good (but not great). I find Double Fine games really lacking in polish and full of ‘jank’.

        • somnolentsurfer says:

          Having finally finished Brütal Legend yesterday, to my mind that game is great. Sure, it’s not without issues, but it’s awesome in so many ways and on so many levels that they’re easily overshadowed. I’m actually fairly disappointed the multiplayer seems to be dead, as some of the other factions look really fun.

          Still, Grim is the priority for now!

          • Emeraude says:

            Brütal I think is one of those games that really needed a second iteration to hammer down and refine its core gameplay while gaining a bit more polish.

            There’s a solid base that was somewhat hurt by going too big too fast – but then that’s a curse of gaming in recent times.

        • weaponlordzero says:

          I respectfully disagree about Psychonauts. Psychonauts is one of my personal top 10 games of all time. I’ve played through it more times than I have any other game (that isn’t a fighting game, for example).

      • Jams O'Donnell says:

        Psychonouts is a rubbish platformer though, when it comes down to it. It might have a lot of other things going for it, but a platform game with rubbish platforming isn’t exactly a great success.

        • Premium User Badge

          Lars Westergren says:

          I liked the platforming. :(

        • weaponlordzero says:

          I liked the platforming too. Even the terribly difficult Circus level.

        • Acorino says:

          The platforming is great! I have no fucking clue what you’re talking about. Heck, I only ever played Psychonauts with keyboard and mouse and it controlled just fine.
          I think Psychonauts has the best gameplay of all games made by Tim Schafer. Sure, the story of Grim Fandango has more depth and may be more to my liking, but Psychonauts is more fun to me, and the world more immersive to explore.
          But…I’m curious about the Grim Fandango Remaster. Maybe the Point & Click controls will finally instill some fun into the gameplay of GF for me? And eradicate some of the barriers that made it such a pain to explore the world?

        • Urthman says:

          I wish people who say this would give an example of what they consider a good 3D platformer. I can’t think of a single platformer on PC that is remotely in the same league as Psychonauts, and very few console games that rival it. It was doing crazy gravity tricks on tiny planets years before Mario Galaxy. Flying off the side of that mindcube at just the right angle to be high up in the air when the gravity switches, or doing crazy tricks in the Escheresque milkman world were amazing. Zooming and bouncing around on the psionic ball is fast and fluid. The level design is amazing, with all kinds of variety and invention, tons of secrets to find.

          What’s more, it’s a successful mix of platformer and traditional adventure game. You need both jumping skills and puzzle-solving chops (particularly, the Meat Circus level is not such a big deal if you figure out the puzzles of which powers to use when rather than trying to brute force the whole thing).

        • Jams O'Donnell says:

          I am willing to accept wrongness here. My hatred of 3D platforming in general might be colouring my opinion, but I do remember particularly disliking Psychonauts and giving up after barely an hour.

          • bill says:

            I tried it with ouse and keyboard and didn’t get along. I tried it a month later with a gamepad and it was much better.
            At the very beginning you don’t have many powers and the first level is pretty dull. But once you get the psyonic ball you can zip and jump around very quickly and fluidly. I thought the platforming was fine from then on.

            It has a couple of issues with the camera and auto-targeting, but most 3d platformers of that time did too.

            It might not be an all time classic in terms of platforming, but it’s perfectly servicable and not as bad as it’s later reputation seems to suggest. Plus there weren’t exactly a lot of 3d platformers on PC at that time anyway.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Probably because you’re hallucinating that reputation.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Thanks for posting the videos Alec, they are always a treat from 2 player productions. The Broken Age series is fantastic as well.

  12. kevinspell says:

    Usually I could not care less about achievements, but I’m getting The Right Way one on Steam just for the lulz.

  13. davec1 says:

    Looking forward to checking this out, missed it when it originally came out…..

    …but won’t buy it until they release Broken Age: Act 2. It’s a bit annoying to see how many DF projects have come and gone since that kickstarter. I’m all for devs having multiple projects to mitigate risk and keep a steady employee headcount, and I realise there are limits to how much faster you can finish a game by just throwing more resources at it. But right now I’m not impressed by DF. I’ll be happy to change my opinion when BA: Act 2 comes out and turns out well ( I enjoyed the first act ).

  14. jezcentral says:

    A wonderful game, but the rotating signpost puzzle is a bigger crime against humanity than the Meat Circus.

    I can’t wait to get (re-)started. :)

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      I’m playing through it for the kinda first time… Had a shonky copy my gf’s dad brought back from Malaysia with him years ago, but it would crash at a certain point near the start, so tonight was the first time I got as far as the rotating signpost – I didn’t think it was too bad, figured it out after a couple of wrong turns trying to use it in a way other than what was intended. (In what I suspect was the intended red-herring manner, in fact).

      • jezcentral says:

        Really? Perhaps there was a location clue that I missed. It took ages for me. Hopefully it won’t for others. :)

        • somnolentsurfer says:

          Yeah, I have no memory if finding that puzzle hard in ’98, but having just made it through to Rubecava it’s driven me mad tonight. Spent ages repeatedly following those red herrings unable to figure out why nothing was happening.

    • drewski says:

      Yeeeeep.

  15. Stardog says:

    There are no tank controls? You have to point and click?

    If so, I won’t be buying.

    • golem09 says:

      Everything is optional. You can play with the original graphics and the original controls if you want. Or with modern gamepad controls, or point and click and new graphics.

    • deadfolk says:

      I have no personal experience, but I’m sure I read that you can still use the tank controls if you prefer.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Some sites say you can choose the old controls if you prefer.

      link to polygon.com

    • Alec Meer says:

      Yeah, the original controls are still in there too, plus more gamepad-friendly direct control as well.

    • Urthman says:

      On Playstation, at least, there’s an achievement if you play the whole game with tank controls.

      • Shadowcat says:

        Is that the “congratulations for not plugging a mouse into your console” achievement?

        (Because why would anyone voluntarily use a gameplay to emulate a mouse, if there were gamepad controls available?! I have to do the analogue-stick-as-mouse thing playing ScummVM games on my hand-held, and I can assure you that, while the games make it all worthwhile on balance, that control scheme really sucks.)

        • somnolentsurfer says:

          I’ve played it through once with a gamepad on the TV, and I’m now playing it a second time with the commentary, using the keys to get the achievement. It seems ‘tank controls’ in this refers to player-relative, rather than camera-relative, movement. So presumably that’s the same on the PS4. I would say if you do want to use tank controls on a controller, for the love of God use the D pad. It’s a nightmare on the analog stick.

          Generally though, I’d say the best way to experience Grim Fandango is now on a TV screen, with an analog controller and camera-relative movement.

  16. somnolentsurfer says:

    I don’t think I ever got past the cat races in my youth, but I’ve been looking forward to this so much. I was planing to play on my TV with a controller which, by the sounds of it should have the advantage of being not just the largest screen in the house, but also the one with the lowest natural resolution. Can anyone speak to how good the controller support is vs. the point and click?

    • Turkey says:

      Yeah, I had to use a walkthrough for the cat races when I was a kid. Now that I’ve gained a little more general knowledge and I understand English better, it’s turned into one of my favorite puzzles in the game. Putting all the clues together and solving it makes you feel kinda like a ’40s P.I. It’s pretty great.

  17. golem09 says:

    “bideo options are extremely limited”
    typo. this past can be deleted.

  18. soopytwist says:

    For a moment there Alec I thought you’d lost your marbles. I could have sworn you were bothering the pages of PC Format back in 1998, so exposure to Grim Fandango would have pre-dated your enlightenment in Singapore. Turns out it was before your time and Ed Ricketts handled the review. Speaking of which, whatever became of McCauley, Butcher, Mitchell and Perrett?

    Oh and you said CD singular, Fandango came on two. I know because I still have them, and they still work…once I’ve beaten Windows 7 into submission that is.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Yeah, I didn’t join PCF until 2001. Most of the chaps you mention were no longer in-house by that point (though freelanced regularly). At least some of them are still at Future, God help them.

      • soopytwist says:

        Is PC Format still going? I stopped my sub in 2013 (after 16 years – still have all my issues too).

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      Not only did it come on two CDs, the CDs came in a gatefold wallet thingy which is one of the best things ever.

      SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED IT!

      I love that image. I didn’t realise until after I’d finished the game that it’s the same one that appears in-game on the save/load screen, where it gets filled with colour as you progress. The image depicts the entire game, and each time you solve a puzzle it fills in the part of the image relevant to that puzzle. It’s an insanely brilliant scoring system.

      • P.Funk says:

        I’m so happy that I still have my original Grim Fandango box with that CD sleeve in it. Its a piece of art and probably the #1 gaming related item I would save from a fire if I only had one to save.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Little known fact: The German voice actor of Manny Calavera is also the German voice actor of Alf (Tommi Piper).

  20. Czrly says:

    This looks fantastic and promises to be fantastic. I will buy it.

    How authentic is the wide-screen mode? I ask because Steam’s market place only shows screenshots in 4:3, with a fancy patterned border and that suggests to me that the wide-screen mode is not a first-class feature, it’s an afterthought.

    • Nogo says:

      I assume all the backgrounds were in 4:3, so it would be nice to hear how they dealt with this.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I played in 16:9 and didn’t notice any issues. Suspect it undermines the intended mise en scene on occasion but generally I thought it accentuated the scale of the environments.

      • lovcol says:

        Widescreen mode simply stretches the backgrounds horizontally, making stuff appear out of proportion. Like doors being more square-like.

    • P.Funk says:

      Just play it in 4:3. Thats how it was originally so whats the problem? Its not like people pull their hair out trying to watch old episodes of TNG when they realize its formatted for a 90s TV screen.

  21. Laurentius says:

    I remember playing demo when it came out and wasn’t impressed, it felt so much worse then Curse of Monkey island. I reluctant to pick it now, missed oportunity.

  22. Fenix says:

    I was away from gaming when Grim Fandango came out, and only played it for the first time 2-3 years ago, on the scummv simulator thingie which was chock-full of annoyances, yet I enjoyed the game massively, so I can only imagine how much more I would have enjoyed this version.

    Speaking of which, Psychonauts is another game I missed that I want to play, how has that aged?

    • Oozo says:

      Fine, totally fine. The common complaint — already uttered in this comment thread — is that it’s “rubbish” platforming, but I’d rather say that it is servicable platforming that forms a bit of a wonky base for one of the most lovely and creative settings in video games ever. In other words: the platforming is not always delightful (even though there are moments when it is), but it rarely, if ever, gets in the way of enjoying the game. And it’s not what you sign up for, anyway.

      (I played it for the first time about 2 years ago, and loved it — and I’m saying that as somebody who hardly did enjoy the crop of newer, shorter DF games, even the ones that people generally like.)

      • lokimotive says:

        Another way to look at it is, It’s a rubbish platformer, perhaps, but thankfully it’s not really a platformer. The real meat of the game (not the meat in the game…), is really more along the lines of a classic adventure game wrapped up in a platformer. At the end of the day, I would actually probably slot it into the tradition of Zelda more than Mario, but your mileage may vary.

        Absolutely, play it, though. At the very least it has the style and humor of a very good Nickelodeon cartoon.

      • Turkey says:

        I didn’t have a problem with the platforming either, but I played the whole game with mouse + keyboard so maybe I’m just a weirdo.

        • somnolentsurfer says:

          I didn’t have much of a problem until Meat Circus. Then Meat Circus became the only time I’ve ever broken a controller in frustration. Thankfully it’s been patched in the PC version now.

      • Urthman says:

        it is servicable platforming

        Please name a better 3D platformer, because I desperately want to play it.

        • Oozo says:

          Of the ones I played? Super Mario 64 and the Super Mario Galaxy games, I would say.

          Note that I don’t think that they are better games, just… a bit more enjoyable to me when it comes to those things that are hard to put into words… friction, tactility, responsivness, and maybe level design, albeit more from a “made to be most enjoyable to navigate with the skill set given to you” point of view. Psychonauts obviously has a lot of spectacular levels.

          And as I said, I would recommend Psychonauts without any caveats… the idea of thinking of it more along the lines of an action adventure game in the vein of Zelda does make a ton of sense, actually, and surely would help setting the expectations accordingly.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I think lokimotive hit the nail on the head – it’s definitely more in line with Zelda than Mario. It will annoy you at times, but the whole thing is so enjoyable it’s easy to overlook its more mechanical flaws. Besides, it’s not entirely bad as a platformer, particularly if you haven’t played any in a long while. When I gave it a go a few years back I think the last platform game I had played was Banjo Kazooie or something like that, so it wasn’t such a terrible experience since I had somewhat ‘fresh’ eyes.

  23. Eggman says:

    “Singapore airport – the only part of Singapore I’ve ever seen.” This man speaks words of truth.

  24. gschmidl says:

    Did anyone get the collapsible Manny doll that came with the signature edition box of GF? I still have mine.

  25. lokimotive says:

    How’s the commentary? I really like developer’s commentary. It’s fascinating to hear the design process, and I would think it would be really interesting to hear Schafer’s take on this (even though this would hardly be the first time he’s talked about it).

    Monkey Island 2 Special Edition was largely a disappointment, but I found the commentary to be a saving grace. One of my favorite jokes in that game is, and it’s stupid I warn you, when Guybrush holds a bone he’s stolen from a gave aloft in a totally random thunderstorm… and then his pants fall down. It was both fascinating and hilarious to hear Gilbert and Schafer (I believe) disagree about that joke, one saying how hilarious it was because it was random and the other contending that it was stupid because it made no sense. I love that shit.

    • crazyd says:

      The special edition of Monkey Island 2 was a disappointment? I was certainly disappointed by horrible art in the Monkey Island 1 remake, but 2 looked amazing, with everything redrawn off of the original art. The added voice work was also pretty great!

      • lokimotive says:

        There were some things unnecessarily excised from the Monkey Island 2 reissue, like the Monkey Island 2 lite version, and the rather unfortunate loss of the full iMuse experience. There art was fine, though I think it lost some of the grittiness of the older art. Personally I feel like both special editions suffered from the problem of a disconnect between the enhanced graphics and the older animations. The new graphics instilled an expectation of smoother animation for me, but that didn’t play out and it always came across janky.

        As for the voice acting, I hated it, but that’s just a personal preference thing. I started with Monkey Island 2, then played The Secret of Monkey Island. I had always been disappointed with the voice chosen for Guybrush for Curse onwards, but I feel like it worked for the newer more cartoony approach brought on by the change in graphics. Going back to the originals, though, it just didn’t fit with my conception. I realize that that’s a personal issue and it would’ve been much weirder to pick a new voice, but I just can’t really get past it.

  26. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    No AA?! That’s the ONE feature I wanted for a modern Grim Fandango.

    What the hell, DoubleFine.

  27. Jakkar says:

    I’ve never understood why the critical consensus seems to hold Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island above Grim Fandango and Full Throttle. Older games with obscure, irrational puzzles and broad, repetitive pun-based humour versus intelligently written, artistically beautiful and more subtly hilarious mature works, with far more varied gameplay.

    Can one really come to care for the wise-cracking stars of light-hearted jokey cartoons, when compared to the weighty worlds of Throttle and Fandango – murder mysteries and struggles for survival filled with dark humour and moments of serene beauty?

    It’s not that DotT or Monkey Island are bad games, by any means – they’re just not trying to be anything, very much. Funny, engrossing, curiosity-tweaking adventure-toys. Interactive Saturday Morning cartoons for (not too) grown ups. That’s a laudible goal, but one that does not a masterwork make.

    Sam and Max stands somewhere outside though, probably digging in the garden for bones of uncertain origin – you can’t as-such *care* for those characters but nor do you feel you’re invited to. Sam and Max, nicely written about here recently, is surreal, grim Americana, a bruise-toned carnival of callous humour and dirt. A more tasteful Ren and Stimpy blended with ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’…

    And The Dig is too little remembered. I liked that Lucasarts sometimes attempted something serious.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      I’m with you, Jakkar.

    • Emeraude says:

      I don’t know. For me, the ‘it” of adventure games, the thing that makes the genre worthwhile and really justify their existence as a genre if compared with other puzzle games is that moment when, having explored their narrative content, you can solve a puzzle that would otherwise make no sense at all in a vacuum, and would give you weird look when explained to someone not familiar with the context.

      Context is the operative word here I guess. It’s all about creating significant context that makes interesting puzzles that couldn’t otherwise exist as such or be interesting as something more than a prolem that has to be brute-forced.

      As such, I do think the Monkey Island games and Day of the Tentacle (Maniac Mansion is a bit more rough though) are *very* good examples of the genre.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      How appropriate, you fight like a cow.

    • gabeisko says:

      While I agree with the sentiment, it is easy to deconstruct why Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle are a bit more fondly remembered. The Scumm interface really hit it’s stride with Monkey Island (I’ve heard that this really began with loom, which I haven’t played) and continued to do so up until full throttle. I also think that the comedy and writing in those games hold up pretty well – it is definitely more than just punny humor. Monkey Island’s contrast between gags and serious looking graphics seemed subversive when I first played it. While Day of the Tentacle does contain some camp, but it has really clever puzzles and clever jokes, and it accurately captures the looney tunes vibe that the creators were going for.

      Full Throttle does reel in the wackiness a little bit and seems to be the first game where Tim got to flex his creative muscles a bit more – he was project lead after all, a duty he shared with Grossman on DoTT which was shackled to the original maniac mansion cannon anyway. But it has its problems. It’s too short, which isn’t helped now that GameFAQs’s exists. But the worst part were the action bike fight sections that were only developed because it was the only way Tim could pitch the game to investors. What’s left is great – from the dialogue and the puzzles and the world, but clearly the game has it’s problems.

      Grim Fandango is a bit of a trickier beast. It is actually my personal favorite out of all the adventure games (I am so glad it got remastered), but it is still easy to see why it hasn’t aged as well in critics minds. For one thing it is rough around the edges. Although clearly a lot of care went into the game’s engine, the team was still hurtling down new technological territory that ultimately became a dead end. As a result it doesn’t have the polish of games like the scumm glory days. More importantly though, not many people bought the damn thing, and it has been hard to get your hands on a copy legally for years, let a lone play it.

      That’s why I am glad there is a remaster. I never understood why Microsoft felt the need to do the Halo anniversary crap (aside from the whole turn a quick buck aspect) since everyone has played halo, and could still run it on their xBox 360. Hopefully, this remaster will give a lot of people the overdue chance to play this masterpiece.

  28. DanMan says:

    Goes to show that game development never had a real process. All these remakes suffer from the same problem – that they couldn’t remake lots of stuff because the originals were lost or not any better.

    • Xocrates says:

      Never mind that losing old stuff happens a lot even in other mediums like television and movies, the problem with games isn’t that the originals were not “any better”, it’s that they COULDN’T be any better, and were might have been made with software that won’t even run properly on a modern PC. This is a tech problem, not a “process” one.

      Even a modern game designed for HD is likely to look quaint and poor quality in 17 years.

      • somnolentsurfer says:

        It’s not really that it couldn’t have been improved if the studio had kept the original assets. The Longest Journey has a similar issue: i’d love a remaster where the pre-rendered backgrounds got an update as well as the 3D models, but I don’t want to do anyway with any of the original art or change the style – just increase the resolution. If they’d kept all the original 3DS Max files or whatever they used at them time, it’d probably be possible to convert them to the most recent format and rerender at 4K. Same if they’d kept all Steve Purcell’s original paintings for Monkey 2, I guess, and could just rescan them.

        Really hope modern studios are learning lessons from all this and implementing good archiving policies.

    • gabeisko says:

      The time it took for this remake wasn’t a product of archival tomfoolery, but business. No one at Lucasfilms cared enough about some quirky game that didn’t sell well to consider a remaster until it was bought out by Disney. I remember that there used to be a disclaimer of sorts on Double Fine’s website about how they wanted to do more with Grim Fandango but didn’t have ownership of the intellectual property.

  29. rocketman71 says:

    Be patient while waiting for Double Fine to fix those issues. We Iron Brigade guys have been waiting for two years after being promised that GFWL would be removed (the game doesn’t even work for 90% of the people thanks to that POS API). And the DF-9 guys were totally robbed.

    I love the games that Tim does. I really do. But DF has gone down there with EA. They completely forget about you once they have your money. And that’s why I’m not giving them any more. Nor should you.

  30. Demon Beaver says:

    It’s the game that inspired my nickname, 16 years back!!!
    I was hoping for a bigger overhaul, mostly a remake in 2D (a la Monkey Island 3), but I’ll still play this through for a few times…

    I hope they’ll release the remastered soundtrack!

  31. Michael Fogg says:

    Having just finished the campaing in Valkyria Chronicles I suspect ‘tank controls’ will be fine for me ;)

    Seriously, it wasn’t the movement but the necessity to slowly toggle through all the inventroy items one at a time that made me originally abandon the game around the infamous Flaming Beavers. Maybe I’ll get farther this time.

  32. Widthwood says:

    Naturally, it was a commercial failure

    It was a commercial success, not a failure. Tim even repeats that once again in one of the videos you embedded in the article.

    It was deemed by publishers not successful enough for a game of this quality, thus the death of adventure games etc. When even the best games in the genre don’t become blockbusters, corporations move on to something else..

    • ansionnach says:

      Was going to say the same thing – he states that he received a royalty cheque, so it definitely turned a profit.

  33. Turkey says:

    Ugh, you weren’t kidding about the low-res backgrounds. The original voice work isn’t very sharp either.

    Kinda underwhelmed so far.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Are you underwhelmed by the original voice acting or the technical quality of the recordings of the voice acting?

      Because the voice work stands out for me as a high point of all gaming. When I recently booted up this game (not the remaster) to see if it would run, the first time I heard Glottis I actually got somewhat of a lump in my threat (for whatever reason, perhaps more so because it reminded me of a time in my childhood when planet earth seemed completely, utterly and entirely different to the one I currently inhabit, even though it was mostly different because of my childhood ignorance, being almost completely oblivious to how indifferent, cruel, stupid and utterly destructive humankind can be).

      At any rate, I thought the voice acting was excellent as ever? Please don’t tell me they somehow managed to ruin the original recordings.

      • Turkey says:

        Rest easy. It’s exactly the same. I was just commenting on the sound quality of the samples themselves.

        In truth you don’t even notice it after you get sucked into the story again. Same with the backgrounds.

  34. poppycock says:

    Hey Alec! Greetings & Salutations from Singapore! Here’s a pic of my GF retail box which i purchased when it was first out (not that its any much different from the ‘Merican release on top). —GF-retail-SGbox

  35. Starosta says:

    Re: the empty-feeling locations, it’s worth keeping in mind that there is a plot reason for it too: the game takes place on the Day of the Dead each year, so the locations mostly clear out as everyone goes back to the Land of the Living to visit their families. The only souls left behind are the lost, the desperate, and those with nothing to go back to — rather fits the noir theme, don’t you think?

  36. gabeisko says:

    Just wanted to drop by and say that you can switch between the old graphics and new graphics in game all Halo anniversary style by pressing the backspace key. The transition is actually pretty cool to watch. It’s not like every time you think you want to see the original graphics you have to go into the settings menu.

  37. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I’m pretty sure the original didn’t look as bad as this secretary picture suggests. 800×600 resolutions were common back then, and this example is either a crop or much lower res.