Look upon my cards, ye mighty.
Grim Fandango is a classic for many great reasons. As a game released in 1998, the year my high school aged brother was born, nearly everything about the game would hold up even without the new paint job Double Fine gave it. The improvements made on the original are significant and welcome, but the one thing they couldn’t fix was so entwined into the original game blueprint, it’s easy to imagine past fans having difficulty finishing the game in the first place. Grim Fandango’s one big problem is its puzzles, and that’s a shame, because the rest of the game should be taught in game development classes.
I’m glad that pretty much everyone I’ve asked agrees with my claims that the puzzles are incredibly confusing. As someone who didn’t grow up with other classic point and click games such as Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island, these puzzles just seem even more obtuse than ever. How the hell am I supposed to know to search Domino’s desk for coral to tie to a rope, then use that as a makeshift grappling hook to the roof? The game offers almost no hints to these solutions, and often I’d end up randomly using objects on other intractables in the environment until something clicked. You should also save OFTEN. Misusing items or missing your chance at turning a lever or grabbing the attention of an important character can cause a lot of backtracking that will end up frustrating you.
Now that the negative’s out of the way, I’d like to reiterate what everyone else in the world has already said: Grim Fandango is REALLY GOOD Y’ALL. I just wrote a paragraph about how much I hated the puzzles, but I still want to sing songs about how inspired I felt after I finished my playthrough. Now that I know the puzzle solutions, I want to replay the game with commentary, and I wish I could pick Tim Schafer’s brain about the jokes and characters that make up the Land of the Dead. Manny Calavera, the hero of this story, is a grim reaper, who ferries souls to the afterlife by setting them up with a travel plan based on how much they gave back in life. When Manny tries to steal a seemingly perfect client from his rival Domino, a conspiracy against him and the rest of the world begins to unfold.
Grim’s plot structure and storytelling is where it truly shines. The game is split into four years, and in each year, Manny evolves behind the scenes, but his goals and ambitions stay the same. We see him as a salesman, the owner of a club, a sailor, and in the end, the hero he was working so hard to be. Manny is a fantastic character, but he is one of many. Each portion of the story introduces new characters fluidly, and there’s never boring exposition describing who the character is. You talk to them and Manny’s history with the character becomes apparent through action. Nearly everything is explained through action, such as how “guns” work, or why Glottis, Manny’s demon best friend and mechanic, has the most literal need for speed anyone will ever have. You don’t explicitly get told how things work, they just do, and that normalizes the world and immerses you into the characters without making you worry too much about the universe. It’s a great touch.
Since this is a Remastering, it’d behoove me to tell you what was patched up. The graphics have gotten a complete new-gen overhaul, all of the colors pop vividly and little details such as window blinds and fully textured tiles on the floor make the game feel like it was designed yesterday. Grim Fandango’s art style is unlike any other game’s and the cross between pagan grim reaper style, Mexican Day of the Dead skull designs, and 90’s Americana blends without flaw. You can turn off remastered graphics at any time, and even with improvments stripped away, Grim Fandango looks more interesting than a lot of today’s games. Music has been redone as well, replaced with full orchestral versions of each song. On the PC version, you can click around to interact with objects, updating gameplay to fit in more modern Telltale fashion. You can play the game with classic tank controls (and you get a trophy/achievement for doing so) if you hate yourself, but I stuck with the new controls throughout and I recommend the same.
I cannot recommend Grim Fandango Remastered enough. If you want to futz with the puzzles, they’re there for you to grope through. I’m sure some people like being confused and feel accomplished getting through that. But if you’re like me, and want to experience one of the finest stories told in a video game without the trial and error, there are a lot of spoiler-free walkthroughs online. Don’t feel bad if you get stuck. But do feel bad if you skip this game.