We can hear the cries from a vocal minority already: "Oh, come on – another remaster? Enough is enough." In this case, though, we can probably all agree to make an exception. Grim Fandango is, by many, considered to be one of the greatest adventure games ever released, and while it didn't sell especially well at first attempt, the title's legacy has endured the test of time. Why is that? Maybe it's because almost 17 years after its original release, there's still nothing quite like it. There's probably room for just one more enhanced port, then, eh?
The very fact that this PlayStation 4 and Vita edition exists in the first place is a miracle, as it's the culmination of long negotiations between Disney (who acquired original developer LucasArts), Sony, and Double Fine – the company founded by director Tim Schafer. But what on Earth is it? Well, it's a neo-noir adventure game with some dark comedic elements, and it sees you assume the role of Manny Calavera. The protagonist is a travel agent who works for the Department of Death, and he helps recently departed souls to determine which package they get while completing their journey to the Ninth Underworld – the final resting place for their souls.
The packages range from things like high quality walking sticks to a ticket aboard the Number Nine – a train that allows the voyage to be completed in four minutes, as opposed to four years on foot. This is determined by how kind you were when you resided among the land of the living. However, when Manny happens across a client who is certain that he should be booked onto the Nine but is instead forced to walk – thus turning a short journey into a rather long one – events are set into motion that will see the lead character chasing his punter across the Underworld, just to discover what's going on.
If you haven't already realised, this is not your average adventure. Despite being out of the ordinary, though, the script is absolutely incredible. The character writing is exceptional, and the plot is gripping – even after all of these years. This is really brought to life through the voice acting, with many Latino performers employed to add realism to the script.
In addition to this, the plot unfolds in a really awesome and engaging way. The story is split up into episodes of sorts – with each representing a year. These each form a self-contained story – although there is still the overarching narrative, of course – which ensures that each portion of the game feels distinct from the others. This keeps things feeling incredibly fresh, despite the title's ten hour plus running time.
The most refreshing thing, however, is that there's a certain kid-like charm to a lot of the things in the game. That's not to say that it's immature, but rather that the whole experience is coated in a marvellous sense of innocence, despite it touching upon, shall we say, more 'grown up ideas'. It's almost Pixar-like in the manner that it fuses these two extremes, and there's plenty to appreciate for the more refined eye, including homages to some of the noir greats like The Maltese Falcon.
Of course, this was the case almost two decades ago, so what's new in this remaster? Well, there are some visual elements of the game that have been quite drastically overhauled – including, most prominently, the character models. You can see the differences for yourself, too, as a quick tap of the DualShock 4's touchpad enables you to toggle between the original and remastered versions of the game.
Other visual differences include new textures, though the pre-rendered background images remain largely unchanged. Fortunately, these don't look especially outdated, and actually blend well with the new characters. This is helped by the new lighting model, which uses a dynamic real-time system. The only downside, then, is that it remains in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. You are given a few options to tweak this – including a background pattern or a stretch option – but obviously it would have been preferable if the whole game had been reworked with the much more natural widescreen style in mind.
Still, while the visual improvements are mostly good, it's the replacement of tank controls that's most appreciated. For those of you that don't know, this scheme essentially prevents you from walking and turning at the same time, so the addition of a nice normal control system comes appreciated. You can still switch to the original setup if you prefer, but this is recommended for masochists only. Regardless of this, you'll be able to enjoy Peter McConnell's exceptional score, which has been orchestrated faithfully for the remaster by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Of course, we should probably spare a mention for the game itself. Much like many of the adventure titles of its time, this sees you gathering up objects in order to solve various puzzles. Occasionally, these can be a bit obtuse, and you'll end up going through your inventory or wandering around until something clicks into place. This can be problematic because of the intricacies of some of the conundrums, but it's satisfying when you come to a conclusion – especially if you avoided looking up the answer on YouTube. The difficulty's certainly not a game breaker, but it will prove a dampener if you're new to the genre, and it's a shame that the developer hasn't included a little extra guidance for those looking at it with fresh eyes.
Grim Fandango is undoubtedly one of the greatest adventure games ever made, and, a few niggles aside, this remaster does its legacy justice. The occasionally obtuse puzzles do date the game in some ways, but the plot and setting is as refreshing as ever. If you're yearning for something a little different, then a trip to the Underworld may be what you need – just make sure that you get a good package.