Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve been hearing for years about Citizen Kane, the greatest movie ever made. Of course you want to see it, right? Now imagine the only way to see it is to rewire your Blu-Ray player and track down one of just a handful of HD-DVDs.
For a long, long time, that was the only way to play Grim Fandango. The story of Manny Calavera, a Grim Reaper who uncovers corruption in the Department of Death and embarks on an epic journey to save the afterline, it was, and remains, one of the most critically beloved video games of all time and has often been argued to be one of the best games of the twentieth century. In fact, the Smithsonian has enshrined it as art, with MoMA doing the same.
And, yet, you couldn’t play it. It was impossible to find outside of overpriced used copies on eBay, Lucasarts was uninterested in a rerelease to put it mildly, and Tim Schafer, the game’s creative force and sole advocate, was busy elsewhere. So the new, remastered version isn’t just a welcome dose of nostalgia; it’s more or less rescuing one of the key works of art in gaming.
Despite a rather substantial amount of work done to upgrade the game, Grim Fandango, debuting today on the PS4, actually feels quite a bit like the 1998 original. The graphics, for example, seem largely to be discreetly tweaked; the textures have been upgraded and the animation is smoother, there are lighting effects here and there, but by and large it looks exactly like the game you might have played back in the day. And if you miss the original graphics, you can switch them on in the menus. Similarly, you can play it in a 4:3 aspect ratio or a widescreen one, and either works perfectly and feels right.
The game’s legendary score, on the other hand, definitely feels richer and more complex. Peter McConnell’s score has been rerecorded with a full orchestra, and really the fact that it doesn’t have to be squished onto a CD-ROM has worked wonders. Hopefully it’ll get a standalone release; it’s absolutely great. Disappointingly, you can’t toggle the original score back, but at least McConnell’s work has gotten the respect it deserves.
The game itself plays exactly the same as you remember it, right down to the game’s original “tank” controls, an option included at the insistence of Tim Schafer himself. You get a trophy for playing the whole game that way, which I’m not sure is out of nostalgia or just because Schafer really hates achievement hunters and wants them to bleed.
Any way you choose to play it, it’s a Lucasarts adventure game, through and through. It’s shot through with humor, the vocal performances are perfect, and you’ll need to have a sharp eye and a sharp ear; the game keeps the system of Manny looking at things he can interact with, which is often your only clue to what you can mess with. And, yes, even if you’ve played the original, the remaster is going to suck you in.
In short, a classic of gaming is not only playable again, it’s worth playing. Welcome back, Manny. We’ve missed you.