Grim Fandango Has Aged Terribly, But So Have We

First: a list of things that are great about Grim Fandango and will always be great about Grim Fandango. Consider this an attempt to appease the angry mob congregating outside the Kotaku Australia office 30 minutes after I hit publish on this article.

— Grim Fandango has fantastic dialogue. To this day it remains stylish, funny, clever and real. — Grim Fandango has an incredible cast of unforgettable characters. — Grim Fandango’s universe is beautifully drawn and well-realised. The art is dazzlingly unique. — There is no game quite like Grim Fandango. There will never be a game quite like Grim Fandango. It defies genre, it defies categorization. It’s too weird for this world. I consider that a good thing. I will be forever grateful it exists.

Quite the list. Understandable. Grim Fandango is a legendary video game with a daunting legacy. A video game purpose built, in retrospect, for nostalgia. The Last Western. Grim Fandango exhaled a dying breath for a genre that’s been on life support ever since.

The graphic adventure. For men and women my age they live long and large in our collective imaginations. For us, the sharp sound of unzipped wallets is but the whiff of a Kickstarter away. We are ready to spend. We want to buy that time back. These video games are as much a part of our childhood as Star Wars, Transformers, Gremlins and The Goonies. They represent the lost spirit of adventure — not in the graphic sense, but in the real sense. They represent a moment in time. As long as we could find the right person to talk to, or the right object to use in the right situation, anything was possible.

Grim Fandango was born into that context. It was born to that legacy. It didn’t ask for it. Grim Fandango was and is just a game. It had little understanding of how important it would become, bears no responsibility for the reasons why we love it. We love it because it was The Last One. The last adventure game that felt classic. The last adventure game that felt relevant on a grand scale. Graphic Adventure games would never quite be the same after Grim Fandango, never be more than a nostalgic curio.

Nowadays Grim Fandago exists as a time machine. A device with the power to unlock memories you didn’t even know you had. Memories outside of it. Memories inextricably hardwired to Grim in ways that none of us can fathom but can’t quite forget. This is the world into which Grim Fandango Remastered has been released. How can you not love it? How can you not embrace it like a long-lost family member, cradle it in your arms, and rock yourself into a nostalgic stupor?

I am thinking about these things. I’m thinking about these things because I am currently playing Grim Fandango Remastered. I am playing it and every step of the way I’m feeling frustration. If Grim Fandango was any other game I’d have stopped playing hours ago.

Grim Fandango has aged terribly.

Actually, rewind. Grim Fandango was flawed from the very start. In 1998 Grim felt clunky compared to its peers. Grim Fandango was one of the first Graphic Adventures since Maniac Mansion to not use the point and click system. In that respect it was something of a failed experiment.

Grim was one of the first graphic adventure games to give the player direct control over its protagonist. Perhaps the most high profile game to abandon the pixel hunt. Players weren’t searching with a mouse pointer, they were walking around the environment, praying that Manny Calavera’s head would arch slightly in the direction of an item they could use or interact with. Nostalgia aside, it was not an efficient system.

In the moments of frustrations that are inevitable in adventure games of this type, it was flat out offensive. I spent many hours in 1998 scouring environments bashing the interact key in the hope that I would find something to work with. The precision of a mouse pointer, the consistency of it, was lost. In its place a system where the player was never entirely sure if they had missed something, never 100% certain they were about to interact with the correct item. In a genre where eliminating possibilities is a huge part of progression, it was irritating. It didn’t work. It was a clash of styles. It had the obtuse puzzles of a Lucasarts classic, paired with a control system that made them almost impossible to parse.

And let’s not even discuss that inventory system.

Even back then I remember thinking, ‘this doesn’t work’, but I played through regardless. It was change for the sake of change. There was a desperation to it. Grim Fandango was born into its own context, it was cruelly self-aware: an elegy for a genre that was in the slow process of dying. A game in which every character is a skeleton. A game in which everyone is already dead.

Playing Grim Fandango today feels strange. It’s obtuse, clumsy, yet oddly compelling: like attending your own funeral. It’s not the game you remember, but when you peel back the wrinkles on your skin it very much is the game you remember. Grim Fandango is the crow’s feet on your face, the dull ache at the base of your back. It’s the male pattern baldness in your genetics. You were born like this.

Grim Fandango has aged terribly, but so have we.


Comments

    Thanks for the review.
    Is there a fun side to this remastered game?
    Cos i wanted to buy it for ps vita. I like the artwork, its very retro, back when games had there unique cartoon style and feel. I love it.

    Cheers :)

      I nearly got this for Vita, but I'm not so sure if I should anymore. I would be interested to know if, for someone who has never played the original, if it would be worth it?

        I never played the original and enjoy it now, some of the issues (like no point and click) have been remedied in the remaster. It's a bit clunky and I'm not amazing at adventure games so I cheat and look at walk-throughs a bit, but it's still fun and the dialog/story IS great.

          Thanks guys. I might go to EB Games and check it out. U can score some hidden gems there if ur lucky, talking about used games. Got Rayman Legends for psvita for $12.

          If I find Grim Fandango used, I know it's mine!

            Bro do you even steam? it's on steam for like $10 or something, don't bother with the original you'll need to run it through an emulator or something anyway, just get the remaster.

      Grim Fandango the story is amazing. One of the (if not the) all-time best stories told by a game, IMO.

      Grim Fandango the game is pretty meh. The puzzles themselves are generally good, but the interface and the execution are severely lacking.

      Even if you just sit down with a walkthrough and play through Manny's story I feel like it's worthwhile.

    I guess the thing you've hit on is that we enjoyed Grim Fandango back in the day in spite of, not because of, its flaws. It was great (and remains great) for all the things you listed. Now we're just bitter old men and women on our lawns shouting at those dang kids and their first person shooter "stories"

    #OldManSerrels #OldManUs

    Rose tinted glasses. Football these days is not a patch on football in the 80s/90s. I miss my Megadrive when games were 'pure gameplay' etc etc...

      I don’t know that “rose tinted glasses” applies here.

      He’s saying it’s aged for the worse.
      That’s kinda the exact opposite of the “rose tinted glassed”, or having an unrealistic, overly positive view of something just because it was in the past.

      Grim was almost universally praised back in the day and was awarded many very high scores, clearly the game design has dated to the point where it’s old flaws appear significantly worse.
      OTHER reviews have been done with the glasses on, I think that’s for sure. If it was a brand new title released in 2015 on the PS4 then I’m sure it would be getting scores of 6-8 from most reviewers and not the 9’s I’m seeing.

      I’m a bit split on whether or not I’ll enjoy this game (when I eventually get a PS4), I only ever played the demo of the original and while it most certainly harks back to a period which was my Golden Age for PC gaming I can see myself getting the sh*ts badly trying to figure out some of these obtuse puzzles for the first time.

      I mean I loved the Monkey Island remakes but I remembered 80%+ of the puzzles so it was more of a stroll down memory lane than a brand new challenge. I can’t imagine I would have put in the dozens of hours required to finish the games walkthrough free like I was happy to do in the 90’s (and before walkthroughs were readily available).

        I think he's trying to say that it's aged for the worse, and explain that when we gather up our pitchforks and torches and buy plane tickets to Sydney, it's because of our rose-tinted glasses.

        Which is fair... unlike the current price of domestic flights from Bris to Sydney. Jeebus. I am seriously reconsidering this violent protest.

    Haha, ahhh... yeah, pretty true. (Think I'll edit out my adventure games arent dead babble)

    Last edited 12/02/15 11:36 am

      I don't get it. What does making a lot of cash have to do with quality. Why does a genre need to be AAA to be considered vital?

      Imagine if we only watched Hollywood blockbusters all the time & nothing else?

      Why is it like this?

        Yeah, if by vital you mean 'relevant', totally agreed. The comment that really didnt sit well with me was that adventure games don't feel relevant, I kind of feel like this commentary only gives credence to the perspective that adventure games are dead. Kind of ignores the people that put a lot of work into the genre currently. Calling any game development nothing more than nostalgia is pretty dismissive.

        Last edited 12/02/15 1:07 pm

          Frankly, with the recent popularity of the Telltale games, I kinda feel like the genre's had a resurgence, with Grim Fandango as the last really popular 'missing link' between the treasured SCUMM engine adventures and Telltale's spin on the genre. Even though there are still some guys out there still progressing along the traditional route.

            As I recall Telltales's earlier efforts, such as the new Sam & Max games, followed a UI quite similar to the old Lucasarts games. In that respect Grm Fandango isn't so much a missing link as it is an offshoot. It's the Australopithecus of adventure gaming.

            (In a similar vein, I played the first part of Life is Strange last night. Interesting, funny, and stunningly short. I was genuinely surprised when the credits started rolling. Still worth the money, I think.)

    Great article. I've been weighing up whether to grab this, but I think I'll leave it be now.

      What Serrels didn't mention is that you can also play with a mouse, which basically makes is a point-and-click game. Far less frustrating. You can also turn on tank controls for a hit of nostalgia.

    I never played the original, even though I was right in the target market, I just got busy and missed it.
    I started of enjoying the remaster and the visual style, but my gawd it is a frustrating game. If it was just the difficulty of the puzzles, that would be okay, but it is just frustrating to play - and this is from a guy that hand-mapped all of the Infocom adventures on multi layers of 2mm graph paper.
    I was hoping to have a lot of fun with it, but I think unless the nostalgia/memories from playing it years ago are in your bloodstream, that the game just isn't fun.

    When I first read the title of the article, I thought "bollocks". Then you wrote:

    "Grim Fandango was flawed from the very start."

    This is exactly the case. The flaws complained of now are the very same flaws that were abound in 1998.

    I haven't been getting much of a nostalgia kick from it at all. Rather, I've found it's simply like watching Casablanca for the umpteenth time. It's still a great movie, even if there aren't any pretty colours.

    Like Casablanca, and I'm sure you'll forgive my deliberate analogy, Grim Fandango hasn't aged poorly at all. It remains utterly fascinating - quirky, sweetly sentimental and with razor sharp dialogue.

    Platinum'd this last week, never played it on PC or at all prior, but that sign puzzle in the forest after the first city was pretty bad, in fact, that entire area was just bad. Enjoyed it thoroughly otherwise. Can understand the complaints though.

      I did it without walkthroughs back in the day, but I had forgotten that puzzle and had to look it up.

      Really that whole section should have been cut.

        But... Eagles on Pogo sticks!

        Yeah, other than that the forest sucked. It just felt like bad padding.

    Wow, what a great article! I never played Grim as a kid, but you bet I'm going to play the remastered version. Hopefully without screaming too many expletives :-)

    One of the complaints is the control scheme, I thought they implemented point and click on the remastered version? I guess that doesn't work on Vita...

      Since the Vita has a touch screen (and even a touch back panel) there;s no reason why it wouldn't work. Mind you, same issues as with other touch screen games - your finger obscures what you're pointing at.

    Eh, I can see that viewpoint but I don't share it.

    As for the puzzles - for the first time, this isn't an adventure game where I'm just trying my inventory against everything. I'm solving them in my head. I can see that I am at A, and I need to get to D....so I can see how to get from C to D, and from B to C, so now I have to get from A to B.

    To me, that's a sign of great puzzle design. I can see some gameplay issues, but that's quite fair -the late nineties was the birth of 3D and so a lot of trial and error took place. I can forgive it when weighed against the rest of the game.

    Didn't play this the first time around, was most definitely impressed by the remastered version, yeah it's a bit dated but it has this charm that most games lack, I cared about the characters, I was always interested in what was next, and it didn't have point and click controls (yes I know it's helpful for adventure games but I prefer to control the character). The typical adventure game logic was no surprise but the story and characters made sure I overlooked that. All in all probably not the game for the current generation but for anyone 20+ years of age, I think they'd enjoy it.

    "I am playing it and every step of the way I’m feeling frustration. If Grim Fandango was any other game I’d have stopped playing hours ago"

    Coming from a guy who loves Trials... :P

    I'm not going to defend the old controls too rigorously, but I will say that almost everyone I speak to missed the fact that you could push the period key to toggle Manny's focus between hotspots. It made the game much more playable.

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