The nostalgia express looks to be in full steam. All aboard, and don’t forget your pixel art T-shirts! It was just last week that I talked about the strategy genre getting an old faithful remastered Homeworld, and now the adventure scene has its own revival with Lucasarts cult classic, Grim Fandango, thanks to Double Fine having smoothed things over with rights-holder Disney.
The game used a generous serving of Mexican folklore and took a few liberties to weave its quirky story. It used the ubiquitous concept of good deeds in this life being rewarded in the afterlife, or more specifically, to cut the time taken to make the journey through the Land of the Dead to reach the Ninth Underworld. So while those who strayed off the path of good were forced to trudge through Skeleton Central on foot for four years, others who led better lives were rewarded with more cushy travel packages, the ultimate being the Number Nine, which took all of four minutes to reach its destination. As is to be expected, some of the foot traffic, weighed down by the prospect of a lengthy trudge, gave up on the idea of the Ninth Underworld in the first place and found employment in the Land of the Dead instead.
Enter Manny Calavera, one of the aforementioned lost souls, who makes his, well, living at the Department of Death. I’ve got to admit, I’d just discovered Sepultura around ’98, so I took to calling him Manny Cavalera instead. Early into the game, he realises that all is not right with the job, and some very dastardly strings are being pulled, and from then on, it becomes an epic quest to right wrongs and rescue a dead damsel in distress. Style is something that the game doesn’t lack — from the vibrant Mexican feel of the Dia de Los Muertos to the film-noir Casablanca homage a little later in the game. Schafer and co at Double Fine were obviously well versed with the classics, and their blend of original story and tribute is definitely one of the adventure genre’s finest moments yet.
It’s a shame that the game tanked on a commercial level, and its gravestone unofficially marked the death of the adventure genre as a mainstream staple. However, now with the adventure game getting a shot in the arm, thanks to nostalgia crowdfunding, it’s the perfect time to exhume the body and give it a shiny new coat of paint.
While the new version isn’t going to be setting the world alight with its visuals, it does a decent job making it palatable and playable on modern monitors, with higher resolutions, some bells and whistles where lighting and shadows are concerned, higher-res models and textures. The controls have been rejigged with gamepad support and point-and-click system being standard, since the original 3D movement controls threw a few players off. For those who grew to love the keyboard movement, the option is still there.
One new feature that’ll probably perk up the ears of longtime fans is the commentary from the original developers of the game, which would justify a repeat playthrough even in the unlikely event that you knew how to solve all the puzzles right from the get-go.
What with the growing popularity of indie games and storytelling being given more respect these days, it seems like an apt time to experience the magic of Grim Fandango. While it may not be perfect, it’s still a gem that didn’t get the fate it deserved, and there’s no better time to give it a shot and see if its cult status is warranted. Godspeed, Manny.