Take a Jaunt Through the Land of the Dead
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Were you aware that the dead need travel agents? This classic game will get you acquainted.
By Michael Nordine
Cash-grabs are as prevalent in the world of video games as they are anywhere else, but remastering old favorites can be more noble homage than ransacking of the past. As gaming technology becomes obsolete or lost in the attic when players move on to the newest generation of consoles, the classics of yesteryear can end up being unplayable. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s nothing stopping us from listening to the Beatles on iTunes, so why should it be any different with video games?
The remastered edition of 1998’s Grim Fandango counts as something of a resurrection — appropriate for a game influenced by Aztec concepts of the afterlife. Your onscreen avatar in this point-and-click jaunt through the Land of the Dead is Manny Calavera, a postmortem travel agent who helps shepherd recently departed souls from one plane of existence to the next. Manny and most others appear as skeletal calacas, the kind you’d see during Day of the Dead celebrations. He has the silver tongue and cool demeanor of a film-noir detective, but also a genuine emotional center (if not an actual heart).
The remastered game gets a purely cosmetic makeover, with the original, open-ended gameplay remaining unchanged. Rather unlike contemporary games, Grim Fandango features no onscreen text explicitly informing the player of the current objective (much less how to achieve said goal). Players interact with other employees of a Department of Death office building and the denizens of a petrified forest, picking up verbal clues in passing and accruing an inventory full of seemingly useless items (a balloon animal here, a can opener there) that later prove essential to solving puzzles and progressing through the underworld. Trekking through this lightheartedly morbid environment is often jarring in its utter lack of direction; it may strike modern players as a nostalgic time capsule, or make them wonder why designers Double Fine Productions didn’t update certain mechanics along with the graphics.
Watch the game’s original trailer:
“Pretending time hasn’t marched on would be silly and doesn’t help anyone. Most of all, it’s dishonest,” offers David Wolinsky when asked about judging remastered games by contemporary standards. Wolinsky, a former editor at The Onion currently writing for Kill Screen, draws a comparison between remakes and reboots: one tries not to change the original, the other reimagines the original within a current vernacular. Mostly for better, and occasionally for worse, this iteration of Grim Fandango belongs to the former category.
Grim Fandango wasn’t a major hit when it came out, but its unique story and biting wit ensured its status as a cult classic. LucasArts, which created the game, shelved plans for similar releases before the studio was absorbed by Disney in 2012. It’s ironic that, in some ways, one of the greatest exemplars of point-and-click adventure games heralded the genre’s decline. But then again, even after a long detour through the Department of Death, Grim Fandango still has a beating heart.
Watch the trailer for the remastered game: