Review: Grim Fandango Remastered (Vita) | Vita la revolución

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Posted January 27, 2015 by in Adventure

Release Date: January 27, 2015
 
Summary: Something's rotten in the land of the dead, and you're being played for a sucker. Meet Manny Calavera, travel agent at the Department of Death. He sells luxury packages to souls on their four-year journey to eternal rest. But there's trouble in paradise. Help Manny untangle himself from a conspiracy that threatens his very salvation.
 
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
 
Genre: ,
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 

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Captivating noir-ish story and great characters, thematic music, excellent visuals and a nice, new rendering system, impeccable voice acting, seamless touch controls,
 

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Controls take some time to get used to, some framerate hiccups, annoying sound bugs, long save times, sorta wish there was a hint system.
 

Double Fine did the game justice; a remarkable job at recapturing the magic that LucasArts cast more than a decade ago. There are a few hiccups here and there with the Vita port but nothing to really sour my experience with this timeless classic

Rating

Story
9.5


Presentation
10


Gameplay
8.0


Sound
9.0


Total Score
9.1

9.1/ 10

by Dominic Barbiran
Full Article
Grim Fandango Remastered is a dance worth doing on the Vita; it may lose its footing at times, but never enough to sour your enjoyment.

For those of you out of the loop, Grim Fandango was a graphic-adventure game released in 1998, developed and published by LucasArts. It was released to much critical acclaim, and is often recognised as one of the greatest games of all time. For the longest time, there wasn’t a way to play it without scrounging around eBay for a physical copy, and you’d be lucky to get it working with a finicky modern PC. More than 15 years later, Double Fine Productions answers the call, bringing us a remastered edition widely available on a bunch of systems and digital delivery services and replete with bonuses such as:

• Repainted, hi-res character textures
• New, dynamic lighting
• Classic score re-recorded with a full live orchestra
• Over 2 hours of exclusive developer commentary
• Concept art browser

So to herald the second coming of Grim Fandango, I played it on the Vita. One of the best games of all-time, reworked and released on one of the best portable consoles of all time. Seemed like a match made in heaven, don’t you think? So how does it hold up now, and did Double Fine do it justice?

 

The marrow of the matter

Lying at the center of every great graphic-adventure game is a story or at least a setting that should suck you in, like bone marrow from a tree. For those that have played it, that simile should’ve made sense, but to everyone else, maybe that gives you an idea as to how unique and unusual Grim Fandango’s concept is. You play as Manny Calavera, a down-on-your-luck travel agent in the Land of the Dead, the underworld you inhabit after you’ve passed on from life. The game borrows and intermixes elements from Mexican folklore and film noir, weaving the two absurdly-opposing concepts in a surprisingly agreeable, dark comedy blend. As with any good noir story, you’re luckless and world-weary, chasing a mysterious dame in a highly-stylized crime caper setting peppered with enough twists and turns to keep the story constantly entertaining. As with any good LucasArts adventure game, it’s quirky and charming. It fully embraces its setting and atmosphere, taking you to strange new places, meeting oddball characters, and produces enough snappy and witty dialogue to beat the band. I wish I could go on about how refreshing it is to play a game with this much originality to it, but for the sake of brevity, and to keep newcomers to the game unspoilt, all I’ll say is that Grim Fandango is every bit as good people say it is. It’s a relic of the time when games could balance design direction and an engaging story, rather than picking one or the other. If you’re looking for a change from the usual gaming scenery, than what better alternative is there, than a re-resurrection?

grim-fandango-meche

Can it get any more noir?
Lovingly-crafted Vita-specific touch controls

Grim Fandango controls like the early Resident Evil games, in the sense that it’s fixed cameras and tank controls. You are able to change it to camera-relative, where pushing one direction on the control stick will keep you moving forward even if the angle of the camera is completely different. This can take some time getting used to, and is often a cause of frustration. Sometimes, I’d find myself exiting and re-entering a screen constantly, trying to grapple with the sense that I’ll be pushing right on the stick, and I’m going up in the game. If you want to avoid that whole hornets nest, another alternative is using the lovingly-crafted Vita-specific touch controls. It’s great to see that this isn’t just a barebones, copy-and-paste port. They put effort into taking advantage of the Vita’s hardware. The touch controls are super simplified. Just tap an area on the map to move towards it, or touch an object to interact with it. You can press and hold the touchscreen on an object of importance, to open up an interaction wheel with a few options on it. If you see a person and you want to comment on them rather than talk to them, open the interaction wheel and click the “eyeball” icon. The inventory has it’s own icon right on the side of the screen, as does the pause menu. You could feasibly play the whole game with the touchscreen, and it works well enough that I wish I did. However I chose to play with the tank controls, because how often do you see tank controls in games nowadays?

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Screenshot of the Vita HUD. Thanks for putting effort into the Vita port, Double Fine!
Would have been nice to see a hint system

The core of the gameplay is your standard adventure-game fare, though I think it’s more difficult than most. You’ll always have a set of greater objectives, and a lot of problems getting in the way. Solving problems is conquering some logic-puzzles, and exploring the world for items and clues. An aggressive flock of birds is guarding your next objective, a nest of eggs. How do you get them away from it without becoming bonemeal? Well I picked up some bread and a balloon animal earlier, maybe I can do something with that. Most of the time it’s both fun, and funny figuring out the answer, but other times it’s illogical and difficult to figure out. I have to admit, I was stumped pretty often. How was I supposed to know how to collapse a bone tree when I’ve never seen the mechanism it’s attached to before in my life? That’s the simultaneously the best and worst thing about these 90s adventure games, they don’t mess around, and modern audiences might be a bit shell-shocked by how little it holds your hand. On top of the fact that this game is already pretty long, factoring in the time spent figuring out puzzles, and you may be playing this game for a good while. I would have loved to see a hint system included in the game. In the Monkey Island games, the hint system would provide you with two clues before flat-out telling the answer. Some adventure game purists might say that’s weak, but it would be nice to have the option. One solace you can take away from the difficult nature, is that you can’t lose in the game. After all, you’re already dead.

 

Day of the Dead

It looks a lot better than the original, but it comes at a cost of a very minor framerate dip

Visually, there’s really not much to improve with the game; those 3D pre-rendered visuals are almost timeless, huh? Keeping in mind that this is a remaster, and not a HD remake, the biggest change to the look of the game is the updated rendering system. This revamps the lighting in the game, giving shadows a less blocky appearance than the original, and casting different intensities and hues of light depending on the light source. It looks a lot better than the original, but it comes at a cost of a very minor framerate dip. When I say minor, I mean it’s really imperceptible, like going from 60 FPS to 55. Both are completely playable, but if you’re really a stickler for playing the game as smooth as you can, than you can easily toggle to the original mode and back with a press of the ‘Select’ button. The game is natively in 4:3, with some bars along both left and right sides. There is an option to enable borders in case you don’t like the black bars, replacing them with some thematic textures that appear to change depending on where you’re at in the game. Nice touch. There is an option to play with 16:9 widescreen, but it noticeably stretches the game out, if you’re into that. I think it looks and plays fantastically on the Vita, despite the few instances of slowdown. You just have to ask yourself whether or not it’s worth sacrificing the screen real estate of a PC or PS4 over the portability of a handheld. You may miss out on some of the details in the environment with the Vita, unless you have a discerning eye.

Check out the comparison shots of the rendering styles, and the widescreen and square formats below:









Headphones are recommended

Grim Fandango is one of those instances where the music really carries the whole theme of the game. You’ll hear strains of South American folk music, big band, jazz, alternating between up and down tempo depending on the situation. For this 2015 remaster, it’s revitalized with a live score performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It’s been carefully recreated and sounds excellent coming from a handheld device. Accompanying the music, is some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard in the game. Each voice is unique and idiosyncratic, from the Latino-infused accent of Manny to the cocky and mellow strains of Domino Hurley. Featuring a real cast of Latino actors, they do an impeccable job at breathing a persona into each character. If that’s not enough, the remastered edition features an additional 2 hours of commentary track, that can be accessed at any time. Hearing little behind-the-scenes tidbits from the developers is such a gratifying experience as a longtime fan, and is probably the best addition to this remaster. Playing on the Vita, headphones are recommended, so you can get the full breadth of the score and voice acting. I can’t lump all this praise to the game without noting the few detractions. I came across a bug at one point in the game, which looped a sound effect, producing a noise that sounded like a running engine. It was loud and didn’t stop even after I had saved and reloaded the game. It only disappeared when I changed locale. It’s also a bit weird that there’s no music when you pause the game. None of these gripes are really anything to shake a bone at, though.

 

No bones about it

Grim Fandango has aged miraculously. To answer an earlier question, I think Double Fine did the game justice; a remarkable job at recapturing the magic that LucasArts cast more than a decade ago. There are a few hiccups here and there with the Vita port; some sound bugs, some slowdown in the framerate and saving in the menu, and surprisingly little done to make the game accessible to a newer audience. None of this ever really soured my experience with this timeless classic. At $15, this price tag is worth it just to play one of the best games of all time, again. As for the remastered Vita port, it runs admirably and the Vita-specific controls show that Double Fine put some effort into giving this machine some much-needed love. Help replay the favor and grab this for the Vita when you can; let everyone know that the Vita is not dead, just the grim inhabitants in the Land of the Dead.

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Dominic Barbiran


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