Somehow, somehow, Grim Fandango is 20 years-old this year. Twenty years! For some of you reading this review, the following game might look just like any other title from the transformative PC gaming days of the ’90s. A relic of an era where polygons were blocky, textures lacked detail and aspect ratios were square at best. But for many of us, Grim wasn’t just a game. It was - and remains - a touchstone. A proper highlight for LucasArts, for a studio that was already pumping out some of the decade’s best software.
Wherever you might sit on the spectrum, you’re in for a treat now that Grim Fandango Remastered has arrived on Nintendo Switch. It doesn’t matter that this prim and proper version has been out elsewhere for nigh on four years - including plenty of handheld platforms at that - because it’s just as brilliant as ever. It’s remained one of the best-loved adventure games ever made for a reason - the fact it was the first LucasArts adventure game to use 3D graphics on static backgrounds; the way Peter McConnell’s eclectic score weaved Latin flavour with noir gloom; the sheer brilliance of its voice performances. There’s just so much appreciate here.
Even its story and dialogue is still as pithy and self-referential as ever. Following Manny Calavera, a travel agent working in the Land of the Dead who discovers a menacing conspiracy involving the souls passing through its gates, Grim pays homage to so many different inspirations through its four-act story. There’s the Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead celebration in South America) aesthetic that informs its character designs; the cool yet bleak approach to storytelling that doffs its cap at the classic noir mysteries of film and literature. It’s one of LucasArts most unique and memorable games of the ‘90s to not feature an X-Wing or a lightsaber and has dated far better than many of its contemporaries that were also dipping their toes into 'proper' 3D.
Double Fine did a fine job deftly updating its own legacy with Grim (studio head Tim Schafer oversaw the original at LucasArts before it was shuttered and remains one of the most important creative minds in the industry) and the Nintendo Switch port benefits from each little adjustment as a result. Lighting models now run in real-time, while almost every asset has had its textures upped to a much higher resolution. The controls have been enhanced to help them better suit a console, but you can play with that ‘classic’ tank setup, should you wish.
That ability to dial back the clock even extends to the aspect ratio, which can be played in a traditional (for the time) 4:3 or stretched to a more palatable 16:9. As you might expect for an adventure game on Switch, you can play with the buttons and analog stick on your Joy-Con or direct Manny through the Land of the Dead by tapping the touchscreen. Even without a mouse, keyboard and CRT monitor in sight, this is as faithful a recreation of the original experience you can get without facing many of the problems inherent to playing two-decade-old PC games.
Double Fine has helped usher in something of a renaissance for the adventure game with the likes of Broken Age, but it wouldn’t be here without the legacy Grim set in place 20 years ago. Sure, the game itself was a commercial flop at the time, but much like the best things in life, Manny’s underworld odyssey became a cult classic that’s only gotten better with age. Now that it’s been optimised for Nintendo Switch, there’s never been a better time to give this gaming highlight another go.
The fact you’ve been able to play Grim Fandango Remastered on your TV and in handheld form elsewhere for years doesn’t matter one bit, because this gem of a game is still as enchanting and evocative as it was the first time you popped open that oversized cardboard box back in PC in 1998. Here and now on Nintendo Switch, this port looks and runs noticeably smoother than its fellow portable versions thanks to Double Fine’s deft adjustments, so if whether you’ve already joined Manny on his afterlife odyssey or this is your first time among the dead, Switch is 100 percent better for its inclusion.