At last weekend's PSX event in Las Vegas, seeing a row of Vita demo units playing Grim Fandango Remastered made me pause to soak up the surreality of it all.
The game seemed destined to be forgotten by all but those who clamored for its revival—but here it sat, nearly 16 years removed from the experiences available on surrounding kiosks. It's incredibly easy (and often fun) to complain about the constant problems that get in the way of us enjoying our damned video games, but sometimes, the stars align, and great things happen with no strings attached. (Like last summer's release of EarthBound on the Wii U's Virtual Console, which I'm still not convinced wasn't a mass hallucination.)
Of course, when you think of polygonal games from the late '90s, the most attractive images probably don't come to mind. Thankfully, LucasArts unintentionally future-proofed the original Grim Fandango out of necessity by using simple polygonal constructions that still manage to evoke a lot of personality. Had they opted for turning the cast into ugly, human-shaped blobs—as LucasArts did with Escape from Monkey Island a few years later—Grim would look a lot more rickety, but, outside of the strange, balloon-animal body segmentation that somehow feels fitting for these skeleton people, the game still looks surprisingly modern.
Assisting with this modernization is a new (and optional) rendering engine that doesn't feel like out-of-place, Star Wars Special Edition-style tampering. Rather, it actually makes Manny and the rest feel more natural to their environments, as each room now contains lightning sources that reflect the actual conditions of the pre-rendered backgrounds. This change may sound small, but it's amazing to see it work so effectively—turn off this new engine for just a few seconds, and you'll want to switch back immediately after seeing those crusty and untouched polygons. And this new engine really makes some rooms pop: I entered Manny's office and noticed the mini-blinds throwing striped sunlight across his face as he drew closer—a distinctly film noir touch they never could've pulled off in real time with the primitive technology of the original.
The input, too, receives some tweaks—namely, replacing those Resident Evil-style "tank" controls with a scheme that makes a lot more sense in a world with no shortage of analog sticks. You still have the expected problem with camera-relative controls, where switching an angle completely changes the meaning of "forward," but this new setup feels so much better than the Grim of old. And for all of you sticklers out there (me included), Remastered feels perfectly presented in its old 4:3 aspect ratio, another unintentional future-proofing by LucasArts that makes Grim feel a lot more like an old movie some 16 years after its original release. Double Fine could have cheated to artlessly fit Grim's old format onto modern TVs and monitors, but they wisely decided not to adulterate the original.
I've only finished the original Grim Fandango twice—once during its original release, and once ten years ago—so it goes without saying I can't wait to play through a version that removes some of the technical problems, and allows me to experience it away from a PC: It'll be out for television-tethered consoles as well, but the Vita version just feels so right. Really, Grim Remastered comes as close to a best-case-scenario as I can imagine: It's making this classic adventure playable on multiple platforms, and with some interface and visual changes that make it more presentable and easier to control than the original version. I'm still holding my breath until I see more of that Day of the Tentacle Remake—that gorgeous and incredibly low-res animation seems like it's going to require a lot more work—but, for now, Grim Fandango Remastered stands as a fantastic second chance for a game that desperately deserved one.