Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Game Challenge – Grim Fandango / Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus

Chronological Game Challenge – Grim Fandango / Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Two more reviews for you today. New reviews may continue to be a little spotty here and there because I’ve not got everything written yet. But of course, I will get stuff up as I write more. For now, enjoy another double edition of the Chronological Game Challenge!

Grim Fandango
Publisher: LucasArts (original) / Double Fine (remaster) | Developer: LucasArts (original) / Double Fine (remaster) | Year: 1998
Original System: Windows
Played on: PS4 (remastered edition)

Goal: Save Mercedes’ soul

Actual Outcome: Led Mercedes into the Ninth Underworld

Grim Fandango is one of those games that for some reason I missed when it first came out. Perhaps it was because at the time the PC was a family one so gaming time was limited, while my PlayStation and N64 were all mine. There’s a chance that the family PC also wouldn’t have been able to run Grim Fandango very well. Either way, it just barely caught my attention but I never got around to playing it.

Over the years, I became very aware of the work of Tim Schafer, now one of the key players at Double Fine, and that’s when I became aware of his work at LucasArts when they were still a thing. And now I’m determined to track down every single adventure game they made so I can experience the joy of them all. And, so it seems, Schafer’s doing the same thing, as each of them is gradually getting remastered and released for modern systems.

As a side note, I bought the PS4 version of this largely to have something to play on my PS4. And then a month later, Sony made it free on PS Plus, because of course they did. Anyway.

Grim Fandango is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Schafer’s work. Highly stylised characters and a dark sense of humour along with a plot set in world entirely divorced from our own and operates on its own weird logic. You play Manny Calavera, who is a travel agent for the dead, helping people get the tickets they need to get into the Ninth Underworld, which is apparently Heaven. When one of his clients finds herself without a ticket despite deserving one, Manny steadily unravels a conspiracy, bringing together the rather unlikely worlds of film noir and Dia de Muertos, with some Aztec mythology tossed in for good measure.

And it’s very much your typical point and click adventure. You move Manny around and examine things, interact with things, use things on other things and try and wrap your brain around the bizarre logic the game operates on. In typical LucasArts adventure fashion, there’s no fail-state here, just a “getting stuck for hours” state. It’s Monkey Island with fewer pirates and more Casablanca references, basically.

First of all, I must admit I preferred the smoother control scheme here. Unlike Monkey Island or Beneath a Steel Sky, character movement isn’t dependent on just clicking on things. Instead, this works more like, say, Resident Evil, where you move your character around environments with fixed camera angles and examine things by pressing specific buttons when you stand near them. It makes a much more enjoyable play experience when you feel more in control of Manny than merely guiding Guybrush around. Initially I did think this was a decision made for the remaster, but research shows me that the game was always this way, so this pleases me.

The puzzles are particularly fiendish here. Because you have to explore, rather than just hover your mouse over things, it’s very easy to miss certain things, so you can easily wander around aimlessly for a while looking for the tiny thing you missed. And usually it is something tiny, like a ladder that’s barely visible against the backdrop, or a mouth-guard hanging on a punch-bag.

Naturally, this can get a little frustrating, but it does come with the territory of this whole genre. Fortunately, the lack of a fail state means that running around and playing with everything you find is a sensible option. And the even better news is that Grim Fandango is so consistently charming that it’s hard to get mad at it.

Manny is a likeable character, being a bit of hapless loser who nonetheless is surprisingly capable when he needs to be. The game’s sense of humour never misses the mark – every interaction is tinged with references to the implausibility of the game’s world (how does anyone smoke when they don’t have any lungs?), sarcastic remarks, or general silliness. All of it is that deranged yet loveable style that Schafer has become well-known for. When your best friend is a demon twice the size of you with a mouth half the size of his head, you kind of have a sense of where this game is going.

The plot is also brilliant. For all the laughs, this is a surprisingly well-written story with a world that’s been built with love and care. The film noir aesthetic helps, as the moody mystery keeps the story ticking along rather nicely. The various twists and turns sometimes felt predictable, but overall there was enough intrigue to hold my interest.

Grim Fandango is a high watermark for the point and click genre. If you’re not into the genre with its mind-bending puzzles, then this really won’t convince you, but if you’re already on board, then you’d do a lot worse than this.

Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus
Publisher: GT Interactive | Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants | Year: 1998
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can get in a single sitting

Actual Outcome: One of the temples, I believe

After the mess that was Heart of Darkness, it’s pretty nice to come back to Oddworld, which we already know is much better. Abe’s Oddysee was a high-quality product with memorable characters and locations, and back in the day, hopes were high for the sequel a year later. We know that Oddysee still holds up well, but what about Exoddus?

About that. In all the ways Oddysee holds up, so too does Exoddus. The reason is simple – Exoddus is more or less the same game. But while this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t. Oddysee was already a fantastic game, and it seems that Oddworld Inhabitants knew this at the time and figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and where it is broke, fix it a lot.

One of the biggest complaints about Oddysee was in its checkpoint system. This, of course, was a mess where the trial-and-error gameplay resulted in you dying a lot, but the checkpoint system often forced you to replay loads of previous screens again before it put you back on the puzzle you got stuck on. It was a little maddening.

Exoddus solves this not by changing how the checkpoints worked (because they’re exactly the same), but by providing a Quicksave function that allows players to make their own checkpoints wherever they see fit. It’s an incredibly neat feature that causes the game to excel over its predecessor simply because it makes it more fun to play. Of course, there’s always a chance that you could Quicksave right as a Paramite is about to rip your face off, but that’s your own damn fault, alright?

But there are other little touches. Movement speed feels a little smoother and quicker, making the chase sequences more bearable, and rescuing Mudokons becomes a lot less repetitive when it’s possible to nab a whole bunch of them at once to lead to a portal. In pretty much every area they could have made improvements, they made improvements.

The game is also significantly bigger, to the point of crossing onto a second disc, and this is good. The world feels more alive and more vibrant, and the amount of challenges you face is hugely increased. It’s easy to lose yourself a lot more in Oddworld this time around, and this is always a good thing.

There’s not much else to say, to be honest. It’s Abe’s Oddysee with a lick of paint and some tweaking under the bonnet. It’s a classic.

  1. February 13, 2016 at 1:06 am

    Interesting to hear about the control scheme of PS4 for Grim Fandango. Do you think its superior to mouse and keyboard? I’ve heard the controls in the original version were poor

    • February 13, 2016 at 1:10 am

      I personally had absolutely no issues with Grim Fandango’s control scheme. It was very smooth and easy to handle, and I liked the fact that it felt quicker and more efficient than clicking normally like in Monkey Island or its ilk. I’ve never tried it with mouse and keyboard, but I can see how this control scheme would be a bit weird for that.

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