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Review: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

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via Giant Bomb

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991)

PC / Rated E10+

Adventure

Publisher: LucasArts

Developer: LucasArts


Things were looking great for wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood at the end of The Secret of Monkey Island.  Guybrush defeated the notoriously evil pirate LeChuck and he won the heart of love interest Elaine Marley.  However, all is not well in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, the sequel from Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer at LucasArts.  Guybrush has fallen out of good grace with Elaine and thanks to his quest to find the treasure of Big Whoop, his arch-nemesis seems to have resurrected again as the evil zombie pirate LeChuck.  The sequel to the classic point-and-click adventure game manages to retain the charm of the original and continues to offer some of the best adventure gameplay out there.

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Monkey Island 2 is a classic.  The sequel picks up soon after the original, but Guybrush has had some back luck with Governor Elaine.  Despite these unfortunate circumstances, he goes on to carry out his next mission, which is the search for the grand and fabled treasure of Big Whoop.  This quest brings him to Scabb Island, which is one of three islands that you will adventure across over the course of the game.  The others consist of Booty Island, home of Elaine Marley, and Phatt Island, where Guybrush is currently wanted for a laundry list of crimes.  Things only get more treacherous for poor Guybrush when his quest to find Big Whoop’s treasure inadvertently resurrects LeChuck who has a thirst for revenge…and an unsettling fascination with voodoo.  In fact, everyone seems to have a weird fascination with voodoo this time around.  Finally, unlike its predecessor, Monkey Island 2’s ending offers a surprise twist that puts a nice cherry on top of a rather delicious sundae that is this game’s story.

Of course, point-and-click adventure games live or die depending on the strength of their writing and the crew at LucasArts manages to manufacture another charming story full of wry, smart, and sophisticated humor.  Monkey Island 2 is chock full of hilariously ridiculous and laugh-out-loud moments that still stand the test of time.  But the game’s strongest suit is the characters.  The characters this time around are well realized and each have their own quirks that make them all standouts.  There are a host of new characters as well as some series favorites, including Stan S. Stanman, the eccentric salesman from the first game, who is back and better than ever.  This time around he is trying to cut you a good deal on coffins and he still will not shut up.  Even though they did not do much to change the character, he still manages to be one of my favorites from the game.  You do not have to fix something that works like a charm.

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I should note that I played the Special Edition remastered version of the game, so the games mechanics have been modernized.  The original game uses the SCUMM engine, which was the staple for most adventure games back in the day.  The remaster streamlines a lot of the tedious aspects of the aged engine and makes gameplay a lot more convenient with fewer clicks necessary.  Your standard “look,” “pick up,” and “talk,” etc. actions are relegated to the right mouse button, which brings up an action wheel of sorts, allowing you to click on an object or person in the environment and then pick the action you want to perform on it.  The inventory button on the other hand allows for easy access to the items that you pick up along the way.  Monkey Island 2 is truly an adventure game that stands the test of time in terms of its playability.  I never found myself getting frustrated with the mechanics.  Everything works and runs well.

The puzzles are tough, but they are always creative.  Fans of wacky puzzles and bizarre item combinations will feel right at home with Monkey Island 2’s brand of puzzles.  I must give the game credit where credit is due, however, as none of the solutions felt too far-fetched or crazy.  I like to think of myself as a seasoned adventure game player so I am used to the train of thought that these games require, but I still had to look for hints at certain points.  Luckily, the remaster’s included hint system does the trick.  Unfortunately, you do not have to use every item that you acquire to complete the game.  There are some items, including my treasured portrait of Elvis Presley, that go unused and occupy your inventory the entire game, collecting dust.  I am not sure how my lovely portrait of Elvis would have come in handy, but I was sure hoping it would come to the rescue at some point.

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Since I was playing the special edition, the game’s presentation was much improved.  Additional features like HD graphics and presentation, audio, commentary, and concept art are all included in the final product.  The ability to switch between the modern and classic art styles remains my favorite part of the LucasArts remasters.  Although the modernized HD art is well done and true to the source material, I still tend to favor the charm of the old pixel art.  The audio commentary is another welcome addition, but I would have liked a little more.  It felt lacking compared to some of the other remasters of similar ilk and the fact that the audio commentary does not pause the game made me a little sour on it as well.  Gilbert, Grossman, and Schafer often have a lot of enlightening things to say, but you miss the scenes and the dialog that are happening in the background.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Monkey Island 2 from start to finish.  It is a nice and polished experience that was full of charm and humor.  It is also full of nostalgia, especially for those who are fans of the series.  The Secret of Monkey Island was a fantastic game and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge certainly lives up to its name.

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Review: No Man’s Sky

no-mans-sky-cover
via Moby Games

No Man’s Sky (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Hello Games

Developer: Hello Games


What do you get when you mix together a fresh new idea, an unconventional publisher-developer relationship, a massive development cycle, and hype levels the size of space itself?  You get No Man’s Sky, a game that I really wanted to like.  Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games promised to make an expansive game rooted in boundless exploration and science-fiction nostalgia.  They teamed up with Sony to bring a console exclusive that would be revolutionary to gaming.  Unfortunately, the game was treated like a AAA game with the size of an indie studio.  When you pair that with a plethora of broken promises and an unclear scope, you get a game that lets a ton of people (like myself) down.

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via Gear Nuke

Again, I really wanted to like No Man’s Sky.  The game brought and touched upon a ton of different concepts and ideas that would have made for a fantastic game if handled with a little more care.  The prospect of getting in a space cruiser and flying through the endless expanse of space, exploring different planets and their wildlife on the way, is an idea that should get any sci-fi nerd bouncing with excitement.  On top of that, a fluctuating space economy and the ability to interact with different alien species paint should have made No Man’s Sky the space exploration game we all were waiting for.  So where did it all go wrong?  Why did the game fall short of its expectations?

One reason is reality of the game’s planets versus what we were promised over the course of the game’s prolonged development and PR cycle.  If you watched any of the game’s demos, you probably saw a lush and vibrant ecosystem, filled to the brim with a wide range of mystical creatures roaming about.  It’s a setting that looked ripped from a painting.  It was beautiful, and it got a lot of gamers excited to explore the game’s randomly generated planets for themselves.  We all bought a ticket for the hype train.  We all bought in to the Sean Murray’s tremendous vision, one that might have been a little too far-fetched.

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via Segment Next

At the end of the day, No Man’s Sky is just a game.  A game with limitations, just like any other game.  What Hello Games was promising fans was a game that would exceed technological innovation.  Instead, what we got were computer-generated planets that looked barren and empty, usually with some sort of radiation or extreme temperatures that make exploration a major pain in the ass.  Instead of these mythical creatures we saw in pre-release footage, we got a fair amount of atrocities that looked like the by-product of an animal creation algorithm gone wrong.  Remember EA’s character creation game Spore?  The creatures that you encounter in No Man’s Sky look like Spore rejects.  The ecosystem in the actual game just doesn’t match up with what we saw leading up to the game’s release.  This made planet exploration a bummer, especially when I started to see a lot of the same animals and planets over and over again over the course of my travels.  Random generation is great, but the limitations of such a system started to become apparent after my visit to my fifth planet.

Besides flora and fauna, you can also explore abandoned outposts, monoliths, and other structures, some populated and some empty.  Inside these buildings you can find new items, upgrades, money, and directions to other locations of interests.  The variety of these buildings, just like the animal and plant variety, starts to quickly wear thin as the buildings you explore start to become super familiar as you go on.  The monoliths, which are essentially ancient alien structures, are the most intriguing structures to explore as they offer the most variety and they also look amazing as well.

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via Investor Place

The universe of No Man’s Sky feels empty as well.  Talks of a space economy and different alien species that you could interact with made me believe that the world we would be exploring would be a living and breathing galaxy.  Instead, members of these different alien species stay in the same spots, whether it’s in a space station or a planet’s outpost.  They talk in foreign tongues which makes it next to impossible to feel like you are actually having a conversation with an alien.  You can find tomes throughout the galaxy that help you understand these species’ languages, but this doesn’t help the fact that these NPCs that you encounter are lifeless quest givers.  The space economy does deliver in that you can find different prices for materials in different space systems, but I don’t think these prices are determined by any meta-statistics.  If I were to sell tons of iron to a space trader, the price of iron across the galaxy would not go down, which is a shame.  A space economy that actually reacted to players’ buying habits would be amazing.

Combat, whether it’s on foot or in the sky, is largely underwhelming.  While exploring planets, you have a multi-tool, which allows you to mine for materials as well as fight enemies.  You can upgrade the tool with better upgrades and abilities as you go.  When exploring planets, your only enemies are aggressive creatures and the flying sentinels that scour the planetscape, waiting for someone to cause trouble.  The creatures are easy to take down with your multi-tools’s blaster but the sentinels become a real nuisance as they traverse through the air.  The gun combat doesn’t feel great and I often found myself recklessly shooting my gun in an attempt to destroy the sentinels.  Combat does get easier with subsequent upgrades, but it never felt fun, which is a big problem.  In the air, your space ship has blasters and lasers that aid you in taking down pesky space pirates you track you down if you have any valuable cargo on board.  These fights were the most frustrating of them all.  The space pirates zoom by you and do nimble acrobatic maneuvers through the air as you try to shoot them with your sluggish aim.  Your best bet is to park yourself in place and turn your ship around in an attempt to take down the enemy ships.  This, again, was not fun at all and was the source of a good amount of deaths.  In fact, most of my deaths in this game came at the hands of space pirates.  Luckily they have no interest in your cargo as you can go retrieve your lost goods in the same place where you went down.  There are no stakes to these fights, which makes them a little easier to swallow.

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Up to this point, I have probably talked about half of what you do in No Man’s Sky.  The other half you may ask?  Well, you are going to spend a lot of time with inventory management, which is another major detriment to the game’s experience.  The thing I like about No Man’s Sky’s user interface is the inspiration it draws from Destiny’s user interface.  Unfortunately, navigating through your inventory becomes a hassle thanks to the limited space that you have right from the get-go.  Your Exosuit (your spacesuit) has an inventory as well as you ship, which usually has a larger inventory.  These inventories are pretty small in the beginning which makes resource mining a pain.  I constantly found myself having to sacrifice some materials in order to make room for rarer materials and items.  It also doesn’t help that suit and ship upgrades take up inventory spots as well, which makes upgrading your gear a tougher decision that it should be.  Your inventory space should never get in the way of upgrading your gear.  In order to expand your inventory, you either have to purchase suit upgrades at outposts or obtain bigger and more expensive ships with more space.  Again, as a player you should never have to upgrade your inventories in order to make them useable.  Moving resources and items around in order to make room for other things is a big portion of the gameplay, which is a major shame.  It starts to become a drag really quickly.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that half of your playtime will be spent in the game’s inventory menus.  You’re going to be managing your inventory a lot…which is not my idea of a good time.

Finally, I feel like I need to talk about the multiplayer aspects of the game, rather the lack of multiplayer features that the game has to offer.  You have the choice to name the systems, planets, animals, and plants that you discover in hopes that another player will stumble upon your discoveries.  Why else would name these things?  However, the reality of such a massive random generation algorithm means that millions of planets are being created.  Sean Murray has made it pretty clear that the chance of stumbling upon someone else’s discovery are pretty slim.  Over the course of my playtime, I found nothing that was discovered by someone else.  Because of this, I found myself skipping the naming process, sticking with the randomly generated names that the game gives to these different aspects of the universe.  I stopped claiming ownership of such discoveries, because in the end, they don’t really matter.  Realistically, no one is going to stumble upon your discovered planets…which is a damn shame.  This is the theme of No Man’s Sky.  It’s a damn shame.

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via Segment Next

I could go on for multiple paragraphs, but this review is starting to run long.  There’s a bevy of great ideas and systems that No Man’s Sky implements, but they all feel half-baked and undercooked.  Black holes, Hyper drives, puzzles, and the mysterious Atlas are aspects of the game that I haven’t talked about.  However, none of these things managed to stick out because they were either mishandled ideas or cheap by-products of another random generation.  I admire Hello Game’s commitment to fixing the game and trying to make it a better experience for players after the game has launch, but a lot of these problems could have been fixed if expectations were tempered and promises weren’t made.  The No Man’s Sky we were expecting versus the No Man’s Sky that was put on shelves are two different products that tell two different stories.  One could have been a defining addition to gaming history while the other was the product of a hype train gone off the rails.  I wanted to like No Man’s Sky so much, but in the end it’s a game that just can’t get into.  Who knows, maybe the game will be different in a year’s time with the developer’s plans to update the game, but I don’t think I will be making the return trip into No Man’s Sky.

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Review: Day of the Tentacle Remastered

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via Entertainment Factor

Day of the Tentacle Remastered (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Adventure

Publisher: Double Fine Productions

Developer: Double Fine Productions


Tim Schafer is a genius when it comes to adventure games, and I genuinely mean that.  All you have to do is take a look at his past work, which includes games like Grim Fandango, the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, Maniac Mansion, and most recently Broken Age.  His latest trend, one that I wholeheartedly enjoy, is bringing some of these classics back, like Grim Fandango, as remastered versions.  Double Fine’s latest remaster project, Day of the Tentacle Remastered, brings back the wacky time-travel adventure that stars three odd-ball teenagers and one very evil purple tentacle.  The remaster beautifully modernizes the story while retaining the charm and amusement of the original.

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via multiplayer.it

You take control of the nerd Bernard Bernoulli, the weirdo Laverne, and the heavy metal roadie that goes by the name Hoagie.  They are a band of misfits that must work together to put a stop to the evil Purple Tentacle’s plans of world domination.  In order to stop Purple Tentacle in his tracks, they have to enlist the help of the mad scientist Dr. Fred and his janky time machine.  Dr. Fred attempts to send them back in time so the kids can shut off the contamination machine that is the source of Purple Tentacle’s powers, but thing’s go horribly wrong as you would expect.  The three kids are split up into three different time periods, the past, the present, and the future.  They must work together, in different eras, to bring a stop to Purple Tentacle and, in turn, save the world.

The game’s story, primarily designed by industry veterans Schafer and Dave Grossman, is consistently great and on point throughout the entire adventure.  Day of the Tentacle features a variety of comedy styles, ranging from benign potty humor to wry, sometimes dark, humor.  Every joke works well and there are a very slim few that don’t connect, even twenty years later in this day and age.  There was one early moment in particular, involving a down-on-his-luck product designer who puts a gun to his head in his hotel room, only to reveal a bright “BOOM” flag upon firing the weapon.  It was a shocking moment that still managed to paint a smile on my face.  The inclusion of time travel also makes for some great story and character moments as well.  Watching as Hoagie instilled his heavy metal slang on the founding fathers in the past makes for some great comedic material.  The story is smart and sharp all the way through till the credits roll.

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via Polygamia

What made Day of the Tentacle so unique from other adventure games of its time was its time travel mechanics and the ability to switch between the different characters in their respective time periods.  It makes for some inventive puzzles that require some smart solutions.  Speaking of puzzles, unlike most adventure games of its time, the game never had any puzzles that require obtuse or abstract solutions.  Everything that you do makes sense and I never had to bash random items together in hopes of progressing the story.  The game makes you feel smart by letting you solve the problems in logical and clever ways.  With that being said, there were still some tough solutions, especially towards the latter half of the game.  It made me wish there was a built in hint system, which these remasters seemingly never have.  The game wasn’t overtly difficult, but a little dynamic hint system would have gone a long way.

There’s a layer of polish that lathers Day of the Tentacle Remastered that delightfully brings the game to life in this modern era of games.  Every screen was reworked from the ground up, giving the game higher resolution graphics.  The art isn’t the only thing got reworked, as the music was given a remastered treatment as well.  Maybe the best part about it all is that you can switch between the remastered and classic versions of the game on the fly with one press of a button.  I constantly found myself switching between the two just to marvel in the amount of work that was put into the remaster.  There’s also the inclusion of concept art, developer commentaries, and a fully playable version of the original Maniac Mansion, a little Easter egg that could have been found in the original version as well.  This amount of work that the game’s original creators put into this version of the game shows in every nook and cranny.

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via Fan Pop

As far as remastered games go, especially adventure games, Day of the Tentacle Remastered holds up extremely well, in large part thanks to Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine.  The game features a hilariously absurd and clever story that’s chock full of witty humor and ingenious references.  It also has a bright and cheery look that translates every single little detail from the original.  If you haven’t played the original, this is about as good as the game is going to get.  Now, the wait begins again for Tim Schafer’s next remaster project, Full Throttle.

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Also available on PC and PSVita.

Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

ethan carter coverThe Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: The Astronauts, Nordic Games, EuroVideo Medien GmbH

Developer: The Astronauts


Never have I felt more alone while playing a video game than I have in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.  The game literally throws you straight into the world with no guidance or hand-holding.  I’m serious, the game straight up tells you that from the very beginning.  There was a lush landscape in front of me that was just calling my name.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is game chock full of discovery, beauty, mystery, and sometimes horrifying imagery.  There’s some weird things going on and it’s your job to investigate.

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via Push Square

Players assumes the role of a nameless detective who’s tasked with finding a missing boy.  As a detective, you have the power to rip holes in reality, giving you visuals of horrible crimes that have taken place within the game’s world.  It’s necessary to go around and put these visuals together to solve the mystery of the missing child.  A lot of this legwork involves stumbling upon a rift in reality in the environment and then proceeding to investigate the rift.  A lot of these investigations involve piecing together the events of crimes and forming a clear picture of what took place.

The game sets a tone of loneliness as there is no one to be found as you roam around the gorgeously lush world.  The sense of discovery that the game provides is immense.  The game doesn’t tell you where to go…leaving the exploration to the player.  There’s forests, lakes, cottages, and caves that you will end up exploring.  Each of these environments are beautiful and look wonderful on the PS4.  I haven’t seen the PC version but I can only imagine that the visuals are heightened on the platform.  Sometimes it’s a little tough to figure out where you need to go next, but you’ll most likely stumble upon the places you need to go without having to worry about it.

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via New Game Network

The amount of interaction you have with the world is limited, but the game does a good job at enticing you to move forward.  Most of the gameplay involves pressing a button to open up a visual of a previous crime or walking around and piecing together different events of a crime. There’s also some lite puzzle solving, but nothing that will drive you crazy. That’s about it.  There’s not much to be found in terms of gameplay, but the exploration more than makes up for the lack of interaction that you have with the world.  There was a multitude of times where I just wandered away from my objective and just took in the sights and sounds.  There were many vistas and landscapes that seemed screenshot worthy.  In fact, 98% of the game is screenshot worthy.  98% is an arbitrary number…there’s no science behind it.

Remember the game Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture?  Yeah, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is basically that game but better in almost every way.  (Graphics wise, the two are comparable) In both games you are walking around the environment piecing together the events that took place prior.  There’s a sense of mystery and intrigue in both games, but TVOEC captured my interest way more than EHGTTR.  The story in TVOEC is a lot more interesting and gave me more incentive to explore and dig deeper.

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via New Game Network

I feel like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that passed everybody by.  It didn’t make a big splash when it was first released and the talk surrounding the game waned as weeks went on.  Hell, I even passed up the game when it first came out.  I remember looking at it and having interest in playing it, but I never went back to it.  I am glad I finally visited this short and unique experience.  Its full of interesting ideas and intrigue-driven exploration.  The game also looks fantastic, probably one of the prettiest I have seen in years.  It’s an extremely immersive experience that is worth sinking some time in.

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Also available on PC.

Review: Grim Fandango Remastered

grim fandango re coverGrim Fandango Remastered (2015)

PS4 / Rated T

Adventure

Publisher: Double Fine, LucasArts

Developer: Double Fine, LucasArts


1998 was a big year for video games.  The year ranks high among fans, due to the plethora of major hits that came out during that time.  Grim Fandango, although more of a cult hit, was one of the games that defined the year.  The game, which was made by LucasArts, was one of the last great adventure games released in the “golden era of adventure games.”  Almost sixteen years later, it was announced that a remastered version of the game would be released on PC and the PS4.  After spending a lot of time with the game, I have to say, the game still stands up to this day.

In Grim Fandango, we explore the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent for the Department of Death, was tasked with fighting the corruption that plagued the Land of the Dead.  Manny is a pretty unlucky guy, and things never seem to go his way.  He’s at the bottom of the company ladder, and he’s barely clinging on.  The Department of Death is an agency that offers travel packages to the recently deceased for travel to the 9th Underworld, the final resting place for the dead.  The No 9. Train is the most luxurious way to travel the Land of the Dead, but it seems that Manny’s clients never qualify for anything other than a nice long walk through the dangers of the land.  Something must be up.

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One of the most unique things about the game is its blend of Mexican culture, as well as Mayan culture.  There is even a nice dose of film noir elements, inspired by movies like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.  Manny ends up going on an adventure to get to the bottom of the corrupt evildoings of the agency.  Along the way, Manny comes into contact with some lovable characters like the demon mechanic Glottis, and the femme fatale that is Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.

The story spans four years, and each year is pretty different from the other.  Unfortunately, this is at the expense of the story.  For instance, at the end of the year, Manny is out looking for Meche when he decides to stick around in Rubacavera and wait for her to come through.  The game then flashes to the next year, where Manny is the classy owner of the Calavera Café, a luxurious casino on the pier of Rubacavera.  It doesn’t make sense how Manny went from being a lowly travel agent to a business owner, but the player is just left to accept and move on.

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The environments that the player discovers on the adventure are some of the coolest parts fo the game.  The player starts in the city of El Marrow, which has a ton of art deco influence.  We then see all sorts of places, like the Edge of the World, the Petrified Forest, Rubacavera and its surrounding film noir locations, and a bunch of other unique locales.

The game is very much the same as it was back in 1998.  This probably brings up the question, what does the remastered version bring to the table?  The biggest update comes with the visual clean-up that Tim Schafer and the guys at Double Fine performed.  All of the characters models were spruced up and are now much more modern looking.  However, the same can’t be said for the surrounding environments.  This is due to the fact that they were all pre-rendered, but it still would have been nice to see more updated visuals.  The cut-scenes really haven’t been touched as well.  It’s almost like they should put an asterisk next to remastered, because the term can be a little misleading.

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A side-effect of 90’s adventure game design is the intense puzzles with crazy solutions you would never think of.  The game’s puzzles haven’t been changed, which made the game pretty tough.  With the surprising lack of a hint system, I was left playing the game with a FAQ at the side to help me get through some of the challenging puzzles that the game gave you.  This was a rather unfortunate oversight.  If you want an extra challenge, try maneuvering the game with tank controls.  The remastered version does contain modernized movement, but the option to go back to tank controls is there…only if you really want it.  (I suffered through it to get the stupid trophy…)

The neat thing about the remastered version is the developer commentary that is sprinkled throughout the game, only a click away.  Tim Schafer and the other developers from the game give some interesting insight into some of the design and creative decisions that were made, as well as some talk about the inspirations for the game, the technical aspects that made the game run, as well as some talk about the music in certain portions of the game.  They’re pretty enlightening tidbits of information that make the remastered version worthwhile on it’s own.

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Grim Fandango Remastered offers a lot for players that fondly remembered the cult hit.  This may not have been the remake that some fans would have wanted, but Double Fine did a good job at making the game more modernized and relevant in the modern landscape of video games.  If you’re going to go on the adventure for the first time, like me; I would definitely recommend a walkthrough for some portions of the game, because I don’t know how you would get through it otherwise.

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