Despite Landmark Status, 'Grim Fandango' Is a Masterpiece Without a Legacy


Grim Fandango Remastered is being given away for free on until Thursday, and you should grab it.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


Not necessarily specific to Grim Fandango in particular, but the old Icons documentary about Tim Schafer’s career up to and right after launching Double Fine and Psychonauts is a fun watch, mainly for the nostalgia of revisiting the early 2000s era of games.

The studio’s story was one of my main motivational drivers for getting into the games industry, so it’s interesting to look back on now that I’ve sort of accomplished that goal.


There’s something that doesn’t quite sit with me with the premise of this piece, despite making some interesting points.

It’s hard to recommend a game this old without being able to say why it’s important, without being able to say that it represents some seminal moment where a new idea emerged into video games. Grim Fandango was not such a moment. It is very much an artifact of its era, one that I love. But I can’t make a case for it as required reading, because it finds itself at the dead end of its ideas.

It’s this bit.

Firstly, this very idea of ‘required reading’ - it’s something I very much dislike in discussions of art. The idea that something becomes important enough that you absolutely need to have seen/read/played it in order to be able to effectively take part in discussions feels like a kind of intellectual gatekeeping. Required reading suggests that if you haven’t, you are somehow unequipped.

Secondly, even if I give a charitable interpretation of ‘required reading’ as someone saying that it’s something they highly recommend people play because of its significance, I feel a bit weird about the idea that we judge what counts as this on the criteria of ‘importance’, what influenced later work. It is indeed interesting to discuss why someone was influential and what things were influenced by it. And something being that kind of watershed moment in the development of an artform is definitely a reason for it to be talked about, and re-played for its historical value, arguably.

Buuut… is that really the only reason something should be required viewing/playing/reading/whatever? I like the first Back To The Future for all I think that it has a ton of flaws in its themes and characters. I think it’s just a fun ride and it’s always been a favourite of mine. But more than that, it’s often a film that is taught in film schools because it does a particular thing really well - it’s really tightly edited. Nearly every moment in the film is doing something to advance the plot. It’s really lean, it just does that particular thing super well. And that’s enough for it to be ‘required viewing’ according to a lot of people teaching film.

But break it down, and it’s pretty obvious it’s not really an important film. It isn’t doing anything with editing that was never done before or set the stage for future film making. It’s just an excellent example of editing for plot and stands up as that.

Can’t we say the same about Grim Fandango? That it does certain things particularly well? If nothing else it’s a game whose writing still feels sharp, witty and human at a time when the most popular games - first person shooters were at the sophistication level of the first Half Life. That’s not nothing. The ambition of its soundtrack too was quite something, and the art direction. I guess what I’m saying is if we have to have a concept like ‘required reading’, isn’t it qualifying enough that is does certain things really, really well?


This is 100% on point. Especially in the case of genre games like Grim Fndango. Graphic adventure, platformer, one on one fighter, none of the most highly regarded games that fall squarely into one genre are groundbreaking, they just, like Back to the Future, did a few things extremely well in one package.

And there’s no better “selling point” point than that. But I think that’s what the author intended by “required reading,” not that you’re a lesser player for not playing Grim Fandango, but that it’s a peak representation of its genre. I can understand that, whenever a friend or family member gets a Raspberry Pi and asks me for retro gaming recommendations or is interested in all the 2D games on the PS4 or whatever, I mean Art of Fighting 3 is an extremely interesting and ambitious fighting game that I love and could write 1,000 words about but I’m still going to suggest a King of Fighters game instead.

I don’t think games should be suggested to people based on an arbitrary innovation metric. Again if someone gets super interested in a specific genre than yeah that’s one thing, but otherwise nope.