The right drink can enhance an established experience. Take food pairings as an example. I already enjoyed the rich and meaty taste of a smoked turkey leg. But when I added the toasty and bitter chocolate flavors of New Belgium’s 1554 black lager to the meal, each edible was taken to another level. The bitter malted notes from the beer heightened the “hammy” sweetness of the meat, while the smoked salty taste of the turkey brought out a stronger coffee flavor in the lager.
Just as I have been trying out new beers with my favorite foods, so too have I been searching out appropriate brews for my most beloved games. During my pairing quest, I look for common threads in the styles of beer and the aesthetic of video games. As it turns out, the release of a beer based on Mexican hot chocolate happened to coincide with my purchase of a game inspired by the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos.
Originally bottled in 2014 as a limited release 22-ounce offering, Xocoveza (pronounced “Sho-Co-Vay-Za”) comes from the mind of homebrewer Chris Banker. His award-winning milk stout was inspired by the spicy and sweet flavors of Mexican hot chocolate. This beer was so well-received by the drinking public, that Stone has turned this once-in-a-lifetime brew into an annual release, aptly named, “Stone Xocoveza for the Holidays and New Year.”
At the risk of sounding pretentious, Xocoveza is a complex beer. This is a stout that has been brewed with cocoa, coffee, dried pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Even though these ingredients play well together in various smaller combinations, there is certainly a risk of overwhelming the palete with too many factors.
Xocoveza offers a dark and creamy pour, with a frothy head that calls to mind a caffè mocha. Even at pouring distance, a cinnamon aroma permeates the air. A closer smell only intensifies the cinnamon nose, along with a rich cocoa and vanilla odor. The first taste is very similar to Mexican hot chocolate; dark cocoa and cinnamon with a hint of pepper spiciness. As the smooth stout goes down, coffee and nutmeg take over, leading to a malty finish.
Xocoveza is an excellent beer. It is well-balanced, providing a chocolaty sweetness that doesn’t overpower the bitter coffee and spicy pepper flavors. Fans of dark beer and coffee drinkers will be right at home with this holiday brew, while folks who enjoy something a little sweeter will also find something to enjoy with this smooth and delicious stout. Xocoveza currently stands as my top brew of 2016, and it pairs very well with Grim Fandango Remastered.
From the moment Grim Fandango Remastered was announced at E3 2014, I was ecstatic. The original stands as one of my favorite games of all time, never leaving my top ten list since its release in 1998. Over time, it became increasingly difficult to play Grim Fandango; as PC gaming technology grew exponentially, the support for this CD-ROM title waned at a similar pace. In the years leading up to the release of the remastered version, I was relying entirely on the efforts of Grim Fandango’s dedicated fans to provide unofficial patches to get the game running on anything past Windows 98. But thanks to the efforts of Tim Schafer and his crew at Double Fine (along with the compliance of Disney/LucasArts), my frustrating days of cobbling together fan fixes and mods to play this classic title were coming to a close.
Not satisfied with simply overcoming the accessibility issues of Grim Fandango, Double Fine Productions remastered the entire game for modern machines. The team went to great efforts to retrieve the original assets for the game, ensuring that the visual fidelity was preserved in the leap to new technology. As a result, the remastered version features repainted, hi-res character models, along with new dynamic lighting effects. Composer Peter McConnell returned to conduct the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for a live re-recording of the already beautiful soundtrack. Double Fine even reached out to the modding community of fans for the original game to get their help in adding point-and-click controls for the computer and tablet versions of Grim Fandango Remastered.
Despite all of these tweaks and improvements, Tim Schafer and his team worked very hard to preserve the original narrative of Grim Fandango. None of the game’s scenes have been rescripted or removed; no new characters or plotlines added. The result is akin to a Criterion Collection release of a classic film (right down to included developer commentary), and I absolutely love it.
The remastered visuals and soundtrack are a fantastic upgrade to an already outstanding game. The film noir story of travel agent Manny Calavera and his epic journey of crime and corruption in the Land of the Dead has aged wonderfully. During my time playing, Laura became equally engaged with the story, even as a passive viewer. She did point out the one aspect that has not aged gracefully: adventure game logic. While I was breezing through the game (having played it over a dozen times in the past), Laura would ask questions that showcased the potential difficulty for players who didn’t grow up with LucasArts.
For example, I had no trouble in figuring out that I needed to ask for a Robert Frost balloon animal from a festival clown, to hide under a pile of bread crumbs on the Department of Death roof, to scare away a flock of pigeons, so I could steal their eggs to raise as tiny messengers for an underground revolution. To this sequence of events, Laura simply stared in confused frustration, regularly uttering the phrase, “How could anyone have guessed that?”
Even with these old school head-scratcher puzzles, Grim Fandango remains a fun and worthwhile experience. The remastered visuals and music have honed the already impressive content to perfection, and the updated controls allow players several options to maneuver Manny on his adventures. The mix of film noir with Mexican folklore provides a unique and wonderful world, which matches the dark cocoa and vibrant cinnamon spice of Xocoveza. I highly recommend this combination.