This is a 3D animated Point & Click Adventure with puzzles, minigames and many many cutscenes.
In the late ’90s this game won a slew of prestigious awards for its ground-breaking 3D environment and epic storyline. For the next decade, in the days when games were distributed on disks, it was lost to the general public but a small core of avid fans continued to patch it and share it among themselves.
In 2014, after some political manoueuvring, the original developers gained the rights to remake it. The aim was not to make a new game based on the original, but to restore the original using modern techniques without losing any of the original content or style. Much like restoring a vintage Ferrari. They roped in the aforementioned enthusiasts to contribute their code which helped improve things like performance and controls.
You play as Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the the Department Of Death (DOD) in the Land Of the Dead. He sells his clients (the recently departed) journeys to the Ninth Underworld. There are various modes of transport available, depending on their budgets which are based on the virtuosity of their lives. The usual duration of their trip is 4 years, and the game itself plays out over the course of 4 distinct years/scenes. The most prestigious package available to only the purest of souls is the Number Nine express train which takes only 4 days and the ‘winners’ of this package get golden tickets.
Unfortunately Manny has been down on his luck, only managing to sell the cheapest 4-year packages. In an early scene he sends a client on his way with a walking stick. This poor sales streak has caught the attention of his boss and he’s in danger of getting fired, so he poaches a client (Meche Colomar) from his successful rival Domino Hurley. Meche only qualifies for the basic package but Manny’s suspicions are aroused when he discovers that Meche has led a pure and virtuous life, and should be rich in this afterlife.
Manny then embarks on an epic quest with his driver/sidekick Glottis (a Demon entity whose sole raison d’etre is to drive) to uncover a sinister criminal conspiracy surrounding the missing NN tickets. He encounters many colourful characters along the way and the story twists and turns like an angry snake as he tries to get to the bottom of the situation, find his client Meche and send her on her way.
You know when you watch a movie in a cinema, it finishes, the credits start rolling and you’re long gone by the time it ends? This game has such credits and it shows in the quality of everything. The list of actors alone is a mile long. They hired a full professional orchestra to re-record the music.
There are some very obvious signs that this is an old game. The screen is in 4:3 ratio but instead of black sidebars there’s a tasteful ornamental design that changes for each of the 4 scenes. Some of the background art is a tiny bit fuzzy around the edges like in the old days. The 3D characters are low-poly and angular. None of this makes the game inferior in any way, it simply serves to remind you that you’re playing a classic.
Apart from a few demons (including Glottis) all the characters are skeletons but they’re dressed up to the nines and easily recognisable. There are a huge number of them and they all have a lot to say. Even after they’ve told you all the necessary information (and dropped an achievement in some cases) you can continue the conversation with them a lot further if you want to, and I always did – the dialogs are endlessly entertaining and often humorous.
There’s a Latin feel, the odd Spanish word creeps in, and it seems to be set around the 1940s. Some of the characters are always smoking – Manny does so whenever you stop moving him – I guess it won’t harm their health since they’re already dead. Scenery artwork is fantastic, there’s always something interesting too look at. High quality music changes constantly to suit the mood, sometimes jazzy when in the bars and casino, other times Mexican, big band or other styles. It’s certainly a cut above most other games I’ve played.
For me the enduring images that will stay with me are the little skeletal pigeons trotting around on ledges and the way Manny walks and runs around on short stubby legs, it’s so cute and comical. In an early cutscene he returns to his office from a reaping job, all tall and grim looking, folds up his collapsible scythe, removes his long black hooded cloak and steps off his mechanical stilts! Brilliant!
If you’ve played other P&C games then you’ll be familiar with the process of listening to characters, following clues, picking up items and using them on other items to progress the game.
With this genre I can usually follow the story and progress under my own steam for the most part. Occasionally I’ll get stuck and have to look up a solution from a guide but 9 times out of 10 I’ll think “yeah, I would have worked that out for myself eventually”. Not the case here. Quite early on I had to start consulting guides and realised I wouldn’t have had a hope in Hell (sorry, couldn’t resist) of working it out for myself. I ended up playing almost the entire game by following guides and there were many occasions when I came upon very difficult or downright impossible gameplay events. For example one area (betting window) was hidden offscreen with no mouse hint. I would never have found that.
I’m not pointing this out in a negative way. I understand that some players prefer searching for solutions in ‘hard mode’. I made the choice to bypass the difficulty and enjoy the game environment instead that’s all. If you decide to play this the hard way, be sure to do regular saves because there’s no auto-save.
It’s a beast of a game, absolutely huge. It took me 15 hours to race through it with a guide. It would have taken months without. The ambiance and storyline alone were well worth full price to me even without factoring in the gameplay.
47 achievements, many of which won’t drop during normal story progression, you have to look for them. Very nice they look on my profile too, even if I did cheat. 15 trading cards and Steam Cloud.
This was one of the first games of its kind and still holds up strongly against modern P&C games. The storyline and characters blow most of them out of the water to this day. You may not fall in love with the game mechanics but you’ll be gripped by the unfolding mystery and the many exciting chats with the characters.