Independent game development has exploded clear across the globe. Though it could be argued that the hottest spot of them all is Toronto, Canada. That’s where the trio of Jonathan Mak (Everyday Shooter), Mare Sheppard, and Raigan Burns (N+) helped to give birth to the modern North American indie game movement that is still very much in effect today.
Drink Box Studios is one of several PAX exhibitors to call Toronto their home, and were showing off a near complete version of Guacamelee! You might know it as that Metroidvania-esque platformer that stars Mexican wrestlers that we talked about last summer. The genre is starting to become a tad bit crowded, so how does it manage to stand out? Well, the usage of Luchadores certainly helps, but there are two other key distinctions, according to Drink Box Co-Founder Graham Smith: "First, it’s a brawler, whereas most other examples are shooters."
As touched upon last time, you’ve got your standard attack, along with special moves, which includes uppercuts and other maneuvers that you’d find in a Mexican squared circle. Plus there’s a dodge move, which allows you to roll past enemies and obstacles, "God of War style". Pretty much everything demands being up close and personal. The other big difference? It’s a two-player game, something that was fairly tricky to pull off, and that’s without also factoring its other major gameplay hooks; the ability to switch back and forth between two different planes of existence.
There’s the world of the living and the world of the dead. Each has its own unique architecture and enemies; both must be deal with in its own terms. Again, orchestrating it all was no easy feat: "It was a real challenge, dealing with two characters, especially keeping them together. Having platforming and dimension swapping happening at the same time made thing even more difficult, because they kind of interfere with each other."
Making a manageable single player experience was equally challenging. Though after two years of development, Drink Box was able to figure a way, of not making the game too difficult with just one player, and not too easy with two. Still, there was one major concession: Originally there was going to be three dimensions: the world of the living, the world of the dead, and the world of nightmares. But it was just too much!" or concession:
Guacamelee! taps into the Mexican Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos) esthetic, and rather unabashedly. Which begs the question, was there any trepidation about doing so? It’s not every day in which a game is based upon an actual ethnic culture: "In the beginning we were very nervous. But Augusto, the lead animator of the game, was born and raised in Mexico, and he’s has been our soundboard. We pass every idea by him, though he also comes up with most of the stuff anyway.
Also, when we started showing the game publicly, we also brought in a lot of Mexicans to get their feedback, which has been very positive. Mexicans in general seem to be really behind the game; they’re excited that someone is doing a game that taps into their culture. I remember reading something, I think it was a message board, where someone asked, ‘Wow, why can’t a Mexican company make a Mexican video game; why does it take a Canadian company to do one?’"
As the game’s leads, Luchadores have long been an exotic delicacy that a few parties have tried importing in video game form already, but it’s never panned out for them: "Actually, we ran into some difficulties, all because we have Mexican wrestlers as the lead. Initially, when talking to publishers about funding, some of them told us ‘we already tried that, releasing a Lucha game and it didn’t do well… do you really need one?’
But we didn’t see it as a game starring Luchadores, just a game that happened to have them. It’s a brawler set in Mexico, sot it just made sense to have such personalities."
Though, what about the chickens, what’s that about? Specifically how ones character can transform into one (to get through tight passage ways), plus how they play a fairly significant role in the game in general: "Well, we needed something to add to towns, to give them an extra bit of life, because they felt empty. We added chickens to make them feel alive. Then one day, someone in the studio, decided to control one of the chickens with the controller.
Next thing you know, everyone’s controlling chickens! So it was decided upon that you had to play as one. Because, hey, everyone loves chicken!"
Both the PS3 and Vita versions of Guacamelee! were on hand. If you happen to have both, you can play the game on the big screen as you normally would, and use the handheld’s smaller display as a dedicated map. Otherwise, the entire thing can be played on the go. It was recently announced (after PAX East) that both iterations will work in tandem, via Cross-Play. Which also means that for $14.99, you’ll effectively be getting two games, one for each system.