Guacamelee preview: goat jumping through dimensions

Drinkbox Studios, the team behind the two Tales from Space games, is working on yet another PlayStation Network exclusive. Guacamelee for PS3 and Vita is a Metroidvania-style 2D brawler set in the mystical world of lucha libre. Guiding me through this demo was Drinkbox's Chris McQuinn. "You take on the role of Juan, a down-on-his-luck agave farmer," said McQuinn. "Through serendipity, he starts on an adventure of saving the love of his life and defeating an evil scourge that's descending upon the world." focalbox Before taking control of Juan, I asked McQuinn about exploring the world of lucha libre. What made a Canadian developer look to Mexican wrestling as a narrative source? "It originally started with one of our animators who's Mexican and brought the idea forward," McQuinn answered. "As we looked more into it, we were blown away by the amount of material there is in Mexican folklore and culture that is underrepresented in games. It's so deep, the amount of material there is to draw on." With that said, it was time to start up the demo. I found that the scourge's minions were scattered everywhere, mostly consisting of evil skeletons in traditional Mexican garb. There were trickier enemies, such as burrowing plants, that needed to be uprooted first before they could be attacked. Attack patterns are recognizable and these enemies are easily dispatched until the element of parallel dimensions is introduced. Many rooms contain portals that take Juan to a parallel dimension with a different chamber layout. Some enemies can only be harmed in one dimension, but their attacks will reach across both. Enemies become harder to take down when there are several taking up space in both dimensions. BOOM video 10852 Juan demonstrates a number of abilities throughout the Guacamelee demo. On top of throwing punches, he can chain together combos and throws to earn extra money, which can then be spent on stylish wrestling moves, such as a hard-hitting pile driver. Other abilities are learned simply by talking to the right people. For example, an old man (disguised as a goat) hiding in a remote area taught me a valuable wall jump (or "goat jump," in his words) to help me clear new areas and reach previously inaccessible spaces. The demo ended with an auto-scrolling sequence that saw Juan getting chased down by a huge dragon. To get through, I had to fight any enemies in my path while squeezing through any paths opened up by the dragon's rampage. In an example of Guacamelee's tongue-in-cheek humor, the chase ended after I hit an axe at the end of the level and watched the dragon sink into a vat of lava. To hammer the reference home, the next screen saw a portly Mexican in a sombrero and poncho tell me that "Our princess is in another castle." It was a fun reminder that the game's tenser moments will be balanced out with a sense of levity. "We don't take ourselves very seriously at the studio," McQuinn said, in regards to the game's humor. "The game's going to be filled with puns, full of funny references, there's going to be ridiculous dialogue and ridiculous gameplay. Juan will gain the ability to turn into a chicken and that's going to absolutely key in certain parts of the game. You might be able to turn into other animals. The game, throughout, is going to be absolutely hilarious."

Guacamelee is filled with homages

Guacamelee may be hampered by its detailed cel-shaded art. One platforming sequence required me to hop between dimensions while utilizing my wall jump multiple times. I kept falling into the pool of acid, because I couldn't see the walls alongside each of the portals. It wasn't until McQuinn pointed the walls out to me that I was able to make it through this sequence. This is one of the newer areas added to the game, which McQuinn says the team is still refining based on user feedback. One of the more intriguing aspects of Guacamelee that was on display was the cross-platform integration between the PS3 and Vita. Players were able to jump into co-op games with both the Dualshock controller and the Vita, with the handheld's screen acting as a dungeon map. I asked if there were any difficulties in making this feature work, particularly given the indie studio's limited resources. "I don't think it's been as many headaches as one would expect," said McQuinn. "It was pretty seamless, so I think Sony needs to be thanked for that." Look for Guacamelee to arrive on PS3 and Vita early next year.