Guacamelee preview: a new dimension

By Ozzie Mejia, Mar 20, 2013 12:00pm PDT

Drinkbox Studios' Guacamelee has just about reached the end of its long journey towards a release date. The Metroidvania beat-em-up platformer about a superpowered Mexican luchador is currently undergoing Sony's stringent certification process before being given the green light. In the meantime, Drinkbox co-founder Graham Smith and level designer Chris McQuinn took me on one last tour of the Mexican pueblo to show some previously unrevealed footage.

For this round of Guacamelee, Smith took me through a tour of the game's opening minutes in the town of Pueblucho. "You don't start as a luchadore or as a hero, you start off as Juan, the agave farmer," says McQuinn, as I observe Juan waking up in his basement and exploring his house. Juan performs menial tasks for the townspeople, as part of a tutorial scenario, before visiting El Presidente and reuniting with El Presidente's daughter, who Juan has known since childhood.

This leads to the first appearance of Guacamelee's main villain, Carlos Calaca, a Day of the Dead-themed skeletal bad guy in dapper mariachi attire. Flanked by his henchpeople, Calaca kidnaps El Presidente's daughter as part of a scheme to sacrifice her and merge the worlds of the living and the dead. Juan attempts to save her and, as expected, he gets beaten like a piñata. Waking up in the World of the Dead, Juan discovers Tostada, a female luchadore that acts as his guide (and as the second player in a co-op session), who leads him to a legendary luchador masks that transforms him into the superpowered Juan the Luchador.

Smith then fast-forwarded to a new area called the Tule Tree, which players will discover about 3 hours in. The first thing he pointed out were the Olmec heads that would act as fast travel points. "We started to discover as we were playing the game that we have to do these awesome sections where you need to go back with your new powers to access them," said McQuinn. "But we didn't have a transportation system. We enjoy backtracking, but not huge amounts, so we added a transportation system."

The Tule Tree gave Juan a chance to demonstrate his new dimension-swapping ability. While there were several portals to leap through during the IndieCade demo back in October, this demo saw Juan jumping through dimensions at will with the push of a button. This led to some particularly hairy platforming sequences, in which Smith was alternating between wall jumps and dimension swaps to reach new areas.

Combat has also taken on an extra dimension. Several enemies in Guacamelee were covered in a color-coded barrier, meaning that Juan had to lead off with a certain attack to penetrate it. Leading in with the wrong move would result in the enemy performing an auto-counter. The idea, as McQuinn noted, was to prevent spamming certain moves and to encourage players to explore all of Juan's arsenal. Enemies ranged from the skeletons and deadly plants that I was already familiar with from previous demos, but Smith did reveal a new enemy--the Exploder. Looking like a cel-shaded cousin of an Angry Bird, the winged Exploders come with an attached countdown timer. If the timer hits zero, it unleashes an unavoidable full-screen attack, so Juan must deal with these enemies immediately.

Lastly, Smith showed off The Cave (a.k.a. La Caverna de Pollo), a special challenge area located outside the main town. The Cave features three different sections, all featuring a special gauntlet challenge. Running the gauntlet will result in special items and lots of cash. Players can try their luck with the first part of the Cave challenge right away, but they'll need to unlock certain powers to access the rest of them. For example, the second part of the challenge arena is in an area that can only be accessed after unlocking the dimension swap power. McQuinn and Smith promise a special unlockable for anyone that can survive all three stages of the Cave challenge, but are cheekily offering no hints as to what it might be.

The new areas that Smith and McQuinn showed off appear to offer more of the same fun that was shown in previous demos, including several hidden off-the-beaten-path areas, challenging platforming sequences, and more instances of genuine humor. PS Vita users will get the most out of this experience, whether they take their PS3 save with them on-the-go or use the Vita as a controller, with the Vita screen acting as an omnipresent map screen. Smith and McQuinn would not commit to a release date, but with Guacamelee currently undergoing Sony's certification process, they said that it would most likely arrive in the next couple of months.

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