Guacamelee is a side-scrolling action-platformer done in the Metroid-vania style coming out for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita in the first quarter of 2013. Drinkbox Studios is developing Guacamelee for the two Sony consoles thanks to the Sony Pub Fund program that helps publish games for the Sony platforms.
Guacamelee will take advantage of each console’s special features. The studio, though, is not new to developing for Sony platforms. Drinkbox Studios previously worked on the Tales from Space series, which originally was available on PS3 through the PlayStation Network with a sequel launched for the PS Vita. Guacamelee is their newest game and will be available on both consoles, taking advantage of the PS3-PS Vita cross-play ability.
The original conception for the game happened in 2011. After conceiving the idea, Drinkbox produced several prototypes that they showed off privately at E3 and IGF. In 2012, the developer gave the public their first look at the game at PAX East. At E3, they announced a partnership with Sony to bring the game exclusively to Sony consoles.
Guacamelee stars Juan Aguacate, who is a down on his luck character who farms agave. When the Evil Charro Skeleton kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter, Juan must stop being a simple agave farmer and venture forth to stop this evil. On his quest to save El Presidente’s daughter and the world, Juan must don his luchador mask transforming him into the man who will prevent evil and inequality from ruining the world. Juan is not alone in his quest. He is assisted by female luchadora, Tostada. Together, the two will travel through a small village in Mexico on a journey that takes them to locations such as The World of the Dead.
Traditional Mexican culture and folklore inspire the interesting and unique characters that populate the magical world of Guacamelee. The game features melee combat utilizing the luchador-inspired character design for Juan and Tostada, but players will also have to test their platformer skills as the protagonists gain different types of jumps and moves as they progress.
Guacamelee features full co-op so two friends can play as Juan and Tostada for the duration of the game. When playing co-op, only one player needs to reach the next room. If a more skilled player gets to the next objective, the other player will be transported with them. Therefore, both players do not necessarily need to complete a complicated platformer section. This is a mechanic similar to Little Big Planet’s save/checkpoint mechanic, where if a player dies they show up when someone hits the next save point.
If one person happens to die, they will be put into a bubble in which the other player may revive them. A similar mechanic is used in games such as Gears of War and Borderlands.
Level design is done in the Metroid-vania tradition, where the side-scrolling levels are interconnected and features a grid map where players will enter new chambers as they make their way through the game. As part of this style, certain rooms are blocked off until Juan and Tostada learn new moves that allow them to overcome the obstacles blocking their path. Much like Metroid, there are small spaces that Juan or Tostada simply cannot fit into. To remedy this, the player has the option to transform into a rooster. Drinkbox describes this as Guacamelee’s morph ball. Those tunnels and small spaces exist throughout the game and contain plenty of secrets.
In addition to the traditional Metroid-vania map style, the game features alternate dimensions. Juan and Tostada will have to traverse between “the World of Light” and “the World of Dark” in order to progress through a room. Obstacles like platforms existing in one world and not the other or enemies (who can still hurt the player in another world) that are only in a certain dimension will have to be overcome by using portals to transport players to the other side. A platforming section from the demo required the player to hit various portals in order to wall jump to the other side of a room. There were three walls cut off from each other, and the only way to get past them was by wall jumping into one portal, which transported Juan into the world of the dead where the walls did not exist. Then quickly falling into the portal that brought them back to the world of the living where the walls did exist and repeating that until Juan reached the other side. At first, the player can only travel to another dimension via a portal in the level, but eventually the player can do it at will by using R1.
The control scheme is intuitive and easy to learn. The X button is to jump, Square is to attack, Circle is for power attacks, and Triangle is to grab an enemy. Additionally, the right thumb stick causes the character to roll or doge and L1 is transform into a rooster. To grab an enemy, the player must weaken them then a prompt will come up allowing a grab. When grappling an opponent, players can throw them or use them as projectiles to damage other enemies. When rolling or dodging, Juan can roll through various hazards or enemies.
Gameplay allows for a mixture of light and heavy attack but heavy attacks will consume some stamina. After using up all their stamina, a player will turn red and have to wait for it return before using more heavy attacks.
Lastly, like all good action games, the player learns new moves as they progress throughout the game and can buy upgrades. Players earn money throughout the game that can be spent at a trainer to buy upgrades and new moves. That is not the only place to learn new moves though. Wychivo, an old man who can turn into a goat, serves as a spiritual advisor. He teaches them new moves to help them along their journey. As new moves are learned, the level will set up challenges to master the move and gameplay mechanic.
Guacamelee is shaping up to be a stellar PlayStation Network game. It also is another title that Sony can leverage to boost the popularity of their struggling handheld by promoting its cross-play benefits. While Guacamelee allows players to save to the cloud to use on both consoles, the PS Vita can also be used as a controller when playing on a PS3. Not all players will utilize this feature but players who do will notice the mini-map on the Vita’s screen.
Drinkbox Studios is putting a ton of work into Guacamelee, drawing upon an overlooked world in gaming in the form of Mexican folklore and Latin protagonists. It could possibly help other developers represent different types of characters other than those typically portrayed in games. Guacamelee is scheduled to release next year.