It’s a shame that Xbox owners missed out on last year’s smash hit Guacamelee, but DrinkBox Studios is about that by bringing bring Guacamelee to all platforms with an expanded version called Super Turbo Championship Edition (STCE). XBLA Fans caught up with DrinkBox Co-founder Graham Smith at PAX East and spoke to Lead Designer Greg Lesky via email to find out more about what this new version of Guacamelee is all about, how it has evolved and why you should be excited.
For those not acquainted with Guacamelee, Lesky describes it as “a metroid-vania platformer where you play a farmer named Juan whose girlfriend gets kidnapped by a guy named Carlos Calaca bent on ruling both the Land of the Living and the Dead. He then kills Juan, who finds a mystical Luchador Mask that gives Juan the powers of a Mexican wrestler and [Juan returns] to the Land of the Living to stop him.” With these powers, the player fights, jumps and dimension-swaps to defeat Calaca’s undead hordes and save his girlfriend…and the world. The Super Turbo Championship Edition features all-new levels, enemies, upgrades, fixes and a boss fight, making this the definitive version of DrinkBox’s biggest game yet.
We’ve been hoping that Guacamelee would come to Xbox because of its airtight brawling and platforming mechanics created the perfect storm for challenge and improvisation. The original offered a colorful Mexican backdrop for a throwback adventure with gradual power accumulation. As you progress through the game, you pick up more and more Mexican wrestler superpowers that make new areas accessible and expand your combat arsenal.
It’s somewhat uncommon for a developer to re-work a game for an updated release, so why is Guacamelee coming back in this Super Turbo Championship Edition? “We knew we wanted to bring it to other platforms, but we didn’t just want to do a straight port,” Smith explained to us at PAX East. “Every time you release a game, you always see the flaws… So, we took the opportunity to add some more content and fix the problems in the game.”
That extra content is a lot more than the costumes and challenge levels included in the original’s DLC. “In addition to two new levels, the Canal and the Volcano, we have a new boss character named El Trio, a three-headed one-man undead mariachi band,” Lesky tells us. The new levels are introduced at about the 1/3 and 2/3 points of the game to add some variety to the original experience. There are also new powers, enemies and upgrades, which all together put about 20% more Guacamelee in your Guacamelee.
A key addition in Guacamelee: STCE is a new power called EL INTENSO. A power meter slowly builds as you rack up combos. Once it is full, you can unleash the Intenso power that knocks back enemies and briefly doubles your power and speed. “You move faster, you can punch faster, you kill the guys faster, you get more power,” Smith explained. The more pain you dish out, the longer your Intenso rampage lasts. Intenso can also be upgraded to break through enemy shields that normally require the use of a special move. This is sure to help out in those tougher fighting segments where you need some extra oomph.
Another ability adds much-needed lethality to Pollo Power, Guacamelee‘s equivalent to Metroid‘s Morph Ball. Players can turn into a chicken to sneak through small spaces, but fighting is a bit silly when your only weapon is a beak. In Guacamelee: STCE, you can lay explosive eggs to surprise attack enemies and blast open new areas to explore. We wondered where the explosives come from, but then we remembered that this is Guacamelee, and you can turn into a chicken.
Guacamelee walks a fine line between fun accessibility and stubborn difficulty (some of us couldn’t nab all of the original’s secrets). To make the core game a bit easier, DrinkBox has tweaked some of the arenas and boss fights for better balance and predictability, and also provided more upgrades in the store. Smith told us that the Intenso Power is especially helpful because, “it doesn’t reset after you die. You can continue to build it up across deaths, so if [a boss] kills you a couple times you’ll have full Intenso and you can spawn with it. That makes things a lot easier.”
The ability to dimension-swap between the Living and the Dead worlds was a particularly frustrating gameplay mechanic at times in the original. Platforms change between dimensions, so co-op players had to perfectly coordinate swaps and jumps to get through the platforming segments. “You were kind of fighting each other for what dimension you were in,” Smith explained. “A lot of people would drop to single-player to do some of the platforming and then come back in, and we didn’t like that… So now you can still do it the old way or you can also just swap yourself into the other dimension, and it won’t change the dimension of the other player.” With tools at the ready and fixes in place, Guacamelee can maintain its rigorous obstacles while assisting players through the toughest parts.
Still, challenge is an important part of Guacamelee that lives on in the game’s peripheral content. Smith admitted, “We wanted [the challenges] to be really hard because we wanted people to feel special when they did them.” Lesky adds, “We’re fans of games that focus on player skill and reward exploration and are not afraid to challenge the player, because it’s so much more rewarding when you finally overcome it.” Guacamelee: STCE retains the hard mode from the original and the challenge levels from the El Diablo’s Domain expansion, but veterans can also expect some new elite class enemies appearing in Super Turbo Championship Edition. More secrets have also been cleverly hidden inside the new levels, probably with even more tear-your-hair-out platforming challenges.
Lesky cites inspiration from old-school doozies like Metroid, Castlevania, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden and Zelda, because they had “solid core mechanics that managed to feel fresh after hours of playing.” Meanwhile, Guacamelee: STCE‘s blatantly long title pays direct homage to Street Fighter, which DrinkBox based its announcement trailer (above) on.
Smith acknowledged, “A lot of these games inspire us. That’s why we’re in the games industry in the first place. So whenever we can throw an homage back to those games, we take that opportunity.” Metroid fans will notice one of those opportunities when they find their first upgrade.
For the many players who will struggle, Lesky offers some advice: “For combat, dodge is your friend. Use it. A lot. Also, INTENSO will help when you get trapped in a corner or need to quickly even the odds. For platforming, don’t rush it. Grab onto a wall and think about what you need to do before you leap.”
Guacamelee was originally exclusive to PlayStation as part of Sony’s Pub Fund program for indies. Activision is publishing Guacamelee STCE on Xbox 360 because the 360 still does not allow for self-publishing, but DrinkBox is utilizing ID@Xbox for the Xbox One version. Because of the mixed buzz about Microsoft and indies, we are always curious to hear about developers’ experiences, especially because ID@Xbox is so new. When asked, Smith immediately answered, “It’s been really good. As soon as we signed up they sent us kits, we were able to port over very quickly. It’s great. And they included us in their promotional programs.”
After great success on PlayStation and Steam, Guacamelee has become quite a high-profile indie game. These days, it is very hard to get an indie game noticed. What does DrinkBox recommend developers do on their own to get their games noticed? “You need to do your best to make your game stand out,” Lesky advises. “Try your best at a unique mechanic (this doesn’t mean inventing a genre, but can instead mean a new twist on an old mechanic) that is actually fun. People are also immediately attracted to visuals so a unique/interesting art style helps.”
Lesky expects we will see Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition by the “end of spring.” Perhaps for the best, the Xbox version of Guacamelee: STCE will not be using Kinect for direct gameplay, as DrinkBox wanted to focus on getting the game running. Still, Lesky promises, “For the future we’re into exploring any tech that we feel makes sense for the titles we’re working on.” Accordingly, DrinkBox’s next title, Severed, is a mobile game designed for touch screens. “That said, we’ve loved working on Guac again and have more than enough ideas for another one,” Lesky teased.
When Guacamelee arrives for Xbox, you will know you are a fan when you have to stop and think what that avocado-based dish you order with your tortilla chips is called. Not that we’re admitting anything.