Guacamelee 2 is The Same Dish With a Few New Ingredients

Guacamelee 2 is The Same Dish With a Few New Ingredients

Guacamelee 2 is a hard game to demo. At PSX, I played one of the opening levels with three other attendees through the game’s appropriately chaotic four-player co-op. That’s probably not how I will play Guacamelee 2, if I play it at all, so I was predominantly looking to see if the first game’s cheerful Day of the Dead aesthetic and good-natured sense of humour managed to carry over.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

The original Guacamelee’s greatest strength was its effortless charm. Never a particularly frustrating game, Guacamelee felt more like a warm cup of soup than anything else. It was comforting—warm, even!—and did a good job of filling you up between more substantial meals. In another lifetime, Guacamelee would be a weekend rental. But in the world of properly-priced indie platformers, it thrived, finding a cult following that lead to a sequel.

So when evaluating a sequel, the question becomes less about whether it’s worth buying—I own legitimate versions of the original game several times over and have not actually paid for it once—and more about whether the game fills the same need as its predecessor. Does it belong in that rotation of Sunday afternoon games we all keep in the back of our heads? The ones we always want to fiddle with but can’t ever bring ourselves to start fresh?

Yeah, I guess it does.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

At no point during my Guacamelee 2 demo was I frustrated, even when I died. The game does a good job of keeping up the pace, regularly throwing new ideas and scenarios at the player. The writing is still perfect for all ages, keeping things light without being condescending. It’s not quite Pixar-esque, the whole thing is more like a better DreamWorks production.

If you’ve never played Guacamelee, you should be able to hop into 2 fairly easily. It’s a snappy, responsive platformer with maybe one or two fewer tools than it feels like it needs. The uppercut is a good way to get some additional verticality, but it feels more of a combat move than a platforming technique. The combat is absolutely the weakest part of both games, in that it’s forgettable and occasionally gets in the way of the platforming. There are worse fates than forgettable action in a platformer, but I still hoped that Drinkbox would have iterated on the combat just a little bit more.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

I felt more entertained than I did challenged when playing the Guacamelee 2 demo. Yes, there’s always the chance that most of the depth comes later on in the game, but your opening moments and first boss fight sets the tone even off the less-than-ideal conditions of a convention show floor. With the advent of Steam refunds, those first two hours become even more crucial.

I’m not saying Guacamelee 2 looks bad—there’s a lot to be proud of in that PSX demo. It expressly conveys the game’s sense of humour, its art style, and the basic mechanical loop you can expect for most of the game. And most of that stuff is quite good! It’s just that if the game hypothetically expands later on, it shouldn’t hide that depth from the kind of people who are looking for it.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

There is something to be said for the four-player co-op, which reminds me of New Super Mario Bros Wii in its best moments. Without any collision on the four playable characters, combat becomes a trifle and platforming becomes a collaborative effort. Your fellow players are also guinea pigs, running into scenarios and eating a death so you can see how they failed. Since the game continues as long as one player remains, we rarely all died at the same time. Usually, at least one player made it to the other side and took us all with them.

Yes, if you like Guacamelee I have reason to believe you will enjoy Guacamelee 2. Bonus points if you have three other friends (and controllers, if they’re local). You’ll likely have a few solid afternoons of fun playing it together. But if you found Guacamelee more charming than anything else, then maybe you should worry about the other stuff in your backlog first, because Guacamelee 2 will likely feel a little too familiar.

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Guacamelee 2 (gameplay image via Drinkbox Studios)

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Severed (PS Vita) Review

Severed (PS Vita) Review

People like a rewarding challenge. In this era of games with mechanics and battle systems that seemingly take little effort to learn in order to reach success, it’s refreshing to see a game that makes you constantly reevaluate your battle plan and forces you to learn how to use every aspect of it just make it through. That struggle; the amount of perseverance those games encourage from their players, leaves them feeling like they didn’t just win the game, they achieved greatness. A game where you feel like you have surmounted an almost impossible task and are ready to take on anything life throws at you, will keep you coming back to it.

DrinkBox Studios knows how to elicit that feeling from gamers, which is clearly demonstrated in its past games, such as Guacamelee! Their latest call to contest, Severed, shows they definitely know that the amount of effort you put into something is proportional to how successful you feel at the end. And, as is expected from the Toronto team, they do it with style.

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The game opens in a desolate, rocky, desert path, painted with sunset hues and drawn in DrinkBox’s signature style, this time reminiscent of ancient South Asian motifs. Since your view of the game is first-person, you’re given no clue as to how you got there or where you even are, so you must explore. Walking further along the path, you reach an eerie, dilapidated house. Still unsure of just what the hell is going on, you search the house where you find a mirror. You see yourself for the first time. You are a teen girl with long dark hear, in a disheveled tunic and a bandaged stump of an arm. Suddenly, bits and pieces of memories come flying back:You reach out to a hand, but your arm is violently severed. Shadowed images of people, possibly your family, who appear to have come to great harm fall across your field of vision. And then nothing. You come back to the world in a state of shock, and that’s when you hear the heavy breath of something behind you. You turn to see an immense creature, cloaked in black, who hands you a demon-like sword. He tells you to find your family in this world and mysteriously disappears. It is clear that you must explore this unearthly realm in order to find out if they lived or died through their ordeal, so you journey onward.

Sasha begins her search exploring twilight woods, and ancient caves and ruins. Along the way she recalls, in a flashback, lessons from her warrior mother who taught her how to fight while her father took care of her younger brother. You quickly learn the mechanics: short swipes on the screen for quick, light damage, long swipes for heavier attacks, swipe against an oncoming blow to deflect damage. It is imperative that you remember each technique, as Severed demands you use all the tools it gives you in order to survive this place. As you continue onward, you meet residents of this world: a two-headed, tooth-faced bird and an old woman, both of whom have seen your kind before and hold no hopes of your survival, and are sure to let you know it. They begrudgingly help you along the way with clues of where to go, how to use some of the items you collect and sometimes throwing you a helpful tool. But it becomes very clear that it is entirely up to you to survive and rescue your family.

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As you encounter monsters, you learn quickly that those lessons from your mother are important. Every one of the bizarre creatures has its own weakness you must take advantage of and learn quickly since you are fragile in this world and take damage heavily. Upon their defeat, you can use parts of the creatures – arms, eyes, wings, tentacles – to upgrade your sword and other equipment you acquire. Upgrading is essential, so it must be done as often as possible, and with careful planning, depending on your play style.

Severed does an excellent job of teaching you how to fight each new monster by introducing them one at a time so that you can learn their weaknesses and hierarchy. Once they are introduced in a group, you must determine the correct order in which to fight them as you bounce from screen to screen, carefully monitoring the icons at the bottom to see when each one will attack. Some are slower than others and if you plan your moves wisely, they can be reset, giving you more time to deal with the immediate dangers. Each combination of enemies has its own pattern of exploits and challenges, making the combat fresh and exciting throughout the game. It never feels like a grind, as the action is fast paced and you are constantly assessing and reassessing your strategy. If you aren’t quick to do so, you will fail. A lot. Yet the game is so engaging, you will work through that frustration and feel as if you have accomplished something bigger than simply defeating a monster in an RPG.

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As you progress, you will fight extremely difficult boss monsters that will force you to use every single strategy you have learned until that point in order to win the battle. You will absolutely feel the stress placed upon Sasha in this world. And your efforts will be rewarded with new, equipable items that grant you magical powers that you may also upgrade. But the new powers come with increasingly difficult powers and can only be defeated if you learn how to use your new tools precisely. There is no room for error in Severed, and it lets you know that right from the start. The game doesn’t hold your hand, but it does give you a fair amount of opportunities to get it right.

The battles are not your only obstacle. Often times the environment itself is against you. You will enter poison rooms and rooms that blind you from your attacker. You must learn how to navigate each one and quickly find the source you must destroy to minimize the damage you take. Health items are strategically placed around for you as a reward for your efforts, allowing you to move forward without worrying if the next blow will unfairly be your last. And if it happens to be so, checkpoints occur often, and you will respawn with full health and mana, ready to try again.

The world itself is immersive and beautiful. Each new area in the landscape is stunning in its simplicity. The colour choice, subtle hints within the environment, and unique variations in each space encourage players to stop and take in its mystery. The soundtrack, a beautifully authentic take on traditional, ancient Malay music, composed for a kulintang orchestra – varying types of percussive bells laid horizontally on risers. The music major in me was absorbed by its rising and falling rhythmic melodies that fit every scene appropriately. But as gamers will find themselves repeating sections many times, and the variations on each musical theme are quite subtle, this particular style of music can be a little repetitive at times. Although the choice completely makes sense and definitely completes the experience, artistically.

Playing Severed on PS Vita made it clear that DrinkBox knows how to maximize the potentials of a touch-based system. It would be nice to see it come to other touch platforms in the future, simply for reasons of comfort, as that is an area in which the Vita holds many limitations, although DrinkBox can hardly be faulted for that.

Extremely challenging games such as Dark Souls have a solid fanbase because of the gratification players receive when overcoming intense conditions. So it is extremely empowering when a Canadian team creates a game that offers the same reward and does so beautifully. Although Severed is not for the faint of heart, it is an extremely immersive, rewarding experience that will keep this reviewer coming back again and again.

Quick Cuts: A Short Interview With the Lead Designer of Severed

Quick Cuts: A Short Interview With the Lead Designer of Severed

Toronto’s Drinkbox Studios is most known for last year’s Guacamelee, a Metroidvania action platformer. The game was met with high praise and was featured on numerous game of the year lists in 2013.

Last month, they announced their new project Severed, a gesture based adventure game with dungeon crawling and RPG-like elements. CGM recently had a chance to talk to Greg Lesky, the lead designer on Severed about the game.

Comics Gaming Magazine: How did the idea for Severed come about?

Greg Lesky: The idea of Severed came from our Concept Artist Augusto, who was born and raised in Mexico, from thoughts about memories and physical and emotional distance from his family. Living far away from them made him constantly dwell in memories when they were together and he thought it would be great to explore this feeling somehow.

CGM: What is the story of Severed?

GL: I don’t want to give away too much because that’s a big part of the game, uncovering exactly what the story is. I can say you play a warrior that wakes up with a missing arm and a lot of questions about what happened. She goes on a quest to find the answers in a strange and surreal world.

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Players will have to swipe across the screen to cut off enemy limbs in Severed.

CGM: What makes Severed different from similar games like Punch-Out and Infinity Blade?

GL: Punch-Out had enemies that had a strategy that made defeating them easier, exposing weak points. Unlike Punch-Out this doesn’t go round-to-round, so you’ll need to keep your health up during and after battles if you want to explore deeper into dangerous parts of the world. While we do use a gesture based melee attack system like Infinity Blade, our attacks are location-dependent which will feeds into the Punch-Out gameplay. 

CGM: Why did you choose touch controls rather than using a normal controller for Severed’s controls?

GL: Gesture controls fit the style of gameplay better, especially with location-specific damage. Also it feels more satisfying to swing a sword with a gesture than a button press as it does better at mimicking the action she’s performing in game. We wanted you to feel like you were in her shoes (or boots).

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A concept screen shot of Severed. Drinkbox Studios’ signature art style will be present.

CGM: What have you learned from your previous games that you’ve applied to Severed?

GL: This game is really a departure from what we’ve done in the past – 2D platforming – so we get to approach this from a fresh angle. I think this will be more about lessons we learned playing other games that inspired the gameplay.

CGM: You mentioned that there will be some RPG elements in the game, how will they work?

GL: There will be character progression but it will be RPG-light. You won’t be balancing how many points you add to your Strength or Intelligence, but you will have a satisfying level of customization without getting bogged down with details.

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Players will need to figure out why they are missing their arm and other mysteries in the world of Severed.

CGM: Drinkbox games always have had a vibrant and distinct art style, how does it contribute to the world Severed?

GL: I think the vibrant palette makes the world we’re setting up more unique. It is not a world deeply  grounded in reality, so we can afford to be very bold with stylistic choices. The goal is to communicate a feeling and colours are one of the important tools for that.

 

Severed is the New Game From Drinkbox Studios

Severed is the New Game From Drinkbox Studios

Drinkbox Studios, the creators of Mutant Blobs Attack and Guacamelee have revealed their new project, a first-person “dungeon crawleresque” called Severed.

In Severed, players will play as a female warrior who goes on a journey to unravel the mystery of the world that she’s on.

Gameplay revolves around swiping the screen to hack and slash enemies to pieces, much like Infinity Blade. Players can cut off the limbs of enemies to significantly weaken them.

The game is nonlinear, so players are encouraged to explore to find new upgrades and secrets within the world.

Severed will be coming out sometime in spring 2015 and it has not been announced on what platforms it will be coming to.

Issue 27 Preview

Issue 27 Preview

With Drinkbox Studios Guacamelee! now out, we give you everything you need to know about studio and game in issue 27 of Comics & Gaming Magazine.

Read moreIssue 27 Preview

Guacamelee (PS3) Review

Guacamelee (PS3) Review

Guacamelee — a game in which a Mexican wrestler can transform into a chicken to reach hidden areas, where he might learn from his mystical goat master how to suplex skeletons in sombreros.

Sure, it may sound like someone drank too much tequila out in the hot sun, but it’s also one of the best indie experiences on your Playstation 3 or PS Vita. The creation of Toronto-based developer DrinkBox Studios, Guacamelee is a 2-D beat-’em-up platformer, in which new abilities give you access to new parts of a vivid, mazelike world. The genre is commonly known as “Metroidvania,” and the game’s influences become obvious after you break your first “Choozo” statue or run into the mosaic of Simon Belmont.

The game stars Juan Aguacate, a simple agave farmer whose life is turned upside-down when El Presidente’s daughter is kidnapped by the skeletal Carlos Calaca, who wants to unite the land of the living and the land of the dead. With the help of a magical mask, Juan becomes a mighty luchador and sets out to save the world and get the girl.

guacamelee_review_iamge.jpgWhile the plot may seem like total schlock — and to be fair, it is — that description doesn’t do justice to the game’s witty dialogue and anarchic sense of humour, akin to a grown-up Paper Mario. Most of the laughs come from timely references to popular culture, video games or Internet memes. One poster in the city advertises a match between La Máscara (donning Majora’s Mask) and Mega Hombre (that is, Mega Man). Another urges you to buy “Me Gusta Guavas.” When teleporting to a different location, you’re told, “No liquids over 3 oz.”

But comedy leaks into the gameplay as well: running down one hallway causes the camera to dramatically zoom in on Juan, only to pull back after you blindly stumble into a mass of enemies. When you’re first transformed into a feeble chicken, the game forces you into a mad flight from a mob you couldn’t hope to beat. Guacamelee is full of these clever moments, making it more than the wacky brawler it could have been.

Juan relies on strikes, throws and grappling moves for the most part, but gradually unlocks several colour-coded power attacks. These are required to break otherwise impenetrable obstacles and enemy shields; for example, the uppercut gives off a red flourish and breaks red shield and blocks. And as the land of the living and land of the dead overlap, he’ll need to shift between them in order to hit enemies that attack from beyond the veil. The same mechanics are required for much of the platforming, which can actually be rather difficult and puzzling. Shifting will instantly change lava into water or make walls appear and disappear; at times Guacamelee feels like an extreme version of Portal.

However, you may find yourself swapping dimensions just to admire the work DrinkBox Studios put into the world. The visuals throughout the game are crisp and stylized, characterized by a bold and sometimes garish use of colour. But switching to the land of dead brings out dark reprises of catchy tunes, changes atmospheric effects (like sending snow skyward) and brings a whole new cast of cadavers to talk to. The world isn’t just fleshed out; it’s fleshed out twice.

In a thematically appropriate move, there’s no punishment for dying — which is a godsend because of the stiff and consistent difficulty. While the challenge never crosses over into insurmountable for an experienced gamer, both platforming and combat become complicated and cluttered in the later parts of the game. Crossing a room can require a precise chain of wall-jumps, double-jumps and power moves while simultaneously changing dimensions and dodging obstacles. A single group of enemies can possess multiple shield types in both dimensions, meaning your attacks will usually strike only one at a time while they collectively pummel you. It’s challenging, yes, but it can also become confusing and frustrating.

The difficulty can be greatly reduced by bringing in a friend, with Juan gaining a female counterpart in co-op mode. Multiplayer is a seamless drop in, drop out experience that never disrupts gameplay; it’s impossible to become separated, even during some of the complex platforming, because you can teleport to the other player at any time.

Even if you go it alone, you can expect to complete normal mode in about five hours, with plenty of collectables and a smattering of lacklustre side-quests as additional diversions. The game is short — but that’s a good thing, the result of quick pacing and a lack of monotonous padding. Clever, challenging and stylish, Guacamelee is pure bone-crunching satisfaction.