It’s not uncommon for game development studios to have a grasp for visual style that’s shared across their products. Wayforward is known for their classic Disney-inspired 2D animations. Epic’s drive towards uber-realism is their keystone. Nintendo focuses on the family-friendly geometry that is behind the design of Mario and Zelda. Much more challenging is the ability for a studio to develop a reputation for having a grasp on great gameplay mechanics.
Drinkbox Studios, makers of the incredibly lovely (and the only reason to own a PS Vita thus far) Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, are quickly becoming adept at treating our eyes with their whimsical virtues. Their latest game, Guacamelee, is consistent with their visual prowess. It also looks to follow Blobs as one that is just as interesting to play as it is to look at.
After my hands-on at PAX East last week, I’m pretty confident that they’re on the right track.
I was only able to get my hands on one of the game’s levels during my short time with the demo, but the controls and the visuals seem to be up to par with what the development house is known for. The Mad Men style sheen on a luchador theme works very well, like looking at a moving poster for a fight from that era. The backgrounds are striking, like hand-cut paper with a depth that relies on blurring tricks and contrasting colors. The proportion of the characters on the screen allows for more view of the environments, a key aspect of a game that involves focus on lite spectacle and puzzle solving.
The level I played had been knee deep in Mexican lore, from wrestling to Day of the Dead to even some Aztec influences. The patterns and textures used throughout the backgrounds, and the costumes on the characters themselves, seemed to channel the feel of a Spaghetti Western set in a wresting town. Even the poses that the characters and enemies used were almost stereotypically accurate.
The dimension-swapping aspect of the game — certain puzzles can only be solved in one dimension, enemies defeated in the other — creates a unique twist to the challenges. It worked well in the level that I played, and with new gameplay mechanics being introduced as the game progresses it could remain an constantly shifting, entertaining experience.
It’s the visuals of Drinkbox games that get me instantly, and the gameplay and controls that hook me for longer. Guacamelee has a head start in both of those areas, and building on that leaves me thinking that when it hits digital storefronts later this year I could be blocking out Saturday afternoons for a long time.
Images courtesy Drinkbox Studios