Have you heard the legend of El águila y la serpiente?
In a dream, the gods told an Aztec leader to take his people into the wilderness of Central America to look for an eagle grasping a serpent on a prickly pear tree -- one creature that could freely travel between the sky and land consuming another that represented wisdom and rebirth.
They wandered, living off fleeting natural resources to survive the changing seasons. That is, until the day they saw an eagle perched on a cactus in the middle of a lake. It was eating a serpent. This was the sign they'd searched for -- the sign they'd found their true home, so the Aztec people built their nation, México-Tenochtitlán on that very lake. Today, we know it as Mexico City.
This symbolic battle between eagle and serpent is embedded in the center of Mexico's flag. You can also find it at the heart of Guacamelee! 2, the 2D action-adventure platformer from DrinkBox Studios.
Several years after the events of Guacamelee!, protagonist Juan Aguacate returns to familiar gameplay loops: directional special moves for both platforming and combat, dancing between parallel dimensions and, on this occasion, visiting alternate timelines. If players can manage the game's breakneck pace, they'll discover that the Toronto-based developer has invited them back not only to an electric Mexican fantasy but also deeper into the core influences and imagination that set the first game apart. It is, after all, a place where they can deliver messages between the living and dead, suplex demonic chupacabras, reach summits with a well-timed Rooster Uppercut and polymorph into god-like chickens.
Late in the sequel's story, an inversion of Mexico's national tableau is created as Juan enters the mouth of a giant stone serpent. "Eagles and snakes are emblematic figures in ancient cultures in Mesoamérica, and they were always in my mind when doing this game," said Augusto Quijano, the game's lead concept artist and animator. "Those kinds of things, they're invisible for people outside of Mexico. But that's the first thing that jumps out for people like me, from Mexico."
Graham Smith, DrinkBox's co-founder, and producer on Guacamelee! 2, gave examples of leftover ideas from the first game, like a nightmarish sentient cactus, Cactuardo, and giant snakes who chase the player but can also be jumped on, platform-style. The path to the sequel's climactic level, Templo de la Serpiente, is fittingly decorated with floating golden Eagle Hooks, which are a new means for players to slingshot around the screen.
"Those kind of things, they're invisible for people outside of Mexico."
DrinkBox pushed to make the sequel distinguishable from the original Guacamelee!, despite how visually realized it already was. For starters, only two veteran locations make an appearance. Their newest siblings are a change of pace from cliché gaming analogs like the lava world or water world. Instead, players visit Los Manglares, a lagoon-esque marsh inspired by Mexican mangroves. The more-water-than-mud variety of bog is intentional, too -- they're the kind near Augusto's home region.
The game's earliest climax, and site of its first boss, is Templo de Jade. Its custodial Jade Skeleton, originally a minor character in the game's first dungeon, inspired a massive redesign of the level post-beta. "There's this main center shaft. We decided we're going to put the skeleton in all the way through. Every time you pass by, the Jade Skeleton is chatting with you," said Graham.
"Jade is an important part of Mayan and maybe a bit of Aztec [culture], associated with water and many other things," Augusto said. He points out that while no legend of a jade temple exists, their anything-goes universe allows them to extrapolate small cultural details. "Take El Dorado, in Peru," Augusto said, "but what if it's different materials?"
The team frequently points to Templo de Jade when describing their re-realizing of Guacamelee!'s environment art. "A lot of the environments now have specific materials made for them," Graham said. "In one of the levels, it looks like there is running water going across the surfaces of the backgrounds. We have [a material] that looks like gold -- the lighting looks quite realistic."
Each substance imbues its titular temple with a hypnotic charm. Jade refracts light with deep hues of emerald and sage, while cross-sections of obsidian swirl under the influence of witchcraft. "We tried to make [Templo de Obsidiana] the starting point of dark magic in this mythology, in this world," Augusto said. Characters now respond to the improved atmospheric lighting, appearing more physically integrated into each level.