Over time, as Guacamelee!’s dark sense of humor and playfulness with Mexican culture began catching people’s attention, conflicted feelings were brought to DrinkBox’s attention about whether a Canadian studio should be the one telling the jokes. “A lot of the genesis of Guacamelee! was seeing how Mexico had been represented before, as very drab and violent, and one-note. You always need somebody else to come to this lawless place to save them,” Augusto said. “That was a completely different experience for me, as a Mexican. I wanted to show the other side of it. Mexico, Mexicans — they love being represented in media because we are underrepresented.”
Augusto reviews all the translations produced by the game’s Spanish localization. Or, as Augusto puts it, “Mexican supervision! Sometimes, Spanish translations want to be neutral for Latin America. But this game cannot be neutral. It needs to be heavy Mexican slang,” he said. “[The translators are] doing their job right, but you need to bias it towards making it sound extra Mexican. That takes time, but it’s so important for the game and the story we’re trying to tell.” “Santa Marimorena” can be heard from gasps in a crowd, Augusto noted. “It’s a slang way to refer to the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is a very Mexican emblem.”
“Spanish translations want to be neutral for Latin America. But this game cannot be neutral. It needs to be heavy Mexican slang.”
Any sign, billboard or storefront won’t make it into the final game without Augusto reviewing it first. “I know how proud Mexicans are because I’m one of them,” Augusto said. “‘Everything was right, but you didn’t put the right accent in this word.’ You gotta double check those things. For me, that’s part of the fun.”
Exceptions aren’t made for props devoid of text, either. “That’s not how you hang a hammock!” laughs Augusto, recalling his response to seeing one in the game. He even asked his cousin for a photo of his own hammock, so that the artists could fix it in their next revision. “The interesting thing is that people notice these things,” he said. Both games begin in the quaint town of Pueblucho, where the bottom-half of its trees are painted white. “That’s a tradition in the peninsula where I’m from to just put chalk in water, so the ants don’t climb up. That’s very regionally specific, but then people go, ‘Hey! That’s how it looks in my town!'”
The team credits recent films such as Coco and The Book of Life for exposing more people to Latin American perspectives. Meanwhile, there are new depictions of Mesoamérica in games like World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. “I get a lot of comments from a lot of people outside of Mexico — Peruvians, French Guiana,” Augusto said. “‘I have all these stories from my childhood that I want to tell, and I didn’t know it was possible.’ It’s very heartwarming to sort of see the social impact or inspiration.”
Even amidst the chaos of Guacamelee! 2, its more poignant messages do not go unnoticed. In one instance, what lies between Juan and a magical calavera (a decorative skull) is a grieving daughter, protecting her long-lost father’s belongings. Several trips between their two worlds later, the daughter learns to let go of the past, while the father gets to see his daughter smile again. Thanks to the player, the two are able to communicate across the void.
While discussing the symbolism of Mexico’s flag, Augusto recalled the lake upon which Mexico City was built. He mentioned how the old Basilica de Guadalupe — a church not unlike the one players will find on Guacamelee! 2‘s Isla Bonita — began to sink because of it. Worrisome as that sounds, it also seems like a chance to preserve another part of Mexico’s rich history. With every detail Augusto shares about his upbringing, it becomes easier to picture how they colored DrinkBox’s latest game, and how his untold stories might inspire the next. Perhaps in another five years, we’ll find out how many luchadores it takes to lift a chapel into the sky.
‘Guacamelee! 2’ is out now on PlayStation 4 and PC. It arrives on Nintendo Switch this December.