Guacamelee! Review (PS3/Vita)
As soon as the portmanteau of “Metroidvania” was attached to the visually stunning “Guacamelee!” I knew I had to put it through its paces. The wrestling element may have helped a bit too. Developer Drinkbox Studios’ previous “Tales from Space” games were decent cracks at the platformer genre, and laid down their reputation for seriously pretty looking games. Their newest work is no exception, and the game’s flamboyantly coloured Mexican theme helps it stand out even further.
So it’s (ridiculously) pretty, but what it’s actually about? You play as Juan Aguacate, an agave farming, down on his luck luchador in a small Mexican village where wrestling is everything. Except to El Presidente’s daughter, who’s once-childhood friend has now become a burly man thing. Sadly the reunion is cut short by menacing skeletal doom bringer Carlos Calaca and his band of denizens, and the (sorta) first boss fight ends exactly as you’d expect when facing off against the big bad at the start of the game. So after being dumped in the Land of the Dead our hero comes across a magical luchador mask, taking a face turn and springing back into action to save the girl.
“Guacamelee!” mixes up a fair number of mechanics, typically unlockable by breaking up “Choozo” statues (in a shout out to Metroid) and upsetting an old goat/man/thing in the process, who becomes gradually more disillusioned at the destruction of his precious collection. The old man himself is one of the highlights of a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, commenting on how exploitable a certain mechanic is, or why a certain move has a terrible name as he’s lost his spirit at the newest pile of rubble he’s emerged from. It’s less forced than some of the more obvious “HAY GAIS AH HURD j00 LYK GHEMES” humour that pops up here and there. While the more subtle, background stuff like the posters are a nice touch, things like Hothead’s “Trolololol” laugh are a bit heavy handed, and it does at times come across as pandering to an audience instead of relying on their own writers’ talents.
Similarly, you’d expect the combat to be the most prominent aspect of the game, but most enemies will be taken down with the same mashing of the square button. Bought moves mix things up a little, but grapples tend to be difficult to pull of as the throw timer kicks in so quickly. Even so, they help when dealing with tougher crowds of enemies, or the first (real) boss who is probably the toughest part of the whole game. The statue moves shake it up a bit more, allowing for better combo chains and breaking through the coloured barriers that enemies eventually coat themselves with. These cost stamina, which can gradually be improved by piecing together golden skulls, with health increases following a similar pattern but with red flaming hearts instead.
They also tie into the games strongest aspect superbly: the platforming. “Guacamelee!” is platforming as an art, especially once the world switching ability is unlocked. They’re cleverly thought out and well placed, with the main path having maybe one or two slightly tricky puzzles to work around and side paths leading to treasure taking leaps and strides beyond that, taking combinations of special moves, timed dodges and jumping to the limit. And boy does it feel hugely satisfying once you get past one of those. Also, I need to point out another huge plus point is the music, especially the different variations that the living and dead worlds’ themes take in each section. It’s an obvious design choice, but the music is so good that it just makes it feel that extra bit special.
Sadly some of the exploration stuff is hard locked away, removing any possible sequence breaks that the genre’s name sakes are associated with, and most of the side paths only lead to treasure chests. Likewise, the sidequests don’t really account to much beyond upgrades, and some are impossible to complete until you’ve got access to late game abilities even though you picked the quest up at the very start. There is also the Caverna del Pollo, which serves as an arena type area to add a bit more beef to the game, but there’s not much else beyond the fairly short campaign which is disappointing as it leaves you wanting a lot more.
All in all, “Guacamelee!” is a short but polished experience that is well worth picking up. Which it may lack some of the depth of other Metroidvania games its gameplay is rewarding, fast paced and robust, and its unique visual and musical style are a delight to behold. The humour is, generally, quite funny but its reliance on pop culture references undermines some of the excellent, albeit sometimes cliché, lines that the characters come out with. Co-op looks like quite fun addition, but I’ve not had a chance to try it out yet.
Also plus points go to the Morph Chicken. Shame they missed a possible cue with egg bombs, but alas. And the Frog Drop. Because…. wrestling!
8 powerbombs out of 10