The already stellar indie scene on the PlayStation Network gains another standout entry in Guacamelee! Available for both the PlayStation 3 and the Vita as a Cross-Buy/Cross-Play purchase, the latest from Drink Box Studios delivers old school platforming, surprisingly capable combat and a unique visual flair that help set it apart from the peers of the genre.
From the outset, it’s apparent that Guacamelee! doesn’t take itself too seriously and you shouldn’t either. The loose narrative follows Juan, an agave farmer who lives a simple, cliched Mexican life with dreams of becoming a famed Luchador. His village is attacked by an evil skeleton named Carlos Calaca and his entertaining band of lackies, who subsequently kidnap the woman you desire, the El Presidente’s daughter. Through a short sequence of events you end up in the land of the dead and an acquire a mask of unparalleled Luchador power. From this moment on you are no longer a simple farmer, but an ass kicking wrestler on a quest for mucho más revenge that transcends worlds. While the story is entertaining and a suitable vehicle to drive the tale forward, it’s ultimately a side note to the addictive combat and excellent old school platforming you’ll find within.
Color-Coded Combo Combat!
Upon donning the mask, you acquire a basic set of punches, kicks and grapples which can also be carried on into the air. At first glance combat may seem simplistic, but looks can be deceiving and once you gain just a few of the special abilities throughout your quest, you’ll be chaining together combos that possibly number into the hundreds. Each special attack is given it’s own color as a beacon to keep the player aware of what they are using to dole out punishment at any given time. As a limiter of sorts, each one can only be used once in the air and is restricted by a stamina meter, which can be increased through various means and as a ways of adding balance.
Be it an uppercut, dash punch or body splash, each move adds something to your arsenal and applies itself to dealing with any combat situation that may arise. Upon discovery, techniques are awarded with a short scene that typify the games visual style and and writing, which at times is nothing short of hilarious. Oh and did I mention that a goat, yes a goat, gives you these moves?
Alternatively, you can purchase moves and various enhancements with the income you gain in your endeavors from a store, which doubles as an auto-save checkpoint system throughout your adventure. While it doesn’t make much sense for a voodoo table to be a store and save-point, it is savvy design that reinforces the on the go nature of its original platform: PlayStation Vita.
Welcome to Mexico: Charmingly Cliched
While combat is rewarding, what sets Guacamelee! apart more than anything else is the art and presentation style Drink Box Studies decided to implement here. While not graphically impressive, it hides the few shortcomings behind wonderful design and a unique flair not seen anywhere else.
Although released in 2013, Guacamelee! feels like a game of yesteryear, but in a good way. Characters converse through simple text bubbles and traversing the few towns you find, hearkens back to games like Wonder Boy and Alex the Kidd from SEGA Master System fame. Here, you can gain access to small side-quests by speaking with the locals. Although a nice attempt, they ultimately feel tacked on and are easily forgettable, but what isn’t forgettable are the numerous acknowledgements and nods to other games, both past and present, strewn throughout Guacamlee! I don’t want to spoil anything, but keep your eyes peeled for billboards, characters and set pieces that any gamer worth their salt should be familiar with. It got to a point where I felt Drink Box was merely showing off their roots and gaming pedigree with these exposes and I loved every moment of it!
Furthering this old school approach is design of the world, which is referred to as “Metroidvania” by many now. Regardless of what you call it, the levels offer increasingly challenging platforming and open up with more treasure and alternative paths as your gain more of the aforementioned abilities. The easy to use maps help navigate the vast dungeon and overworld as you progress and you’ll find yourself backtracking often to access chests that couldn’t be reached previously, expanding your health, stamina and wallet.
While the game doesn’t near difficult until the finale, the levels will challenge your grasp of the games mechanics to see it through to the end and if you want to attain the secret ending by completing the hidden Luchador mask piece by piece, you are looking at optional worlds that appear off the grid and will challenge even the most seasoned gamer. The game will truly press you in your quest to attain the vaunted 100% completion, but it never feels unfair and given some time, there is nothing that a hardened gamer can’t overcome in Guacamelee!
The standout mechanic and one you will definitely need to master, is the ability to shift between the worlds of the living and the dead. Offering differences that range from the subtle, to grand scale changes in the world around you and to the music, it comes into play when platforming and in combat as well. Drink Box seemingly had larger plans in store here and have even said they had a third plane, the Nightmare world to shift to, but likely ran out of time to see it through in its original design. What is here is excellent though and at times, the way shifting is implemented is ingenious in its application.
All of this is capped off by an incredibly catchy Mexican inspired soundtrack that will have you humming long after your quest is complete and as for the time it takes you to complete the game? Unfortunately, it may disappoint some in its brevity. Cashing in at around 7 hours on your first playthrough with minimal exploring left me wanting more. Although there is reason to return, such as attaining that desired 100%, you’re looking at around 10 hours all said and done.
It bears mentioning that Guacamelee! can be played with a friend as well. It’s local co-op only, so sorry online fans. Utilizing either a second controller or the remote play functions of the Vita, you control an entirely different character with a somewhat different move-set that accomplishes the same goals as Juan’s. While a nice addition, gamers will be hard pressed to want to share the fun with someone else and simply put, the game is better suited to a single player experience.
No matter how you define it, there is a heckuva lot of fun to be found here and isn’t that what it’s all about? From a unique visual style and old school platforming at its finest, or addictive and capable combat while bobbing your head head to catchy tunes, Drink Box Studios endeavor has paid off and offers something to nearly every gamer. A few minor gripes about length and content aside, Guacamelee! achieves what it sets out to do and at $15 dollars and ability for Cross-Play with the Vita, this exclusive title deserves a place in any PlayStation owners library.
This review was based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 3 version of Guacamelee developed by Drink Box Studios.
- Awesome Combat
- Open World With Old School Flair
- Price Point and Cross-Play with Vita
- A Little Short
- Unnecessary Multiplayer