If I had to explain Guacamelee in a nutshell, how would I do so? Like this: Guacamelee is for all intents and purposes a classic Metroidvania game, but instead of a Belmont or Samus, you get Juan, an agave farmer turned superpowered luchadore, instead of the Belmont whip, you get to piledrive and suplex a bunch of enemies and turn into a chicken at will, and instead of a brooding, dark, somber soundtrack, you get catchy Mexi-pop and mariachi arrangements to bob your head to.
Is this the most serious game? No, it is not. Is it one of the best games for PS3/Vita?
In Guacamelee, you take control of Juan Aguacate as he fights through hordes of undead enemies and skeleton henchmen to stop the evil Carlos Calaca from gaining ultimate power by sacrificing the beautiful “El Presidente’s Daughter.” So basically it’s the story of Super Mario Bros. with a heavy dose of Mexican folklore thrown on top.
Guacamelee is a ton of fun, and does the Metroidvania format plenty of justice. Everything you love about that subgenre of games is here; the exploration, the backtracking after gaining new abilities; all topped with a splash of humor. This is none more evident than Guacamelee’s endless nods to classic video games throughout history (Los Super Hermanos, Mine Forever, etc).
The gameplay is fast and smooth as Juan runs around, rolls, jumps, wall jumps, uppercuts, suplexes, piledrives, etc. with ease. You’re not dealing with a ton of button combos here; after all, this isn’t Street Fighter. The most complex it’s going to get is something along the lines of “direction + O.” That’s it. That way you can focus on something else, such as the quirkily ridiculous plot or gorgeous visuals.
The gameplay isn’t too different from your typical side scrolling brawler; which is to say you’ll spend the bulk of it punching and kicking your way to victory while being swarmed by enemies all around. As with many Metroidvania styled games, many areas are inaccessible until you unlock new moves. These blocked off areas are literally blocked off by blocks (block-ception). You’ll have a variety of different colors (red, blue, yellow, etc.) to indicate which specific abilities need to be used. For example, red blocks can only be broken by the rooster uppercut, whereas yellow ones can only be broken by headbutts.
This encourages plenty of backtracking. The overall game is actually super short; I finished it in one sitting. However, if you are the obsessive type and decide to go back to each previous area to find out what your new abilities can unlock, you’ll gain a bit more longevity out of the game. This is helped by a handy dandy fast travel system via giant Olmec statues scattered about. If you opt not to use those, the game can be stretched out even longer, but know that there certain areas that simply cannot be access by simple backtracking.
Another aspect of Guacamelee is the concept of two worlds; one of the living, and one of the dead. The concept of alternate dimensions is something that seems to be quite popular right now; games like Outland and Fractured Soul immediately come to mind. The concept is no different here; you have enemies and environmental areas that are only visible and accessible in certain dimensions. When this concept is first introduced in the game, it’s not really anything to worry about. You’ll get a swirl vortex thingy that you must jump through in order to switch dimensions. At first you’ll see that it’s only to access platforms and walls that you normally wouldn’t be able to in the other dimension. Then you’ll need to phase in and out of dimensions in order to attack certain enemies. Then, the two are combined. THEN you’ll have to shift while jumping and wall jumping. It gets harder and harder. It never gets to the point of sheer, controller-throwing frustration, but it definitely throws a nice challenge out there. If anything, it spices up a game which is comprised largely of punch/kick.
The presentation for Guacamelee is also one of the bigger stars of the show, almost standing toe to toe with the excellent gameplay. I mentioned earlier that humor is available in droves, and I am not exaggerating. I laughed my way through most of the game, from the ridiculous muscle-man poses that Juan almost always stands in, to the hilarious in game references to other games, to the absurdity of talking to goats and chickens. It’s awesome, and a clear sign that in today’s world of somber and dark video game stories, Drinkbox Studios feels that they don´t need to go that route. I love that. Not everything has to be dark and cynical; sometimes a little laughter and absurdity can go a long way.
The graphics are gorgeous, despite the fact that they are not the hyper realistic graphics we see so much in today’s AAA titles. The game is bright, colorful, and surprisingly detailed, especially in terms of character designs. The animation is silky smooth as well; I hardly ever ran into any lag or stuttering.
And then there’s the soundtrack. The soundtrack is AWESOME. I’m a pure rock guy, but damned if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of the music in this game. It’s an interesting fusion of Mexi-pop and mariachi themes, all mixed into a funky, head bopping soundtrack. It definitely fits the overall tone of the game very well, and maintains the light humor.
Perhaps the best part of Guacamelee is the pricing ($15) and what you get with that. For fifteen bucks, you get the Vita and PS3 versions. You also get Cross Save, so I am able to seamlessly stop playing on my TV when my wife wants to watch Teen Mom (-.-) and continue in my office without skipping a beat. The only criticism I have with the Cross Save functionality is the fact that you need to manually go into the pause menu to upload your save to the cloud. It would be nice if the autosave automatically saved into the cloud as well. Who knows, maybe it does and I just don’t know; but I haven’t had the cajones to try yet without manually saving first. In the PS3 version, you also get 2 player simultaneous co-op, but seeing as how I only have one controller and a wife that isn’t really into gaming, I never got a chance to try it out.
Gaming is expensive, especially in today’s day and age of buying a full game then purchasing DLC to enhance the experience. It’s almost a given that any AAA title that you buy for $60 will probably eventually be supplemented with extra characters, multiplayer maps…what have you. It’s nice to see games that are so cheap being of such a high quality. Guacamelee is the best $15 you’ll spend in a long time. It’s incredibly fun, funny, challenging, and although it’s a bit on the short side, there should be no reason why you won’t come back for another go. That’s what I’m doing; I’m going back for another round. I’m sure there’s SOMETHING I missed my first time through.