Guacamelee; a game about a Mexican wrestler named Juan kicking ass in tights and a luchadore mask.
What more could you ever ask for right? I’m not being sarcastic here, and this is no joke – you’re going to want this game.
You start out as Juan Aguacate, a regular Mexican guy in a regular Mexican world, who sets out to save the world when El Presidente’s Daughter is kidnapped by an evil wrestler named Carlos Calaca. Juan takes it upon himself to go after the girl and her captor, and in the process is killed by the undead being Calaca has become. Arriving in the land of the dead, he is presented with a magical luchadore mask, which brings him back to life. His new life brings new abilities, and through the use these powers he vows to save the princess once again, before Calaca sacrifices her to become the ultimate evil power.
Guacamelee is a platformer at its core, most of the traversing involving using jumps and special moves to boost your height in order to reach higher and further ledges. The flip side of this is the combat element, offering both melee and special attacks. Melee attacks can be dealt repeatedly without cost while special attacks come at a cost, using a block of stamina. Enemies range from simple green skeletons, with slow melee attacks and limited health – to giant skeleton demons, with magic fists that can pound you into oblivion and extra health to top it off. There are also special bosses, like the witch X-Tabay, the giant demon Alebrije and the fire elemental Flame Face which feature much more health than anything you find in the normal world. Bosses actually increase in difficulty, which I liked – you can tell the difference between a fight early on with Alebrije (as big as he is) and a later fight like Flame Face or Jaguar Javier.
The game is designed so that you need to develop more than just your stats and special attacks to win, as I found myself with all the purchased items around two-thirds of the way through the game and still had an issue fighting the later bosses. Finding that, I had to develop a plan-of-attack based on their unique skills and strengths – a welcome game play element that takes makes this game more about skill with the controller than special attack skills.
Though it mainly plays as an action/platformer, it features role-playing game elements as well; with treasure chests placed in some hard to get to spots. These chests contain either upgrade pieces (of which three enables the next “level”) or coins, which can be used to purchase upgrades from the store. The store is actually an altar of sorts, featuring a bit of humor and a set of ten different upgrades; some of which have multiple levels. Also, there’s the health bar and stamina bar – which get bigger as you upgrade different aspects of your character’s abilities. The game works well in this regard, though I would’ve definitely liked more abilities through upgrades.
The special attacks come in different ‘flavours’, each represented by a colour. For example; the first special attack you get is the Rooster Uppercut which is a red-type attack. Throughout the world you will find red blocks that much be smashed with this uppercut to access new areas. The same follows for each of the other special attacks and as such you must collect them all in order to fully access all areas – something that will require backtracking, as later collected attacks will have matching blocks even in some early areas. Also of note is the fact that some enemies are protected by different flavours of shield, with the corresponding colour of the attack needed to break it as the hue of said shield. A red-shielded enemy needs to be hit by the Rooster Uppercut before it can be damaged, for example.
The story isn’t complex, and plays out mostly through text bubbles in small cutscenes. These short breaks are filled with innuendo and humor though, and are a welcome short break from game play as they don’t deviate much from the important parts, or drone on too long. The Great Uay Chivo, lord of all man-goats in perhaps the best tutorial character I’ve seen in a game of this type, and shows up every time you need to learn a new move with some great humor, causing me to laugh quite a few times. The witch X’tabay is also good for a few chuckles, and there is light comic relief found all over the game in signs and conversation between characters.
Whoever wrote the script at Drinkbox needs a high-five for his sense of humor.
Controls are done quite well, the only issue for me being the speed at which some of the combos must be performed in the ‘Poncho’ training sessions. I have pretty quick reflexes, and the final combo of the training is giving me a ton of trouble (as well as some of the combo-related trophies). That aside, the button setup is superb and the ability to use either the d-pad or the analog stick for movement/fighting is quite appreciated. The touch screen is used minimally, only utilizing a swipe to switch in and out of “pollo power” – or chicken mode for the layman. The square and circle buttons are used for attacks, with square for melee and circle for the special attacks. These in conjunction with a direction will alter the type of attacks, allowing for many different types of possible attacks. Once an enemy has been stunned, you can also use triangle to throw them; aiming them with the movement control of your choice. The “x” button is used for jumping, the left trigger/right stick for dodging, and later in the game the right trigger for dimension swaps. You’ll need to learn these buttons well in order to pull of the bigger combos.
Graphically, Guacamelee has roots in retro gaming, but with a modern twist. Flashy colours, fluent 60 frames-per-second animation, and large, unique locales make Guacamelee a stand out in its genre. The game features old school animations for move upgrades, a cute little “Hey, you got an awesome power” indicator that gets you excited about your new abilities. The contrast between the dead and living dimensions is also a unique graphical feature, one that only added to the beauty of the art style. Even the dead dimension isn’t a dark and scary place in this game.
The audio in this title is actually quite superb; and that’s saying something coming from me. I tend not to enjoy soundtracks unless they’re proper scores or filled with licensed bands and artists, but Guacamelee’s Mexican themed music actually had me turning up the volume on a platformer for once. The change of music for different areas and events perfectly suits the mood and style of the game, helping to pull you into the mindset of the luchadore.
It’s also worth noting that Guacamelee is cross-buy, and cross-save enabled (with cross-trophy support). For your single purchase you get both Playstation Vita and Playstation 3 copies digitally. I tested the cross save functionality and it works perfectly, using an ‘upload to cloud’ and ‘download from cloud’ two-button approach it keeps things simple and allows easy moving back and forth. I would also like to note that while the PS3 version played pretty much the same other than minor button tweaks on the triggers, the Vita version looked better (even though I have a flawless, vibrant TV).
Drinkbox studios have really done well with this one; Gucamelee is a polished masterpiece with very few flaws. It appeals to action, role-playing, and platformer lovers, and succeeds in every element it attempts. My only substantial complaint is that it isn’t longer.