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.

2013-04-04-163745You 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.

Alebrije, a giant compared to Juan
Alebrije, a giant compared to Juan

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.

2013-04-04-175742Though 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.

2013-04-05-184314
If this guy asks about my mother one more time…

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.

Stitch

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.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Presentation
Gameplay
Lasting Appeal
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Kyle Wakeling is the Editor in Chief and Jack of all trades here at The Vita Lounge. A long time gamer and aspiring writer, he's just hoping to spread the word of PlayStation Vita to the darkest corners of the internet - and beyond.
  • I’ve been looking forward to this. Roll on tomorrow. 🙂 Great job Drinkbox!

  • Getting this tomorrow! Tales from Space was great, this one will be awesome too.

  • can i have a download code for free for being a fan of ur site?

    • nice try 🙂 But honestly, if I had a free code, I’d use it myself! But when it arrives it’s not very expensive. 🙂

  • Anthony Brinklow

    Will pick this up next Friday – hoping for a reduced price for + subscribers, even 10% or 20% for a week or two. If there’s a deal like that I will beg, borrow or steal to get the game early!

  • I want I want!

  • PixelKnot

    I hate you so much for making me fork out money on yet another Vita game when my backlog is big enough as it is. >.>

    Joking aside, great review.

    • Kyle Wakeling

      Thanks, Pixel. The game really is great though – you’ll be thanking me mentally when you’re uppercutting skeletons later. =D

  • nathan rodriguez

    Right, so off to the store then.

  • Buckybuckster

    Thanx Kyle for such a well written and awesome review of an awsome game! I had already planed on picking this one up, but your words went along way in assuring I was making the right choice in doing so.

    To everyone who has yet to pick up Guacamelee, heed Kyle”s words and do so! You won’t regret it! It’s one of the best games to be released for the Vita so far!

  • Yuuki

    great review but it doesnt seem like my kind of game.

  • Picked this up last night. Currently about 3 hours in (in the snowy bit). What an awesome game! Just wanted to say a massive thank you for writing a review that doesn’t constantly refer to the game as “Metroidvania”! Such an ugly terminology that is only applicable to CastleVania games using the metroid formula, and not a genre! Keep up the great work!

  • CooPerMan

    I love this game ,its quite a challenge. You dont have lives as such so never die but some boss fights took me some time and a few repeat attempts but i like the challenge and it never feels impossible or too frustrating.

    Some platform bits where you have to switch quickly between the dead realm and living in between jumps can be tricky too and i would not recommend this game to small children or the easily frustrated. For me though i found it a great game for as much as i love little big planet vita , i sometimes found it a bit easy where as here is something a bit different with the fighting really easy to pick up and always new moves to learn, keeping the game fresh.
    Finally i have to mention to visuals and sound, all i can say is the pictures on this review (good as they are) dont do the game justice until you see it running on your tiny vita screen and it has the wow factor. Like the reviewer said the music very fitting with the game makes you want to turn your sound up to full volume. I agree with everything the reviewer said and yes 8.5/10 is about right for me too.