Review – Guacamelee
Guacamelee!, and indie title from Drinkbox Studios has recently been released on the PC. To commemorate this momentous occasion, I have reviewed the Playstation Vita version to give you an idea of what to expect!
Every now and again a platformer comes around that I get completely addicted to. A game that’s punishing enough to make me want to succeed, but fun enough not to make me throw it out of a window. Rayman Origins had it’s crushing moments but the crowning glory of self induced rage addiction for me has been Super Meat Boy. Now a new indie challenger steps up to the throne, Guacamelee!, Metroid-esque luchador platformer. But how does it stack up to its competition? Does it have the same addictive tendencies? Don your masks amigos, it’s time to dive in.
Guacamelee! follows the story of Juan Aguacate, a Mexican farmer who is in love with his childhood sweetheart and daughter of the El Presidente. Unfortunately for him, she is kidnapped by Carlos Calaca (evil skeleton dude, hell bent on merging the underworld with the real world) and Juan is killed, bummer. After a quick jaunt around the afterlife, Juan finds a supernatural luchador mask, which, once worn, turns him into a super luchador. Throw in a few more crazy evil guys and a dude-bro-goat-come-shaman and you’ll get some sort of idea just how mental Guacamelee! is!
The thing is, it’s this very insanity that makes Guacamelee! the beast it is. The game wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t a random goat smoking a pipe that appeared every now and again to teach you moves (in exchange for breaking his stuff, never really got that). The charm and character is what makes it stand out, the writing is brilliant and often elicits laugh out loud moments. During the time you spend in the game, you will come across some very interesting characters and bosses, all of which are unique and equally as barmy as each other. It’s definitely worth reading through as much of the dialogue in this game as possible!
The writing isn’t Guacamelee!’s only strong point however. The game looks absolutely stunning. Each 2D graphic has been crafted and animated with high detail and precision and it really is a joy to see in motion. Just the little animation quirks alone are enough to make this game look brilliant. Take our goatey friend for example (yes, I keep talking about him, yes, he is that awesome), the way he transforms between goat and man is something you see multiple times, and it’s never something that gets old! Add to the wonderful animation a vibrant, colourful art style and you have a game that looks fluid and unique, Drinkbox have really managed to communicate the character of the game in the visuals and that needs to be commended.
The game doesn’t have any voice acting, and personally, I think this is actually a positive, I’m not sure that voice actors would have been able to do the script justice. The score fits the game nicely, even if it is a little underwhelming. It sounds more like filler music to make up for the lack of other sound, most of the music all sounds similar, with the same stereotypical Mexican theme.
Of course all of this is entirely unimportant if a platformer doesn’t deliver on gameplay, luckily Guacamelee! comes through in spades. The basic gameplay premise of Guacamelee! is simple, run, jump and punch your way through a mountain of bad guys until you reach the big bad dude, then punch him too. What I was expecting going in was a tight platformer with a punch button to clear enemies. What I wasn’t expecting was a tight platformer with a fully fledged 2D fighter combo system containing a variety of special moves. Guacamelee!’s combat is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a 2D platformer, moves can be chained together almost indefinitely, impressive considering the 3 button setup. Square and Triangle cover the Light and heavy normal attacks, while Circle covers you special moves. In what can only be considered a stroke of combo building genius (lots of 2D fighters do this), some of the special moves wall bounce or ground bounce, allowing you to carry on combos if you’re good enough. This turns Guacamelee into essentially a side scrolling 2D fighter, filled with deep combat. Juan also has access to a dodge move which turns you invulnerable for a limited number of frames (highly useful for bosses!). All of this combined gives Guacamelee a highly enjoyable and complex battle system, but they don’t stop there, oh no! Different enemies in the game sometimes have a different coloured aura, and occasionally, are in a different dimension. Each colour represents a different special move that’s unlocked as you progress through the game, these auras can only be broken with the correct move. This means that you have to adapt to your enemies with each separate battle, adding to the complexity of the once combat again.
When it comes to the actual platforming, Guacamelee! is no slouch either. Juan handles well, and the control over his jumps feels very tight and precise. This makes platforming a joy, which is good because there’s going to be a few occasions where you’ll have to play the same section through a number of times. Some of the platforming puzzles can actually be quite challenging, with multiple attempts being required. Guacamelee! is good in that it doesn’t take you out of the game if you fail, this means that you spend more time enjoying the challenge than you do staring at an infuriating game over screen (great when you’re rubbish like me!). The one concern that I do have with the game is the occasional spike of difficulty, it’s not serious, and it’s something that I personally love about the game, however it might put some people off (I’m just addicted to frustration, apparently).
As you traverse the world, you’ll notice colour coded blocks all around. These are breakable using only the special move of the same colour. These are actually special puzzle rooms and bonuses planted all around the world that you can go back to and open up after you’ve unlocked the ability. These are great fun to complete and normally more challenging than the main mission, this makes them well worth going back for. These aren’t the only things worth playing the game again for, each time you finish the game you get another segment of luchador mask, what happens when you unlock the whole thing is a secret (shhhhh….). I have to admit though, I love seeing this much replay value in a cheaply priced indie game, to have this much reason to play through multiple times is something rare in triple-A games these days, let alone handheld indie games.
Guacamelee! is one of those titles that blurs the line between indie and published title. The production values for this game are remarkably high and the package as a whole is very coherent. I feel as though I might have gushed a little in this review but Guacamelee truly is deserving of all the critical acclaim it’s receiving at the moment. Witty writing, individual and unique characters, sleek design and sharp gameplay make this a game that you’ll be happy to play over and over again, without even considering that they provide you with so many reasons to dive back in. Truly one of the Vita’s best titles and definitely one to pick up. I haven’t played the PC version as of yet, but as it’s the same game with added content I can only recommend that you pick it up!