It seems like an eternity since DrinkBox Studios unveiled Guacamelee!. That might be because the announce trailer debuted in late 2011, or maybe it’s porque every tidbit of información elevated my anticipación to mucho grande. Whatever the case, el nuevo de abril está aquí. Just as expected, Guacamelee! is estupendo!
Pitched from the homesick mind of the studio’s animator Augusto Quijano, Guacamelee! pulls from the rich, vibrant world of lucha libre and Mexican folklore. That alone sets it apart, but it’s more than just something pretty to look at. Gameplay draws influence from all over the place, though it is probably best summarized as a Metroidvania brawler/platformer. Hyphenating it really doesn’t do it justice though, as both genres are executed brilliantly. Focus shifts back and forth between the two, allowing for a solid pace and very organic evolution.
On the brawling side of things, simplicity quickly gains quite a bit of depth. Certain super moves, like an Rooster Uppercut, Olmec’s Headbutt, and Frog Slam, are unlocked with progression. Grappling moves can be purchased through the in-game store which allow seamless juggling and the ability to combo across multiple enemies. The combat really shines with the grappling and throwing. Once an enemy take enough damage, they can be hurled in any direction, further damaging themselves and anyone else that happens to be in their path.
From a platforming perspective, abilities are also frequently upgraded. What starts as a puny single jump transforms to a something far more complex. Double jumping, using super moves, and wall jumping all tweak the formula. For instance, to get to a high ledge you may have to double jump, then uppercut, and follow it with a forward dashing punch. Later, even that looks like child’s play.
The collection of these skills makes way for the Metroidvania nature of the game. Chests, which contain valuable heath and stamina upgrades, often require mastery of the platforming mechanics. Other sections are barricaded off by colored blocks, which can only be broken with their corresponding, color coded super move. Plus, there’s an even rarer set of orbs that will really test your mettle.
Did I mention there’s the ability to turn into a chicken? Yes, a chicken! This allows you to sneak into smaller spaces, or slowly peck your foes to death. While the slow pecking isn’t the most feasible – albeit hilarious – the small crevices lead to a lot new areas, and many chests.
On top of all that, there’s a phase shifting mechanic, which also plays a pivotal role in both platforming and brawling. There are two distinct realms in Guacamelee!: the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead. In some cases, platforms or hazards only exist in one realm. In others, portals shift the world or your location. This same logic carries through to the brawling. Certain enemies can only be damaged in their corresponding realm. But they don’t care about silly phases; they’ll harm you in either.
While none of the mechanics are overly complex or innovative, it’s the combination of all of these factors that creates an experience that is both unique and challenging in both genres. Later in the game, some enemies get aura-shields which can only be broken with certain special moves or multiple hits in quick succession. Adding this atop the phase shifting creates tactical challenges that can really kick your ass if you approach them without a clear vision. It’s very satisfying figuring out a tricky phase shifting platforming section, but it’s even more satisfying breaking an enemy’s shield, beating him senseless, throwing him toward an out of phase enemy, and shifting phases just in time to watch that enemy get knocked off his feet.
As far as the story goes, it’s pretty standard for a game in dos dimenciones. Carlos Calaca is a man scorned. After a dirty deal with the devil, the evil charro overthrows El Diablo to become the ruler of the Land of the Dead. To merge his land with the Land of the Living, he tries to kidnap El Presidente’s daughter. Juan Aguacate, an ordinario agave farmer isn’t having it… but he’s quickly killed… However, thanks to the power of a mysterious mask, he’s transformed into an extraordinario luchador. On a quest to rescue his hometown princess – who is not only a childhood friend, but the most beautiful woman in the world – he must hone his skills and face Calaca and his colorful cast of cohorts.
Calaca’s posse is strong: A seductive, wavy-haired X’tabay; A reckless, flame-headed gunslinger; and an overconfident guy who goes by the name of Jaguar Javier. Each is a pleasure to interact with, and even more fun to battle. As interesting as they are, they pale in comparison to the monstrous, mythical alebrije. You meet him very early on in the game, and take him out in a great tongue-in-cheek moment, but I wish he would have been more of a focal point throughout the experience. With DLC a possibility, I’d love to see the beautiful beast make a return. There are also many interesting minions, like esqueletos of multiple sizes with various weapons, armadillos, cacti, and chupacabras that you’ll pummel all along the way. Thankfully, you’ve got Uay Chivo, the fabled goat-man, on your side. When he’s not mad at you for wrecking his statues or talking about romancing your mother, he’s teaching you those aforementioned abilities that get you one step closer to defeating Calaca – even if he does undermine their greatness from time to time with silly, goaty sounding names.
Overall, presentation is top notch. Guacamelee! has a great sense of self and a bold visual style. I say it time and time again, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to see why it received an IGF nomination for Excellence in Visual Art, and criminal that it didn’t win. Color is used to great effect. The Land of the Living is vivid. Amarillos, verdes, and rojos all please my ojos. Environments range from lush forests to harsh deserts. In contrast, The Land of the Dead has an appropriate darker, bluish tone. The music also reflects these differences. The Land of the Living often favors a treble rich timbre, where the Land of the Dead amplifies the eerie bass.
There’s also a really beautiful mix of new-age crispness and retro inspiration in the visuals. Many of the design choices imply a subtle 8-bit feel. Where a lot of games do this and feel outdated, Guacamelee! does it with great artistry. The forest grass probably drives this point home the best. The blocky shades of green swaying in the wind are absolutely mesmerizing. Quirky, seizure-inducing screens that play after powers are unlocked always put a smile on my face. Just as with the world’s phases, the audio incorporates some retro qualities too. The Latin tunes – which would stand on their own at face value – infuse themselves with catchy 8-bit undertones.
Guacamelee! is a gamers’ game. Every aspect feels like a love letter to the medium. And just in case that’s not clear, DrinkBox has packed the game full of clever nods to gaming’s history. Many of Nintendo’s historic franchises are represented, but so are many of the great indie titles of this generation. Without ruining any of them, anyone who’s been gaming for a decent amount of time should be able to spot dozens of witty references.
With the next generation looming, Guacamelee! may very well be PSN’s last great downloadable title before shiny new tech arrives. It warms mi corazón. The juego is simply awesome-ísimo! I don’t know what they have in the agua up in Canada, but there have been some really impressive indie games coming from them recently. Whether you prefer to play on the PS3 or Vita, Guacamelee! is definitely worth your dinero and well worthy of the exclamation mark that graces the end of its name.
- ¡Presentación es magnífico!
- Brilliantly merges mechanics in all aspects of gameplay.
- Seriously, the game’s nombre es Guacamelee!
- Voice acting instead of text would have been nice.
- It makes me wish I retained more of my tres years of Español.
- It needs more alebrijes.
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