Guacamelee! Gold Edition by DRINKBOX STUDIOS (2013)
Guacamelee! is an exquisite game that will enthrall you with its complex platforming and unique Mexican art style. Taking full advantage of a myriad of platforming mechanics, Guacamelee! will constantly surprise you with its challenging puzzles and wide variety of special skills. The story is quite weak and the supporting characters can sometimes be more interesting than the hero himself, but Guacamelee! easily makes up for it in sheer world design. Guacamelee! is best known for its PSN release but I played it on a PC which gave me the freedom to map my personal key bindings, which was very helpful when platforming.
You begin your journey as a simple agave farmer named Juan on the outskirts of Pueblucho where you help with preparations for the upcoming annual festival. Everything is interrupted violently when the evil Carlos Calaca appears and kidnaps your childhood friend affectionately referred to as “El Presidente’s Daughter” in order to sacrifice her so that the worlds of the living and the dead may merge, with Calaca as supreme ruler. When trying to rescue her you are easily dispatched by the powerful Calaca and sent to the land of the dead. All hope is not lost however, as you come before a magical mask that transforms you into a true luchador who can stop the ending of both worlds!
The world of Guacamelee! starts out small as you can only jump and attack at the beginning, but as you learn more advanced moves through the destruction of private property, you’ll find yourself manipulating the environment more and more, leaving places you once thought unreachable only a quick combo away. Being an open world, you can pursue the world saving rescue mission at your leisure, letting you explore side-quests and hidden areas that reward you with either health or stamina power ups. You can also lay the smack-down on some chickens if that’s your cup of tea.
The forces of the undead, lead by Calaca, are very diverse each with their own weaknesses and strengths that you must learn to defeat them. Spamming the punch button won’t get you very far here, like some other hack-and-slash games, and you will have to be smart with your combos, dodges, and special abilities if you want be victorious. Your enemies will come at you with quick slashes, colored shields that require a specific skill to break, and even fight you from different planes of existence! Your one staple move that never fails is your throw that can only be used on weakened enemies, but can be devastating to large groups of enemies. Upgrades for health and stamina can be found in chests littered throughout the levels, but you also have the chance to buy them at each resting point indicated with altars. You can also purchase upgrades to your throws and even buy new costumes that give you different stats. All of this combat diversity leads to satisfying bone-crunching fights that will always keep you on your toes.
Guacamelee! is hands down a very beautiful game. With scenic dropbacks and an amazing amount of detail put into every object, you may find yourself taking a break from the undead carnage to appreciate the views. The most impressive visual aspect is the artistic change between the land of the living and the land of the dead. I’m not just talking about separate places you can go to in the game. You can literally swap between both worlds just about everywhere in Guacamelee! changing the feel and even the tone of music in every stage unique to both worlds at the push of a button. Of course, since just about every game mechanic is put to work on platforming puzzles, you’ll find yourself faced with interesting challenges that require the use of both worlds; sometimes while still in midair! The soundtrack is also quite captivating, full of Mexican flair and an underworld tone while in the land of the dead.
I was pleasantly surprised at this puzzle aspect since it provided nice brain teasers that grow more complex as you learn new skills. Some of the puzzles can be quite infuriating however, requiring lighting fast reflexes and impeccable timing which can sometimes take a good chunk of your time depending on how good you are. These puzzles include platforming, dimension swapping, portals, special skills, and of course, chickens. Most of the especially difficult puzzles are not required for completing the story and act as guardians to valuable power ups or the highly sought orb collectibles, but if you’re someone who can’t turn down a challenge like I am, prepare to find out the limits of your patience and skills.
In addition to all of the fighting and puzzling, the world of Guacamelee! comes with a wealth of gaming and internet references. Brief allusions to things like “I am Error”, Castle Crashers, MegaMan, Team Fortress 2, and even Grumpy Cat show how much the creators love games and the internet. While some are placed in plain sight, other are more subtle and require a keen eye to spot.
The people you encounter on your journey, whether good or evil, turn out to be quite the quirky bunch. They’ll say the most random things which can lead to a quick laugh here and there. Containing a healthy serving of puns and over the top dialogue, you’ll enjoy interacting with every character including the giant chicken. Your hero, however, is cursed with Gordon Freeman syndrome and never speaks despite all the craziness that happens around him. With the main villains each having their own backstory, motives for joining Calaca, and rambunctious interactions, they easily become more interesting than the hero himself. There was one character that didn’t really fit in with the entire story, Tostada. She serves as guardian of the mask and is there when Juan becomes the burly luchador but only plays a minor role by saying only a few lines after that. Her main purpose is to become the entity of the 2nd player during Co-op but I would have liked to see more explanation of her character and how she even came to be connected to the mask.
In Guacamelee! you have the ability to play co-op with a friend leading to more mayhem on the battlefield. This also makes platforming puzzles that much harder. Co-op on the same computer requires a second keyboard or a game controller.
Many other reviews note the game’s short length as a negative aspect, but with nearly 10 hours of playtime I am perfectly satisfied with the length of the game. Of course, I did try to complete all of the difficult challenges which added on a few hours of gameplay but I still count them as part of the experience. There was a slight bug that reset the key mappings a couple times after starting a saved game and I was forced to re-map them all to my liking. This happened twice overall while playing. I only encountered one visual glitch with Jaguar Javier which didn’t impact the gameplay at all but was funny to watch.
I highly recommend this game to the casual and hardcore gamer alike. Whether you enjoy difficult challenges or exploring awe-inspiring Mexican-themed worlds you’ll definitely want Guacamelee!. You can purchase Guacamelee! for the Microsoft Windows through Steam or at the PlayStation Network for $14.99 for your PS Vita and PS3. Guacamelee! is scheduled to become available on the PS4 and Xbox One Spring 2014.
Visit the Guacamelee! website for more details!
A BIRD’S EYE VIEW
Music – 8/10
Visuals – 8/10
Flow – 9/10
Story – 6.5/10
Final Score – 7.9/10