Nate Hales goes hands-on with Guacamelee and learns that sometimes being a chicken isn’t so bad
Drinkbox Studios is up to something really interesting again and it comes in the form of a man named Juan Aguacate. Juan has seen some better days and has set out on a quest to rescue El Presidente’s daughter from Evil Charro Skeleton. This is the story of Guacamelee and I found the concept to be really fun and engaging, with the art, music and story steeped in traditional Mexican culture.
The gameplay is an action-platformer in the style of Metroid or Castlevania. It features fast-paced combat, cooperative multiplayer and the ability to travel between alternate dimensions. However, Drinkbox is tweaking the tried and true formula by making some of the combat moves integral to the platforming. For example, there are certain areas where Juan must use his flaming uppercut to get to areas that a normal jump just can’t reach.
In the multiplayer mode both players appear on screen simultaneously, with one controlling Juan and the other controlling his female sidekick, Tostada. The abilities are the same for both characters, but the game adds a bubble mode for lack of a better term. At anytime either player can become a bubble and float through the screen until the other player punches the bubble, causing the player to respawn. It’s an interesting mechanic, which is quite helpful during the heavy platforming sections that require precise timing. Players are also encouraged to work together to get bonus cash for upgrades.
What really makes Guacamelee a unique experience, however, is the heavy Mexican influence and light-hearted nature of the game. The art style and music really bring the player into the experience and small things, like turning into a chicken, are all there for a reason. You can tell that the designers, musicians and developers all have an appreciation for the culture, but at the same time don’t take anything too seriously. There is a general humor to the game that cannot be ignored, with a clever script, hilarious animations and even some throwbacks to games from the past (I won’t spoil the surprise).
Another interesting feature is that Guacamelee supports Vita Cross-Play. This means that one player can use a traditional controller while the other player uses a Vita. When using the handheld console, the map is displayed on the screen allowing you to see what’s coming a little more. Cross-Play also means you can experience the antics of Juan at home and then take him on the go.
Drinkbox has found a niche that remains relatively unexplored and what they have managed to produce seems quite promising. It was a short demo experience, but I was left wanting more and talking about it to anyone who would listen.