Juan game to rule them all
As I made my way through one of the hardest, most arduous platforming sections I’ve ever encountered, I eventually, after countless deaths, reached a giant talking chicken that told me I was only half way through the level. My heart sank, as I dreaded what was to follow. My resolve broken, I moved on to the next screen to find yet another chicken who told me it was a joke, and that I was in fact at the end. Guacamelee! can be summarized by this one moment. It likes to kick your ass in the most lighthearted way possible.
Indeed, Guacamelee is a wonderful juxtaposition of, at times, brutal gameplay and a playful sense of humor. Like its protagonist, an agave farmer turned Luchador named Juan, Guacamelee is unassuming when it begins, but quickly becomes something quite remarkable.
Gameplay-wise, Guacamelee is most analogous to 2011’s Outland. It’s part 2D platformer, part side-scrolling beat ‘em up, and part Metroidvania, while mixing in a dimension-swapping mechanic, similar to Outland’s, that lets you jump between the World of the Living and the World of the Dead. Guacamelee’s biggest success is how well these multiple gameplay elements are not only balanced, but integrated with each other.
In classic Metroidvania fashion, you’ll gain new abilities which, in addition to unlocking new areas to explore, also add to Guacamelee’s traversal and combat. For example, the first new ability you receive, called the Rooster Uppercut, not only allows you to destroy red blocks and explore new areas, it also acts as a double jump, a powerful move in combat, and allows you to defeat enemies with red shields.
As you gain new powers, combat becomes increasingly complex. Not only will you encounter a wider variety of enemies, but your foes will protect themselves with different colored shields. Moreover, enemies can exist both in the World of the Living and the World of the Dead. Enemies in both planes can harm you, but you can only harm enemies in one plane at a time. Later encounters will force you to constantly switch between planes, while combining different moves to take out different shields. Combat is fast and deep, but doesn’t rely on obtuse combos and patterns. Everything is built on simple and intuitive foundations which combine to become complex.
Platforming follows a similar trajectory, beginning with simple jumps and double jumps, and eventually progressing to a precise and perilous dance of dimension-swapping, portals, and wall jumps. However, Guacamelee’s platforming, while still great, isn’t quite as polished as combat. You’ll eventually have the ability to jump off a wall, run up it, or fly off of it, but the game can be somewhat inconsistent about registering which you meant to do. This is especially a problem on the Vita. I often got stuck on challenging platforming sections on Vita, and then tried them again on PS3 with much better results.
Guacamelee can be tough, but it nails difficulty in the sense that it’s as hard as you want it to be. Reaching the end credits is a relatively simple task, but trying to find every secret is considerably more challenging.
Guacamelee is teeming with personality, and it’s clear that DrinkBox Studios had fun making it. In case the title didn’t give it a way, DrinkBox has a penchant for puns. After defeating a jaguar-themed boss, you can keep punching your downed foe and he’ll rattle off seemingly endless cat puns like “I’d be lion if I said you weren’t quite the warrior,” and “This beating really has me feline down.” Guacamelee is full of references to internet memes and other video games, like the background poster for “Casa Crashers.” I can’t think of any other game where an elderly transforming goat-man teaches me moves like the “Dashing Derpderp” while trying to hook up with my mom and making goat puns. The unfortunate lack of voiced dialogue takes away a bit of this comedic punch.
In addition to cross-buy and cross-save features, Guacamelee also includes Remote Play integration, which let you use the Vita and PS3 in tandem. While playing the PS3 version of the game, you can replace the PS3 controller with a Vita, and use the Vita’s screen to display the map, providing similar functionality to the Wii U’s GamePad. You can also play local co-op either with two PS3 controllers, or with one PS3 controller and one Vita. Aside from the fact that these features are far too difficult to set up, they don’t provide much benefit. I found the PS3 controller to be more responsive, and preferred pausing the game to view the map than to taking my eyes off the screen. If I’m not looking at the TV, the game might as well be paused.
As Metroidvania games have made a recent resurgence in the indie space, they’ve had to find ways to distinguish themselves, and Guacamelee! certainly succeeds, thanks to its exceptional charm and personality, and excellent mechanics. It’s a delight to play from start to finish, and is both the best game DrinkBox has ever made and one of the best games on PSN.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PS3 (Vita)