Metroidvania. There, I’ve said it. Now that particular elephant in the room is out of the way, I can get on with conveying the merits of this excellent brawler / platformer (platbrawler? Nah, it’ll never catch on). There is no denying the game’s structural influences, and there is also no denying the stamps of energy and passion it imprints over this most recognisable of game types. I’d heard a lot about this game from various outlets and podcasts, without knowing too much about what the game actually was. As release came closer, and I discovered it was a (sigh) Metroidvania type of game, my interest increased, loving as I did recent examples such as Dust: An Elysian Tail, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and, in glorious AAA 3D, the Batman: Arkham games.
You play a poor Mexican peasant named Juan, whose heroic, yet futile attempts to save his beloved, the ‘El Presidente’s Daughter’ from the appearance of a demonic skeleton called Calaca leave him cursed and fairly dead. For reasons, I can’t fully remember, he is resurrected and with the help of a magical Luchador mask is tasked with tracking down and confronting Calaca and rescue his beloved. Don’t worry about the story, it really doesn’t matter, as all you are required to do is bash opponents, explore an increasingly-accessible map, and purchases upgrades – all standard stuff.
One thing that sets the game apart is the Mexican theme, which allows Drinkbox to flavour proceedings with a wrestling style combat, a suitable Mexican environment, and a Mariachi influenced soundtrack, which is glorious; a mix of traditional guitars and horns fused with electronic beats and scratches, changing with each area and adding depth and atmosphere to the on-screen action. The art style is very similar to the developer’s previous game, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, bright, full of colour with a cut and paste quality that makes tearing through enemies sometime feel literal. Despite a couple of problems with animation frames, especially during combat encounters, and occasional tricky platforming sections, controls are solid, and responsive, and they need to be.
Because enemy encounters are varied, and get progressively more complex, keeping you on your toes as you open up and utilise your increasing skill set. The game does a great job of increasingly giving you more actions and moves to control, from the usual uppercuts, double-jumps and slams, to suplexes and pile drivers. Enemies are introduced with increasingly tricky to counter abilities: flying enemies that spit projectiles; burrowing enemies that spike upwards; fast enemies that doge your attacks; gigantic enemies that slam the ground – all that may have different coloured shields that can only be broken by the relevantly colour coded skill – the game keeps you on your toes and makes you work hard! By the time you have opened up your full move set, which also includes a dead and undead world switching mechanic, combat is immensely empowering, and full of options, requiring you think through your actions – button mashing will get you nowhere.
Many of the abilities you use in combat are not exclusive to fighting, but are also used to open up new areas; once again helpfully colour coded to make it clear what skill is required get past the obstacles on the map. These open up the usual progression paths for the story as well as access to secrets and alternative pathways. There is much to discover, from chests that give you piles of coins or health and stamina segments, to challenging platform areas and challenge combat rooms that will keep you busy for ages, such is the difficulty of some of them.
One thing that caused me much consternation is Guacamelee’s difficulty –it’s tough. Some encounters can get manic, with a huge variety of differing enemies on screen that really require patience, skill and perseverance. A couple of the boss battles in particular had to be replayed – I’m not kidding – about 30-40 times, and almost caused me to quit. Significantly though, they play by clear and fair rules, and are beatable. This is the kind of game where raging hot frustration needs to be tempered – I nearly submitted, to my shame.
Tempering the difficulty and occasional frustration it offers, Guacamelee is light and amusing in tone throughout, abundant with references to other games. Keep an eye out for the posters in towns, which contains such delights as ‘Los Casa Crashers’, as well as many in game references to the likes of Fez, from which some brief aesthetic changes are made when discovering some of the deeper secrets the game has to offer.
One final feature I need to mention is the nice feature the game offers via cross save and cross play. The cross save feature works effortlessly; if you are a Vita and PS3 owner, you can quickly upload your save to the cloud and download it on the alternative platform. Additionally, you can use your Vita as a map, as you play the game on your TV screen. In co-op, the second player plays a female Luchador, and can play on the Vita, whilst the other player is on the ps3. It all, crucially, works very well, and is a further selling point, to an already excellent game.
Well paced, charming and just long enough to not outstay it’s welcome, Guacamelee is an exemplary downloadable platformer, and after their previous efforts, shows a developer in Drinkbox who have made a huge leap forward and indicates their next game will be one worth keeping an eye out for.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation Vita Release Date: 09/04/2013
Disclosure: Craig Hallam purchased a copy of Guacamelee for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 1 weeks on a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.