Review – Guacamelee

Guacamelee_Logo

Guacamelee
Piledrive and platform through two worlds

Review by Sam Desatoff

Publisher: DrinkBox
Developer: DrinkBox
Genre: Action/Platforming
Platform: PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita
Release Date: April 9, 2013

It’s not uncommon for developers to borrow elements of other games and use them in their own titles—this is how entire genres are created in the first place. Not every instance of imitation breeds flattery, but every once in a while a title stands out and makes us appreciate the finer points of tried-and-true design. Case in point: DrinkBox’s new downloadable game Guacamelee.

You play as Juan, an agave farmer in Mexico. When the president’s daughter is kidnapped by Calaca, a malicious skeleton from the Land of the Dead, Juan must don a magical luchador mask and suplex his way to his love’s rescue. The story is fairly mundane, but the execution is superb. The bright and colorful art
style is supplemented by humorous dialogue and entertaining cut scenes.

guacamelee screen 2

These story moments are charming, but they bookend the true draw of the game: the gameplay. The 2D exploration takes its cue from Metroid and Castlevania, with a map that fills out as you progress. The world is ripe with hidden treasures like heart pieces (collect three to increase your maximum health) and gold. You can also perform tasks for townspeople for extra rewards.

The “Metroidvania” influence extends to the distribution of powers as well. As you explore, you will come across areas that cannot be accessed until a new power is unlocked. This helps encourage players to revisit old areas to access new treasure. Most powers cost stamina to perform (the Guacamelee equivalent of Metroid’s energy tanks), and can be integrated into combat.

As the title of the game implies, there is no ranged combat. Instead, Juan uses punches and kicks to stun enemies. He can then grapple and toss baddies, or he can perform special finishing moves that are purchased at a shop. The combat is satisfying—it is very easy (and fun) to rack up one hundred-hit combos. In later stages of the game, the combat scenarios can become a bit tedious as the game throws different combinations of enemy types at you, but none of it felt impassable.

Platforming feels tight and responsive, which is nice considering how precise some scenarios require you to be—unlocking a double jump in a game has not been this blissful in ages. The game approaches MegaMan levels of challenge in later stages, but is much more forgiving. Rather than boot you to the start of a level when you fail a platforming segment, Juan is instantly transported back to where he fell. This helps alleviate some of the frustration, but still allows for a feeling of satisfaction when you pass those tough challenges.

guacamelee screen 1

In addition to several popular Internet memes, Guacamelee contains countless references to other video games, from Mario to Zelda, and even Journey. Some may complain about how many references DrinkBox crammed in, but they in no way detract from the fun factor of the game.

In what I hope becomes a shining example of the compatibility of the PS3 and PS Vita, Sony has implemented its “cross-buy” feature for Guacamelee. Buying the game on one system automatically unlocks it on the other. Saves can be transferred between systems without headaches, and the Vita can even be used in conjunction with the PS3 for co-op sessions. The system works well and I hope more publishers take advantage of this in the future.

Not only is Guacamelee a love-letter to many beloved franchises, it also stands well on its own in terms of gameplay and entertainment value. If you are a fan platforming and exploration, you shouldn’t miss this one.

Final score: 8.5/10

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