Guacamelee! is the best VIDEO GAME I’ve played so far this year. And yes, I’ve played The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. Let me explain. I grew up with the Sega Genesis and SNES. Most games on these two systems were, almost exclusively, 2D platformers. You know, the Mario’s, Donkey Kong’s, Sonic’s, Castlevania’s and Metroid’s of the world. Not only does Guacamelee! harken back to Castlevania and Super Metroid explicitly, but it may do some things better than both of them. Guacamelee! is everything a video game was and should be.
Guacamelee! is gorgeous. This game takes place in Mexico. The art-style and soundtrack certainly reflect this. From a vibrant color palette to mariachi-like music, the aesthetics in Guacamelee! are astounding. The game is littered with chickens, pinatas, coins, barrels, chupacabras, armadillos, chests and the living dead.
Come here big skeleton. Those green fists are so…
Guacamelee! is NOT about story. And this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, there is no voice acting in the game. But, I feel like voice acting wouldn’t be welcomed. Was there voice acting in Castlevania or Super Metroid? Nope! Guacamelee! is old school. You play as Juan, an everyday agave farmer. Less than five minutes into the game, the Lord of the Living Dead, Carlos Calaca, kidnaps your love interest. Juan’s love interest is El Presidente’s daughter. Hmmm, where have I seen the rich/famous girl falling for the working class guy… Anyways, Calaca kills Juan five minutes into Guacamelee!. Juan then inherits a mask that has special powers. Juan is reborn as a luchador and sets off to rescue El Presidente’s daughter. Guacamelee! doesn’t take itself seriously when it comes to story. If you’re looking hard enough, there are some hilarious text boxes while in conversation, and some amazing easter eggs. These include a boss saying “Trololololololol,” Grumpy Cat posters, and even the character from 2012’s GOTY, Journey, laying dead on the side of a mountain. Let’s face it: Guacamelee! hits it out of the park with gameplay, not story!
It’s a Journey, I suppose
Gameplay is king when it comes to video games. Plain and simple. Guacamelee! pays a lot of homage to the classics. It is indeed a Metroidvania game. “Metroidvania” is a genre that acknowledges how games like the original Castlevania and Metroid were played. Essentially, 2D platformers that existed in an open world (unlike Mario games). You learn skills and moves as you progress through the game, but to unlock all of the secrets and gather all of the collectibles you must double-back to unlock certain areas with new skills/abilities that you’ve learned. It’s an addictive and rewarding gameplay choice, that old school gamers will remember very well.
Platforms and PORTALS?!
Since you play as a luchador, hand-to-hand combat is at the crux of gameplay. This hand-to-hand combat is very deep and only gets deeper and richer as the game progresses and you learn new moves. Simply mashing the square-button will work for the first hour. After that, if you haven’t learned and experimented with more powerful combos, you will die and die often. Guacamelee! is a hard game. There’s no way around that. If you’re more of a “new school” gamer and grew up with first-person shooters, Guacamelee! is not the game for you. It’s not easy and it’s mostly up to you, the player, to figure out what works and what doesn’t, when beating up baddies. With that being said, there is a luchador dojo that you can enter and practice/learn combos in.
As you move through the game, you learn new special moves that are color-coded. For example, your uppercut punch is red and your body slam (the frog slam) is green. Why the colors? You will come across enemies with have, let’s say, red blobs surrounding them. This a shield that can’t be broken unless you hit them with the special move that corresponds to that color. Then you can relentlessly combo them into oblivion. You will come across areas that are blocked by colored blocks. Again, if the block is red, you have to uppercut it in order to break it. Now you know how secret areas are marked.
Soooo many enemies!
Now, special moves are not only for combat and unlocking secret areas. They are crucial in platforming, as well. The uppercut can get you into hard to reach places about you. The “Goat Fly” can get you across gaps that are far too wide for a double jump. It’s literally brilliant what Drinkbox Studios developed here. At times, Guacamelee! feels like a fighting game. There is a trophy for a 300 hit combo! At other times, it feels like a classic Mario game. Then it feels like a Metroid game, as you unlock secret areas with new abilities. It’s brilliant, brilliant fun.
Remember when I mentioned that your character, Juan, dies at the very beginning of the game? Well this means he’s dead. So he now exists in the world of the living dead. Not only does this netherworld fit into the whole Mexican theme, but it makes for completely original and stunning platforming. Some enemies and ledges/platforms only in exist in the real world or in the world of the living dead. Once you learn the ability to switch between the two worlds, at will, things get interesting. Near the end of the game, I experienced the most challenging yet rewarding platforming that I have ever played. I died time and time again. But, this level (and you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to it) was so expertly designed and was really a stroke of genius, that I felt very accomplished when I finally completed it. Some reviews of Guacamelee! say that the flipping between both worlds wasn’t used enough. I’m not sure if these people played the same game I did. You do it all the time and it is married to both combat and platforming alike.
Unfortunately, Guacamelee! is far too short. It took me just over 5 hours to complete on my first playthrough. It is complete with boss battles, but there’s only four of them. Each one is unique, as is their level. There’s plenty of treasure chests and orbs to find after you beat the game. And then there’s hard mode. For what it’s worth, there’s local co-op available, too. So, replayability is not an issue. But, I could’ve played this game for 20+ hours. A five hour campaign moved too quickly for my taste. Keep in mind, at full price it’s $14.99 on the Playstation Store. I have PS+ so I got it for about $8. So, we’re not paying $60 for a five hour game…
Guacamelee! is a cross-buy and cross-play PS3/Vita exclusive (that’s coming to Steam). It’s also downloadable, only. I played it on Vita all the way through and then tried it out on PS3. Both are awesome. I preferred Vita, as platformers are perfect portable games. Even though you can exchange your save data back and forth between the two versions, there is only one trophy list.
Games like The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite push the gaming platform forward and challenge the groundwork of gaming, as they do. They are very unique and original experiences that shine in storytelling. Essentially, they blur the lines of what a video game is. They argue that games are now more like pieces of art. Guacamelee! is clearly a video game. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s an old school gamers’ game. It does everything right. Because of its charm and deeply rooted origins, we as gamers owe it to Indie developer, Drinkbox Studios, to bring up Guacamelee! in Game of The Year discussions later this year. I will say, Gucamelee! is easily the best downloadable title on PSN this year and is the best Indie game I’ve played this year, as well. Drinkbox Studios should be on everyone’s radar, if they weren’t already.
+Numerous Replayability Options
-Too Short In Length