After christening the Vita’s launch with the release of the fantastic Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, The fine folks at DrinkBox Studios have returned to Sony’s platforms just one year later to deliver their best and most ambitious game to date. As its ingenious name implies, Guacamelee is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.
Released as a cross-buy title for the Playstation 3 and Vita, Guacamelee is a Mexican themed, 2D action game that shares a similar open-world structure with games such as Metroid and Castlevania. And in true Metroidvania fashion, as you progress through the game’s campaign you’ll continually unlock new skills and abilities that allow you to explore previously inaccessible areas. The game’s intuitive map system and clever use of coloured identifiers makes it easy to pinpoint exactly where you need to be at all times which alleviates the frustration commonly found in games which encourage backtracking.
Guacamelee’s story is surprisingly dark but is told in a quirky and comedic manner that makes light of the game’s gloomy premise. Here you play as a Mexican farmer Juan who is killed by the game’s skeletal antagonist Carlos Calaca as he attempts to thwart the kidnapping of the President’s daughter. Luckily, Juan is quickly given an extra shot at life thanks to a special luchadore mask which transforms him from an everyday worker to piledriving superhero! For the most part the games story simply serves as a means to an end but being both 'alive' and 'dead' presents some exciting combat and platforming scenarios later in the game when you’re given the ability to hop between the land of the living and the dead at will.
Although the game’s combat initially starts off light with Juan unable to pull off much more than a basic combo, things quickly heat up as you unlock new moves and are given new ways to deal with Carlos’ cavalry. Some enemies possess coloured shields that can only be broken by performing a specific attack that corresponds with the shield’s colour. For example, enemies sporting yellow shields must be hit with a head-butt before they become vulnerable for attack while enemies with red shields must first be struck with a rising uppercut. Eventually you’ll encounter blacked-out enemies that occupy an alternative plane of existence, forcing you to hop between either the living or the dead world before you can fight them. Stipulations like this help to spice up the games combat system and gives unique twists to familiar encounters.
From a presentation standpoint, Guacamelee ticks all of the right boxes. The game’s lavish artsyle, complimentary colour pallet, beautiful cutscenes, fluid animation and authentic soundtrack cumulate to provide an experience that is pleasing to both your eyes and ears. Couple in Guacamelee’s rambunctious sense of humour with countless references to other games and popular internet culture, and what you’re left with is a fully realised adventure that oozes with charm and charisma.
My only real gripe with Guacamelee is that there’s not much to do once you power through the 6-hour campaign. Side missions are an afterthought that lack any significant pay-off, the unlockable hard mode feels like it should have been available from the start and collectables only serve to enhance your abilities, which hardly matters once you’ve already completed the game. The real tragedy here is that for most of us, this will completely nullify the game’s cross-buy/cross-save features. If its possible to complete the game in one or two sittings, why would you want to transfer your progress between multiple devices? With that said – getting two copies of a game for the price of one is always appreciated and whether you opt to play via the PS3 or the Vita you’re almost guaranteed to have a great time.
This review was based on a review copy of the game for the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita provided by Drinkbox Studios.