Guacamelee! Review

Guac and Roll, Baby

In the early months of 2013, Sony has successfully solidified the PlayStation Vita as the go-to platform for Indie developers.  Games like Retro City Rampage and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack have all found their nitch on the powerful handheld, and it was just a matter of time before an Indie title came around that simply outdid the rest in too many ways to count. That game has finally arrived, enter Guacamelee!.
In Guacamelee!, you’ll be filling the shoes of Juan, who at first is nothing more than your average agave farmer. When assisting the local spiritual leader, Fray Ayayay in the local church Juan discovers that his childhood sweetheart, El Presidente’s daughter is in town for the upcoming celebration of La Dia De Los Muertos. Tragically, the game’s primary antagonist Carlos Calaca, who kidnaps El Presidente’s Daughter, kills Juan. Luckily, the guardian of a sacred Luchador mask, Tostada resurrects him as a super-powered Luchador fighter. If the story sounds silly, that’s because it is. It’s full to the brim with charm and hilarity, though and the simple story is cute and provides a sufficient backdrop for the real meat and tortillas, the gameplay.

If you’ve played any of the classic console or Nintendo DS variants of the 2D open-world platformers in the Castlevania series, you’ll feel right at home with Guacamelee!. Genre staples such as an expansive map that encourages backtracking when you’ve learned new abilities, coy puzzles and combat arenas that will truly test your mettle are all present here. What Guacamelee! does differently, though is provide a few truly fresh and unique mechanics that set it apart from its inspirations wonderfully.

The most intriguing of these mechanics is that Juan has the ability to travel between both the worlds of the living, and the dead. This provides for some incredibly difficult reflex testing puzzles that, despite their difficulty, never feel cheap or too challenging.

Aiding the well thought out puzzle mechanics is the game’s near perfect combat. Juan starts out with a few basic directional punches and kicks, but it’s not before long that he starts to learn some more powerful moves. Once Juan learns the first three special attacks, enemies will start to spawn with colored shields. Each of Juan’s specials have a color associated with them, and the only way to break the shields is to use the appropriate attack. The color mechanic is also used to access new areas to obtain chests that hold either money, stamina or health upgrades.
Speaking of upgrades, you’ll definitely need them for each of the games incredible boss battles. Calaca’s cohorts each have a distinct move set so you’ll never feel like you’re just fighting a rehash, and much like the dimension traveling puzzles they are challenging but they never feel like they have an unfair advantage. One of the bosses, the aptly named Flame Face is, for me at least, the most memorable. His personality was the perfect mix of bad-ass, insane, and just downright cool.

Drinkbox is really making a name for itself in the graphical department seeing as both Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack and Guacamelee! have some of the most distinct and realized  visual elements of any 2D game to date. Colors are rich and vibrant, and there is clear contrast between the bright greens and yellows of the living world, and the dark blues and purples of the dead one. The anything but subtle touches like the animations when you get a new power or upgrade provide some real charm to the game. This is all complimented by a fast paced soundtrack, which somehow melds fast paced Spanish guitar licks and thumping bass into something very special, that once again sets this game apart from it’s many competitors.
Despite all the praise Guacamelee! is sure to receive, it also comes with a few tiny hiccups. First of all, the main quest is relatively short. A secret ending, various side quests and the previously mentioned trial challenges quickly remedy this problem, but none of these features are made very clear to the player. Unlocking secret parts of the map once you get new abilities is to be expected from this type of game, but having key features so cryptically hidden away is more than a little perplexing. After a little help from my new friend Drinkbox Co-Founder Graham Smith, I was able to achieve 100% completion in roughly 11 hours. There is a secret ending and even though the normal one provides solid closure, achieving the true ending was definitely worth it.
Another issue I had was that the PS3 version includes co-op functionality, but it simply doesn’t belong in this game. Co-op unnecessarily turns the game into the brawler that it should never be seen as. It’s local play only and exclusive to the PS3 version and in all honesty, it just doesn’t have any reason to exist. Fortunately, there aren’t any co-op only challenges so it’s encouraged that you play this game solo and save the co-op for hard mode once it’s unlocked.
For a $15.00 Dollar cross-buy, cross-save title, Guacamelee! provides a more complete package than many AAA titles on the market today.”

For a $15.00 Dollar cross-buy, cross-save title, Guacamelee! provides a more complete package than many AAA titles on the market today. Challenge seekers will find hours of replayability, those looking for an adorable story will be quite pleased and people just looking for something fun to play on their Vita don’t have to look any further. Guacamelee! is a masterful realization of the genre, and the fact that it’s only $15.00 Dollar dispels any reason to pass it by on the PlayStation Store. Drinkbox has created something special here, and I’m already at the edge of my seat waiting to see what they’ll come up with next.
9.5/10 – PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita
Guacamelee! was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita retail code provided by Drinkbox Studios.

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