Developed by Toronto-based indie developers, DrinkBox Studios, Guacamelee! is a Mexican inspired action-platformer that follows the Metroidvania style of gameplay. The game is available on PS3 and PS Vita and supports Cross-Buy which gets you the game on both formats following a single purchase.
Players take the role of Juan Aguacate, an agave farmer, who is killed whilst trying to rescue El Presidente’s daughter from the evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca. Juan ends up in The World of the Dead and is resurrected as a luchador (Mexican wrestler). He then sets out on a quest to save the girl and prevent Calaca from gaining control of The World of the Living.
The action is set in and around a small Mexican village where Juan must interact with the locals while exploring the various locations. To help with exploration, and to point you in the right direction, Juan carries a handy map. In true Metroid style Juan begins the game with very little in the way of powers or abilities. Initially he can only move, jump, punch, dodge and throw.
As you progress the game constantly introduces new moves and abilities. It starts off simple but builds into a surprisingly deep and complex game that requires plenty of skill to master. Before long Juan gains access to a variety of powerful new skills such as the Rooster Uppercut, Frog Slam, headbutt and the ability to turn into a chicken at will. Using your more powerful skills requires stamina to prevent you from spamming them.
The combat is fast-paced and very fluid allowing you to deal large combo attacks once you’ve mastered performing the various moves. Juan comes up against a whole horde of enemies including skeletons, armadillos, mutant plants and cacti. Throughout the game there are also many entertaining boss battles that require some trial and error to beat.
The platforming action in Guacamelee! is glorious. Just like the combat the platforming starts simple and gradually increases in complexity. By the end of the game you’ll be tackling areas that require dexterity reminiscent of Super Meat Boy that bring immense satisfaction when you beat them. Something the game does well is not penalise you for missing a jump as instead it simply teleports you to your last platform.
The game is initially littered with gated areas that require you to acquire the necessary skill to access them. There are blocked door ways, breakable floors, narrow passage ways and ledges just out of reach. These are all colour coded and you soon learn what each means.
The clever thing is that the skills needed to pass are also your combat abilities. The Rooster Uppercut grants you extra height to make that ledge or smash through a red block. The headbutt can smash blocked yellow walls. Your Frog Slam obliterates green floor areas and your chicken form lets you sneak through small passageways.
The crossover between platforming and combat is brilliantly used later in the game when enemies obtain coloured shields. These shield correspond to the coloured gated areas from around the game meaning you need to use the correct ability to break them. This forces you to think before you attack and also ensures you need to learn and master the different powers rather than relying on panicked button mashing.
A final neat ability comes when Juan learns how to shift between The World of the Dead and The World of the Living. This is seamlessly incorporated into the game and adds yet another layer of difficulty to both the combat and the platforming action. It becomes necessary to switch to fight some enemies and to access platforms that exist in just one world.
The pacing of the game is near perfect and the constant introduction of new elements keeps things fresh and interesting. There is little repetition to be found throughout the six hour campaign. In addition to the main story certain NPC’s have sidequests for you to tackle. There is also plenty of fun to be had seeking out secret areas and coins.
The coins you find can be spent throughout the game at special altars. These act as shops but also double as savepoints. The shops let you upgrade your health and stamina as well as offering new wrestling moves to add to your already impressive repertoire.
Graphically the game is lovely to look at with stylised cartoon graphics and beautiful animation. It’s clear that DrinkBox spent a great deal of time studying Mexican culture and folklore and they have nailed the setting of the game. While playing keep an eye out for little humourous nods to games such as Super Mario Bros. and Castle Crashers hidden in the scenery as well as popular internet meme’s like grumpy cat.
If you’re able to take advantage of Cross-Buy you can share your game save between the PS3 and the Vita. PS3 players can also tackle the entire game with a friend in same screen co-op. The co-op is a nice addition making combat easier but can complicate the trickier platforming sections.
Guacamelee! is a fantastic game that deserves to be played. It’s become one of our favourite Vita titles. Fans of the genre should make sure they grab themselves a copy. Highly recommended.