Does this luchador-filled Metroidvania title have what it takes to be king of the ring on PC or is just another jobber looking to get pinned?
Genres: Action, Adventure
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Juan is just your everyday Mexican agave farmer. He is a childhood friend of El Presidente’s daughter, but otherwise his life is unremarkable. That is, until one fateful Dia de los Muertos when the evil Carlos Calaca attacks the peaceful town of Pueblucho, kidnaps a virgin sacrifice (“Uh, about that….”), and kills poor Juan. Thus begins Guacamelee!, a MetroidVania exploration of Mesoamerican culture which happens to use a French pun in its title.
|PROS||Humor, Art, Music, Platforming, Exploration|
|WTF?!||El Ron Hubbard|
Drinkbox Studios has infused this title with enough personality for five separate games. The influences of Mexican, Aztec, and Olmec art and life are the most obvious touchstones, but Guacamelee! takes inspiration from everything and anything. The major hub city of Santa Luchita (Saint Small Brawl, en español) is absolutely overrun by references to video games and internet memes. Billboards for El Gato Gruñón (Grumpy Cat) and El Lobo Loco (Insanity Wolf) line the uneven streets, while “Choozo” statues bestow Juan with new abilities. If reference humor isn’t your cup of tequila, you’re gonna have a bad time.
With all of that said, Guacamelee! does more than pay homage. The art design of the game world is vibrant and varied, with every attack, environmental obstacle, and enemy shield getting a coordinated paint job. This is all the more impressive once you discover that there are two distinct versions of every area. Bold colors and smooth animations are a selling point unto themselves, whether or not you understand that Limones Mutantes Atacan is a reference to a previous Drinkbox game. Likewise, the Latin soundtrack is appropriate and catchy, without being stereotypical or annoying.
The game may look and sound great, but the true value of a MetroidVania title is in its gameplay. Once Juan dons the magic luchador mask and returns from the Land of the Dead, he must platform and brawl his way through forests, caves, temples, and deserts to find his love interest and stop the skeletal charro. In contrast to the most recent entry in the titular genre, Guacamelee! is a joy to explore. There are secrets and upgrades around every corner. Areas are logically arranged, yet challenging to navigate. The map function is incredibly useful, without giving every last detail away.
Platforming is similarly impeccable. Juan will merely need to magically uppercut his way to higher platforms at first, but once dimension swapping, wall jumping, and even flying get introduced, all bets are off. The difficulty curve for these sequences is steady and fair, but by the time you reach some of the optional content you may begin to wonder when your Mexican Metroid became I Wanna Be The Guy. Of course, the payoff (the best ending) is a worthwhile goal.
While the game stars a supernatural master of lucha libre, the fighting system in Guacamelee! is strangely anemic. Most foes can be destroyed with a simple combo, to say nothing of easily affordable upgrades like the piledriver. One on hand, this does keep the focus on exploration and platforming, which are the title’s strengths. However, it does seem strange for a game focusing on a luchador to provide such an underwhelming combat system. Luckily, boss fights are much more substantial and comprise most of the experience’s highlights.
The only other gripe I have with Guacamelee! is that its brisk pace doesn’t allow for enough plot and character development to really invest in the events. A bare bones play-through will clock in at 4 or 5 hours, with a few additional hours necessary to collect all of the power-ups and mask pieces. While this is enough to justify the price tag of a mostly comedic romp, the ending reaches for some emotions that don’t feel completely earned. The player never even learns the name of El Presidente’s daughter, so it is difficult to sympathize with Juan’s plight in any real capacity. Luckily, this is a relatively minor complaint when so much of the title’s charm, beauty, and satisfaction can be found elsewhere.
Additional value can be wrung from a smörgåsbord of features unique to Sony’s platforms. Guacamelee! utilizes Cross-Play, Cross-Buy, and Cross-Save, which allows your PS3 and PS Vita to share just about everything. The benefits of these options are obvious and interesting, although their application to you as a consumer will undoubtedly vary. In a more practical vein, the inclusion of cooperative play can add longevity to the campaign. A second player can add complexity to combos, but little else changes in terms of plot and gameplay. Fortunately, only one player needs to clear a difficult platform section in order to progress, à la New Super Mario Bros.
Guacamelee! is a title that wears its pedigree on its sleeve. Despite the myriad influences which make up its mongrel DNA, the final experience is a cohesive and fun experience from beginning to end. Much like that other exclusive indie MetroidVania, this is an easy recommendation to just about everyone.
Oh, and you can turn into a chicken, so… there’s that.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and completed in about 6 hours. The title was played on PS Vita, but is also available for PS3.
Also, follow me on Twitter @austinyorski (please).
Do you like your tortillas Steamed?
I know some gamers out there question the recent trend of console manufacturers pushing so hard to bring indie gaming to their systems. Clearly, such people are not paying attention, because frankly the indie gaming scene has been producing a string of one amazing gem after another for years now. Just look at a selection of recent reviews here on BT for proof enough of that. Now another would-be contender has stepped into the ring with the release of Guacamelee! Gold Edition for PC via Steam. Having already previously found success on PSN, does this luchador-filled Metroidvania title have what it takes to be king of the ring on PC or is just another jobber looking to get pinned?
|PROS||Gameplay, Controls, Visuals, Audio, Story, Free DLC|
|CONS||Co-op underutilized, Short campaign|
|WTF?!||The Chicken Suits. Just… The Chicken Suits.|
Guacamelee! stars a down on his luck Mexican farmer named Juan Aguacate who gets caught up in a battle with a former Charro (think Mexican cowboy/rancher) turned demonic skeleton named Carlos Calaca who wants to burn the world down out of revenge for being forgotten about. In order to do this, Carlos kidnaps the president’s daughter as a sacrifice and when Juan tries to stop him, he ends up struck down and killed. Fortunately, while in the Land of the Dead, Juan encounters the female luchador spirit Tostada, she who serves as the guardian of a mystical luchador mask that grants Juan incredible powers. Returning to the world of the living, the two set out to rescue Juan’s kidnapped love and bring peace and masked wrestling back to the land.
The story in Guacamelee! might sound overly familiar and rote at first blush, but strong writing and heavy doses of humor help keep everything fresh and enjoyable. The game makes use of a wide variety of humor ranging from slapstick to word play to even plentiful reference humor and parody of other titles such as Metroid, Zelda, Mario. This latter type of humor in particular is deployed cleverly enough that it never feels cheap, and instead comes off more as a loving tribute to the greats that have come before. Guacamelee! comes from DrinkBox Studios, whose previous title was the wonderfully dark-humored Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack and this follow-up retains all the humor of that game while also adding more depth and heart to the proceedings as a whole. A story that starts out as cliché quickly becomes something more and makes for reason enough to give the game a play all by itself.
Fortunately, Guacamelee! has plenty of other positives to offer prospective players and nowhere is this more true than in terms of its gameplay. Put simply, Guacamelee! is about as picture perfect example of a Metroidvania game as I have ever played. It features rock-solid controls that make fighting enemies and overcoming platforms alike an always enjoyable, if challenging, experience. One of the best gameplay choices made by DrinkBox for the game was to have special moves serve dual purposes for both fighting and platforming, and it all speaks to the excellent and meticulous design employed throughout the game. Add in a mechanic that has players switching between living and dead versions of the world, along with different outfits (including a wonderfully ludicrous chicken suit) that offer changed stats and added abilities, and you have a terrific recipe for a delicious meal of a game.
In terms of gameplay problems, about the only major complaints I could make would be in regards to enemy variety and length of the main campaign. In terms of the latter at least, Guacamelee! Gold Edition actually serves as an improvement over the original PSN release by including paid DLC released on that platform for no additional charge in this version. The El Infierno expansion pack consists of various platform and combat-based challenges that are, by far, among the most challenging examples of Metroidvania-based gameplay I have ever encountered. These challenges are not for the faint of heart and will give hardcore fans at least a couple more hours of additional fun on top of the main quest’s five to six hour length. As for enemy variety, there is no question that the game is lacking somewhat in this department, but it is well designed enough that ultimately this failing only ends being a minor annoyance at worst. The game also features the novel addition of co-op, but in practice this element is rather underutilized to the point that it offers little additional value.
Anyone who has played Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack can attest that DrinkBox knows how to create a beautiful looking game and Guacamelee! tops its predecessor in this regard on just about every level. Character sprites are large and extremely well animated, levels and backgrounds are filled to the brim with details and little touches (including most of the aforementioned reference humor), and the whole game simply brims with life and energy. How good looking are Guacamelee!’s graphcis? So good that, as great as its gameplay and writing are, the game’s best feature might just be said graphics. DrinkBox really nails the whole Luchador-soaked Mexican aesthetic they are going for with the game and it is never anything less than a pleasure to look at. Aurally, the game fares equally well with a selection of tracks that mixes the expected Latin and mariachi influences into the overall soundtrack to great effect.
I am a major fan of the Metrodivania sub-genre and as a result I tend to play just about every game of this type released. So I feel qualified in saying that Guacamelee! easily rates as a superior example of the formula that can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best of its kind. It was just in my last review for the game Megabyte Punch that I declared I had found a serious contender for indie game of the year, but now here I am with a title that tops it. Guacamelee! Gold Edition is simply that good of a package what with it taking an already extraordinary title and adding in additional DLC and the ability to edit costumes for no additional charge. Perfect controls, brilliant design, gorgeous graphics, superior writing, and excellent music all come together for what is a near perfect experience that all gamers should go out of their way to partake in as soon as possible.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and played for about 10 hours on PC. The game is also available on PS3 and PS Vita via the PSN.
Also, feel free to follow the reviewer on Twitter @bigred_13 please if you feel so inclined.