Guacamelee! Review

Guacamelee! is much like the condiment that it’s name is derived from, simple but addictive and incredibly tasty. To make a good guacamole all you need is avocados, lemon juice, a little bit of garlic and a lot of brute force. Likewise Guacamelee! takes Metroidvania style exploration, Lucha Libre Wrestling, a little bit of comedy and a lot of brute force to create the best game inspired by Mexican folklore since The Grim Fandango.

agave_05In Guacamelee! you play as Juan, a simple agave farmer who must rescue el presidente’s daughter from the clutches of Calaca, a malevolent skeleton who wishes to sacrifice her in a ritual to fuse the living and dead worlds together, making him a god in the process.

All is well until you actually catch up with Calaca who kills Juan in one hit. Luckily this doesn’t last long as Juan is resurrected thanks to the powers of a Magical Lucha Libre mask he finds in the spirit world and transformed, in the process, into  the Mexican Cousin of Rick from Splatterhouse..

Reinvigorated and now with the fighting prowess of Rickey the Dragon Steamboat and Ray Mysterio combined, Juan sets out again on a quest to save the love of his life.

SL_04The world of Guacamelee! is brimming with character and charm, like an interactive cartoon, choc full of wonderful characters and references to net culture and videogames. As you wander around you’ll find all kinds of fun stuff lurking in the background. Like a shop called Viva Pinatas and posters for famous games characters in the style of Lucha Libre wrestlers. There’re also ample mentions of internet memes like Grumpy Cat and Insanity Wolf. All these little touches help bring the world to life and makes exploration all the more rewarding.

The expertly crafted landscape is full of hidden passages and challenge rooms just waiting to be found, each of them rewarding you with extra picks ups to extend your stamina or health and chests full of Pesos to spend on upgrades at altars liberally spread throughout every dungeon and village which also double as save/checkpoints.

forest_07Little by little more of the map becomes accessible as new pathways open up as you acquire more abilities for Juan. Most of these are wrestling moves that can be used in and out of combat as well as smash through colour coded barriers  that correspond to each move. These are unlocked by smashing Choozo statues, in a less than subtle reference to Metroid. These are presided over by a cranky old hermit with designs on Juan’s Mother.

The duplicitous nature of each of these moves also makes for some very unique and challenging platforming as you uppercut and shoulder barge your way from platform to platform as well as passing through deadly thorns by rolling or blocking. As you unlock more abilities the complexity of the games dungeons increases very quickly and at times the difficulty sky rockets.

comparison_shotThis is especially true during the later stages of the game once you gain the ability to shift between the world of the living and the dead. Initially this is a simple but cool trick which makes various parts of the landscape either appear or disappear creating or erasing platforms and pillars or changing the properties of portals found in some of the games temples. However this simple mechanic is used to absolutely diabolical ends at times as you have to use every skill you’ve learnt to navigate the games dungeons by successfully timing jumps, special moves and dimension shifts all at the same time. This required a lot of patience and some serious finger gymnastics.

These special moves are also used within the game’s combat which is incredibly fluid with relatively simple controls; square, punches and kicks, triangle grabs when prompted and circle handles Juan’s different special moves, chaining together attacks is very easy to achieve and before  long you’ll find yourself racking up huge combos whilst numerous enemies bounce around the screen as you chuck them into each other slapping them around with super charges headbutts, frog splashes and flaming uppercuts.

temple1_02The hordes of the undead that Juan faces are also very well designed skeletal warriors of various shapes and sizes, from henchman in traditional Mexican dress to towering colossi swinging clubs, as well as angry winged demons, bizarre plants and cacti in sombreros. Each attacks in a very different manner and finding the right tactics to successfully clear rooms and juggle foes effectively is vital if you want to survive each deadly encounter.

This is especially true in the game’s boss fights which reminded me a lot of Megaman, each battle demanding you learn the characters various patterns and audio cues in order to battle them successfully. They are also, like Megaman, pretty unforgiving at times, but still tremendous fun.

However, it’s worth mentioning that the final boss fight against Calaca is as visually striking as it is anger making, to the point where I think my neighbours now think I suffer from Tourettes. The multi-tiered battle goes from tough but fair to incredibly harsh. As he transforms into a final demonic form that saps your life with every hit, chucking out attacks which can cover most of the screen. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Accompanying the raucous action on screen is a fantastic, upbeat, Latin flavoured soundtrack mixing Mariachi guitars with Chiptune effects creating a unique mix that does a wonderful job of pulling you further into the game and is also incredibly catchy to boot.

tule_tree_01As well as solo play you can also have another player join you at any time by pressing the start button on the PS3 although this is not supported on the Vita. It does make life a little easier but to be honest I preferred playing the game alone.

Cross platform play is also incredibly simple as the save game is shared between both versions. You don’t need to stop, even if you’re forced to leave the house or the TV is out of bounds the game plays just as well on both platforms so which you decide to use is entirely up to you. This inclusion of cross buy also adds even more value to the package. £9.99/ $14.99 for both a handheld and home version of a game is a bargain.

In my whole time playing the game I only had two problems. The first is, sadly, a game breaking glitch. While I was doing the challenges in the Caverna del Pollo, I dropped down from one level to the next and the game refused to spawn the next wave of monster or let me move forcing me to restart. This happened twice, it was annoying, but, thanks to the games numerous checkpoints, far from the end of the world.

forest_02The other is that the game had to end which, quite frankly, is a problem that a game developer should want to have. While the game didn’t feel too short, all the same I didn’t want to leave. It took me just over five hours for my first play through however I didn’t manage to find all of the pieces of the mask which unlocks the proper ending. At the same time, the game’s bitter sweet bad ending seemed oddly fitting.

If you add an extra few hours if you wanted to find everything and do everything, it clocks in at about the same amount of time as some full retail releases and is far more enjoyable than a fair few of them to boot.

As such I would recommend getting Guacamelee! as soon as you can, It’s a top tier PSN title on the PS3 and one of the best games available on the Vita. It’s a brilliant blend of fast paced frantic combat, skilfully constructed platforming and fantastic storytelling with genuine humour you’d have be a loco burro not fall for its charms.

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4.5 / 5 stars     

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