Take two parts action platformer, one part Lucha Libre, shake (not stir) it, set it south of the border, and what do you get? One of the years most humorous and addicting downloadable margaritas to hit Sony’s console/handheld. Guacamelee! is the latest game from Drinkbox Studios which blends traditional Mexican folklore and an intuitive fighting system together in a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic reminiscent of the Justice Friends from Dexter’s Laboratory. It’s got the looks and the attitude, but does Guacamelee! have what it takes to suplex the competition, or is it all show and no substance? *cough* WWE *cough*
As commoner Juan, you start the game by helping get everything ready for the big Dia de los Muertos festival when the leader of ‘the dead world’, Calaco, takes the President’s daughter and it’s up to you to save her. Obviously, you can’t take on hordes of the undead and other monstrosities alone but you soon stumble onto a fabled luchador mask that grants you and Juan the ability to be awesome, respected, and lets you perform wrestling moves that give you an edge against various sombrero-wearing skeletons.
Right away, you notice the nods to other video games, albeit with a little latin flair. Posters promoting upcoming wrestling events starring famous luchadors such as “Los Casa Crashers” are a real treat to come across unexpectedly in the game’s main town. Other homages aren’t as subtle as you encounter large stone figures called ‘choozo statues’ that look an awful lot like the chozo statues found in the Metroid series. Even more blatant is that once you interact with it, you are granted a new ability. This is wrapped up in a colorful screen depicting the new found talent in action complete with cheesy mariachi music. Those who play Guacamelee! will spot the obvious similarities to Metroid such as Juan essentially morphing into a chicken to get into smaller spaces and tunnels, a la Samus.
While the platforming is straight Metroidvania style, the combat is more aligned with 2010’s side-scrolling action title Shank, but with less guns, knives, blood, etc. As a luchador, Juan can punch, frog splash, and suplex his way throughout the game’s enormous level design. Some of these moves also are frequently used to help you traverse certain obstacles, such as the rooster uppercut, which can be used in harmony with jumping to act as a double jump. Of course, when you do learn another useful move, you are free to backtrack to past visited locations, via talking stone head teleport, to reach previously inaccessible areas.
To break up the seemingly dismal story is where the game seems to shine the most, and that is in its humor. The writing is great and definitely one of Guacamelee!’s strong suits with some genuinely funny moments and hilarious banter between the game’s three antagonists that made me audibly chuckle. The game does a great job of balancing the humor with the action in a dazzling display of high-flying, over-the-top mischief and violence. There are times when the story slacks a little, which isn’t helped with the omission of voiced dialogue, but once you accept that you are a Mexican wrestler traversing hell to save El Presidente’s daughter and your amor, it is quite easy to forgive.
Included is the ability to manually switch from the living world to the dead land and vice versa. This adds even more challenge to how you tackle the platforming sections, as well as how you deal with enemies. Switching between realms leaves some baddies vulnerable while others cannot be touched. However, they can still hurt you. Dodging with L2 or flicking the right analog stick is a crucial part to making sure Juan stays alive to the end. This works, particularly for you who have played God of War in the past. Even though there is no option to customize the controls, that isn’t a problem. Almost every button has a specific function from bringing up a map of the highly-intricate levels to just flat out kicking supernatural ass. While the controls are easy to get used to, having to combine wall running, triple jumping, and realm switching in a single puzzle can become a bit of a pain, but that is not a complaint so much as it is me not being good at stringing together multiple actions at once.
Another great way to ensure Juan’s survival is the addition of local co-op where player 2 controls Tostada, a luchadora with a mysterious and equally entertaining backstory. With another person and a second controller or even the PS Vita thanks to the cross-play feature, Guacamelee! is a great time. It can’t get much better than you and one of your friends tag teaming waves of the supernatural while wearing extravagant Lucha Libre masks all from the comfort of your couch.While it is disappointing, (and one of my main current-gen pet peeves) one positive side note is that while the game may not be as enjoyable as it would be with a second player, it does manage to maintain a high level of fun and excitement all on its own, which was a great surprise I was not expecting.
With tons of collectibles to increase your health, stamina for your more powerful moves, and treasure chests filled with coins to purchase upgrades and even new moves, Guacamelee! gives you more than enough to stay invested in its rich, deep, inspired world. Numerous people throughout your town have sidequests for you to complete at your own leisure ranging from finding missing people to gathering chickens who can take a beating and everything in between, and there is tons to do long after the main story has been finished.
Drinkbox did one hell of a job with their latest love child. Not only is Guacamelee! fun, but it has more than enough to offer. Sometimes, that can become overwhelming, but thanks to gameplay that is not only fun, but challenging without verging on frustrating, the experience doesn’t stale. There isn’t much else you can ask from a game like this. The art style keeps every new locale fresh and beautiful, especially when switching back and forth between worlds. Enemies are plentiful and keep the difficulty consistent with progression, and it is all brought together with a great musical score that stays perfectly in tune with the story. Sure, it would have been nice to have voiced dialogue and online co-op, but those are small gripes. Juan carries the game in a welcoming direction, standing on top of the turnbuckle and holding the belt for other games that are sure to follow in its footsteps.
[+ Hilarious dialogue][+ Great mix of action and platforming][+ Tons of collectibles][+ Great example of Metroidvania style gameplay][+ It’s Lucha Libre… c’mon][- No voice overs][- No online co-op][- Puzzles can be a little overwhelming]