The Day of the Dead is nearing and husky yet uncool protagonist Juan the farmer gets caught up in a dark plot by the forces of evil headed by Carlos Calaca (and some memorable cohorts) which gets poor Juan killed rather easily while helping a damsel in distress. Enter a magical mask that helps Juan transform into a powerful Luchadore and return to the land of the living!
I had heard good things about this game going in but didn’t expect much because honestly I had my fill of this style back in the day. That said, Guacamelee still managed to surprise and delight. The basic style is of what is commonly called “Metroidvania,” but I don’t like that label because it deprives titles like this of their unique qualities and tries to pigeonhole them. Guac is very much its own thing from start to finish, however it remains formulaic. That isn’t a bad thing though, the formula is well executed. You’ll start with basic jumping, punching, grappling, and rolling then move on to learning skills from generally hilarious sources such as a goat man and a giant chicken. The special moves you gain are pretty much the expected fare (with a couple crazy exceptions) but what is very cool is that you’ll have to use them to traverse the levels: just jumping around isn’t enough for this luchadore. And your timing better be on, you won’t have much fun trying to button mash through this one.
As you collect moves you’ll open up some very slick combos which are fun to execute as the creatively produced baddies swarm your way. That brings me to another point: this game is a competent beat em up. Once you get the moves down you’ll be chaining together attacks and tossing enemies about the screen into one another in no time flat. You’ll collect money along the way to upgrade Juan with all the typical things you’d expect, health, stamina, regeneration, etc to help you on your journey. The world is open so you can revisit the places you’ve been, which is helpful because DrinkBox was kind enough to add some silly sidequests for you. The only complaints I have are that it was weird that I couldn’t punch while crouching and the learning curve for traversing certain areas took some superhuman reflexes, but then again maybe I’m just losing my keen reflexes. Either way the response of the controls is generally reliable provided you have the right balance of measure and initiative while acting.
The visual presentation really shines in Guacamelee with smoother than air animations, crisp characters, and a meticulously designed world. All visuals stick very close to their Mexican inspiration, which I applaud as a risky and rewarding choice but I would have liked some of the reds and yellows to pop a bit more against the muted, nearly pastel blues, greens, and browns. But there are no visual glitches, the game knows when to zoom in and out, and those smooth animations give the otherwise simple characters so much personality that you’ll smile each time you run into both new and old faces.
The audio is something I came away from feeling a little underwhelmed, not at the quality but the presentation. The sounds and music are crisp and fitting but the sound effects in such an off-the-wall game probably should have had more impact. They tend to just get drowned out or fade into the back of the experience. The soundtrack is a festive mix that can get pounding to a certain extent, but here and there it tapers into obscurity. If you’re cool with a little more of a siesta feel with occasional excitement then this is for you. Personally I wanted more from the audio in such an otherwise goofball game. Some folks might have wanted voices instead of text but I worry that that might have caused the game to slip into some lame imitation of Mexican accents so it’s cool by me, the game has fun playing with the Spanish language in text anyway.
The replay value lies in going back for that elusive 100% completion, which is going to take you 6 to 8 hours depending on how much you run back and forth through the areas and towns. Just finishing the game will take less time if you run through it. People are saying it’s short, but these days we’re lucky to get an FPS campaign that runs that long right? I think the length fits the game, there was no need to draw it out with tedious level additions. The levels are great as-is. Also for replay fun you can unlock a harder difficulty and if you decide you really want to play with a friend there’s a nice co-op option. The final thing I’d like to mention is the ability to traverse between a living and dead version of the same world, which gives the levels an extra dynamic that keeps things fresh and intriguing on your journey through this Mexican landscape. It was well implemented to add depth to the levels.
Guacamelee is a fulfilling, fun, and attractive experience for PS Vita and PS3 owners. I played it on my PS3 but I think this game would be best on the go. It does its own thing while standing on the shoulders of some very standard, formulaic conventions. You get both the PS3 and Vita versions for $15 so if you are interested by this review or some footage you shouldn’t miss this one as a very solid downloadable title by DrinkBox that is available right now on PSN.
(Reviewed on PS3. Review copy provided by DrinkBox Studios. Many thanks.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 9/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 9.5/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 8/10
Overall – 9/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PS Vita, Playstation 3
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Rating: E10+ (ESRB)