At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Andy Daniel PlayStation 3 Drinkbox Studios Drinkbox Studios 2+ (Share screen)
Requirements Also on...
None. PS Vita

Guacamelee! review

Maybe mixing mexican wrestling and the 'Metroidvania' genre doesn't sound like the best of ideas for the concoction of a video game cocktail. Wrestlers need to slam their opponents, uppercut them, or downright beat them to a pulp, not go around collecting items. Yet somehow Drinkbox Studios managed to mash the two together and wrap it up with excellent music and fantastic combat-platforming manoeuvres in the delicious burrito that is Guacamelee!. However, like a burrito, it can be a little too hot to handle.

We follow poor Juan, a simple Mexican guy-cum-Mexican Wrestler, who falls foul of the evil skeleton demon Carlos Calaca and is sent to the Land of the Dead. But Juan, like a space hopper from hell, bounces back after donning a very powerful luchador mask, and returns to the Land of the Living, with a vengeance to take down Calaca and his cronies who have taken away his love, El Presidente’s daughter.

Juan the powerful luchador

Juan the powerful luchador

Donning the new mask, our kick-ass luchadore can now start exploring this fairly vast and open world full of little secret areas and cubby holes, full of cash to upgrade some abilities or better yet, health and stamina upgrades. The latter of which fuel special moves to add to the combat arsenal, such as powerful uppercuts that launch Juan into the air, or body slams to zoom straight down to the floor. While practically helpful for combo building melee-based combat with the game's many evolving enemies, they are absolutely necessary for the tougher platforming sections.

The platforming packs a powerful punch in Guacamelee!. Don’t worry about it, the learning curve is just right. Starting with easy jumps, progressing through double jumps and goat jumps (don't ask), it becomes a natural progression of leaping evolution and you become a pro in no time, navigating some of the complex dungeon-like sections, of which there will be many.

These sections usually culminate in a fresh new abilities such as the special combat moves that help Juan reach new locations to further the story or previously unreachable secret items, or additional abilities like switching between dimensions. Entering a new dimension will alter the beautiful, clean crisp yet simple and colourful graphics to a more desolate flavour, depicting the dead realm you have entered. This new realm is the same, but slightly different, offering different platforms and routes, while blocking existing routes from the living realm. Platforming, and combat, will soon rely on switching dimensions quickly, between jumps or punches, which may take a little practice, and a lot of patience.

Welcome to hell.

Welcome to hell.

Skeletons will be the first cannon fodder blocking your route, needing only a few swift punches and kicks to quickly get out of the way. But as Juan learns new techniques, so do the skeletons, or worse yet, fresh new peons start getting in the way, like little mask-wielding tribesmen, or giant skeleton hulks. Soon after they start donning shields, colour coded to the necessary special attack required to deftly shatter them, preparing the enemy for the ass-kicking they deserve. Throwing combos in massive varieties is simple and extremely easy to do, culminating in extreme satisfaction when throwing one particular enemy into a dozen others and taking them all out, or body slamming into the deadly plant-like creatures that attempt to pop up under Juan's feet.

The vibrant mexican world certainly does have a great charm flowing from its simple but clever graphics, having many people searching for hidden posters or environment background items depicting funny and clever gaming homages such as 'Casa Crashers' and 'El Linko'. The clever and witty trend flows through the character dialog and cutscenes, often having a flare for the extremely colourful and flashy. Till the very end I was mesmerised by these visuals, and the mexican music which is even now stuck in my head as I write this review. I find sometimes that looping music can be a little distracting, or even infuriating, but the melody of the mariachi-style trumpets couple perfectly with the platforming and combat.

Wrestler vs. Cacti

Wrestler vs. Cacti

If you are not using special combat moves like uppercut to help you reach that high platform, or frantically switching dimensions while you tackle skeletons, you are probably in a boss fight. While a little frustrating at first (there has been a time where I took it out on my poor bean bag), the game demands patience and a skill to understand routines for sweet, satisfying success.

Additional features can easily be ignored, but enhance the gameplay if used, such as a co-op mode, which allows a local friend to join the fun and frolics of skeleton bashing. Adopting the tried and tested method of becoming a bubble on death, this allowed for trickier platforming sections to be achieved as some can rely on needing just a single person to accomplish them. Being a PlayStation-exclusive has benefits, such as cloud saving which allows you to pick up where you left off on the move with the PlayStation Vita. The Vita functionality doesn't end there, as it can also provide second-screen functionality by showing the oft-accessed world map, or even to be used as a controller for the second co-operative player, adding huge value, especially as you can buy the game once and get a copy for both console and handheld platforms.

Guacamelee! is a fantastic foray into a 2D open world adventure that will leave you with a bunch of mixed emotions. Frenzy and a little mental exhaustion will probably spring to mind, but reaching deeper I feel very satisfied. A game that everyone must try, if only to experience the extreme satisfaction of throwing a skeleton into a cactus or reaching that difficult chest of gold by jumping over the spikes, uppercut, swipe attack, wall jump and fit into the narrow gap as a chicken (did I mention you get to turn into a chicken at will?). Or even experiencing the fun, dynamic storyline and visuals. It has it all.

Ratings

Overall If simple-yet-complex combat infused with top 2D platforming doesn't get you playing Guacamelee!, then surely the beautiful-yet-cheeky crisp visuals or soothing music will do. It ticks all boxes for a 'Metroidvania' classic. 9/10

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