GAME NAME: Guacamelee!
DEVELOPER(S): Drinkbox Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Drinkbox Studios
PLATFORM(S): PS3, PSVita
GENRE(S): Action adventure, Brawler
RELEASE DATE(S): 10th April 2013
Drinkbox Studios have done some fine work over the last few years. Their previous two titles, in the Tales from Space series, are well regarded indie hits praised in particular for their art style. Guacamelee! is the latest offering from the studio based out of Toronto, and it’s their best work to date. A MetroidVania side scroller with satisfyingly tight combo-based combat and a fantastically humour filled world created using Drinkbox’s now expected art style, it’s another example of Sony’s commitment to delivering great indie content on both PS3 and PS Vita through it’s Playstation Pub Fund.
You’ll start out life as Juan, a poor farmer in Mexico who goes to help the local priest. He’s introduced to a local girl, who quickly becomes the love of his life. However, Carlos Calaca soon appears, he’s a skeletal demon, and he whisks away Juan’s love in an effort to carry out a ritual that will merge the land of the living with the land of the dead. Juan is unfortunately killed during this first altercation, and soon finds himself in the land of the dead. However, he quickly finds a magical luchador mask that grants him supernatural abilities, including speed, strength and a few others you’ll discover during your adventures.
Luchadores are revered in Mexico, and Drinkbox have taken that love and poured it into the combat system. The fast paced combo system that allows you to air juggle enemies and string together slick moves that eliminate entire crowds of opponents is complemented wonderfully by tight controls that take only moments to get to grips with, but much longer to master. What at first seems to be a mindless button masher slowly reveals itself to be much more, requiring patience and timing. You’ll face off against an assortment of wacky enemies, from skeletal hombres to dragons, with a generous difficulty curve that never feels too steep but does enough to make sure you don’t get sloppy, introducing variations like enemies that require specific attacks to disable them.
As you battle your way across the world in pursuit of your lost love and Calaca, you’ll also encounter various statues that upon destruction will grant Juan new abilities, such as a dash attack. You’ll also receive coins for defeating enemies, which can be spent at vendor carts to unlock health and stamina upgrades or to reduce the ability cooldown.
Speaking of the world, it’s an absolute joy. As I mentioned in the open, Guacamelee! is a MetroidVania style brawler, with a large world to explore as Juan grows in ability. On your travels you’ll encounter other Luchador wrestlers of legend, who will aid you in your quest, helping you unlock those extra abilities you’ll need to bypass obstacles. Smashing through colour coded blocks and being able to jump just that little bit higher than normal are key to exploring the entirety of the map over the six hours or so of gameplay there is here. The world is also absolutely littered with all sorts of references to internet memes alongside other video games and video games culture. While some were definitely lost on me, I picked up on nods to the likes of Mega Man, Giant Bomb, Destructoid, Reddit, and many many more. All this is is presented, in the main, by way of background art so you’ll really have to keep your eyes peeled for billboards, posters and the like if you want to hunt them all down.
Just to ensure Guacamelee! stays as fresh as possible, Drinkbox also sit fit to add in a dual world mechanic. That same magic luchador mask that allowed Juan to return to the land of the living allows him shift effortlessly back and forth between the land of the living and the land of the dead. At first you’ll activate this mechanic via special portals dotted across the landscape but eventually you’ll unlock the ability to do this at will. This allows Drinkbox to really play with the level design and showcase their imaginations as instead of simply shifting aesthetic styles, they’ve gone for altering both platform and enemy alignment, creating the need for you to shift between worlds to reach new areas or destroy enemies. This leads to some of the most challenging parts of the game, especially in the final third, where quick minds and even quicker fingers will be needed to prevail. Guacamelee! walks that fine line where every failure feels “fair” and you can see exactly where you went wrong and what you have to do to progress, but are you able to pull it off? This is a rare feat, something Super Meat Boy was celebrated for and the same should be true here.
On presentation alone Guacamelee! is an absolute triumph. The usual cartoon style of Drinkbox Studios meshes wonderfully with the silly, over the top antics Mexican wrestling is famous for. Throw in the Mexican aesthetics from Día de Muertos and the previously mentioned internet in-jokes and it makes for a heady cocktail that will blow your mind on multiple occasions. This game is gorgeous, and smooth as silk animation-wise to boot. Blended with a soundtrack littered with mariachi music and Latin influences, it works to transport players to this Mexican world that while over the top silly, is still believable.
You’ll spend around six hours with Guacamelee! and while some might worry it’s a little short, it actually feels just about right. with brisk action keeping things moving along at a decent pace, adding to the length would have felt like padding, something I hate, There’s nothing wrong with a tight story doing what it does, keeping the action ticking over and finishing before things get a chance to become stale. For those looking for more, there’s some sidequest missions you can undertake for inhabitants of the world, although the ones I tackled were largely not as good as the main story, a hard mode that’s unlocked upon completing the game, and there is local co-op if you fancy revisiting the world with a friend. It’s also worth noting that Guacamelee! is another of those Cross Buy titles which means if you pick it up on either PS3 or PS Vita, you get it on both platforms. While I didn’t tackle the Vita version personally, I’d imagine this game would be great there, perfect for playing in short bursts.
Guacamelee! should ensure that everyone is now very much paying attention to Drinkbox Studios. With three great titles now in the bag, the indie developer is rapidly becoming a powerhouse studio within that ever growing indie scene. It’s a fantastic action brawler that will appeal to just about everyone, packed to the rafters with clever quips about video games and the internet, while also being a joy to play. If you own either a PS3 or a Vita, you need to buy this. Today.
As is tradition here on Hit-Reset, how do you fancy winning a free copy of Guacamelee!? We’ve got two PSN codes for this fantastic game to give away. You guys know the score by now. Drop us a comment here, on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, and your name will go in the hat for the draw. Extra entries will be earned if you hit us up in Spanish, or if you can provide a picture of you wearing a sombrero or luchador mask! It should be noted that these are EU codes, and that they must be redeemed on a PS3. However, you’ll still secure copies of the game for both PS3 and PSVita so worry not. I’ll make the draw in a few hours, so you better be quick!
If you aren’t so lucky, Guacamelee! is available from today on the PSN Store. It costs just £9.99, although Plus subscribers get a 20% discount, knocking it down to just £7.99, an absolute bargain.