Drinkbox Studio’s latest release, the magical Mexican themed Metroid-vania adventure that is Guacamelee, combines a unique setting, gorgeous graphics and the smoothest gameplay this side of Mexico City to produce one of the most enjoyable games of the year so far. Drinkbox have outdone their previous release, Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, and have set the bar even higher for their next game.
I don’t usually buy games on release day but after meeting the Drinkbox team and playing a demo of Guacamelee at last year’s PAX East in Boston I was intrigued. The luscious art combined with fluid and dynamic gameplay had me hooked. Sure I didn’t know why I was able to morph into a chicken but it piqued my interest, to say the least. When the release date was finally announced, I pencilled it into my calendar and. When the day did finally arrive I didn’t hesitant to jump and see if the wait had been worth it.
Guacamelee’s story is relatively straightforward. You play as Juan Aguacate, a simple farmer. Your childhood sweetheart, El Presidente’s beautiful daughter simple referred to as El Presidente’s daughter, is kidnapped by the Evil Charro Skeleton Calaca. Your untimely death at the beginning of the game sees you imbued with the strength of a magical luchador mask. It is here that you are returned to the world of the living and the game begins to slowly kick off as you are tasked with stopping Calaca and rescuing the damsel in distress along the way.
Drinkbox really created the perfect combination between form and function with Guacamelee. The game plays as beautiful as it looks. Each character and environment is full of life, colour and personality. There is a wide range of memorable characters taken from traditional Mexican culture and folklore. Flame Face, no guesses for what he looks like, is a cursed tequila drinking cowboy while Jaguar Javier is a warrior…well…a warrior jaguar. Each boss is unique and has some genuinely funny dialogue. Meanwhile normal enemies range from undead bandits to Aztec statues and Alux spirits. Everything in the game just screams MEH-EE-CO at you and looks stunning while doing it. Klei Entertainment’s Shank was praised for its art style, done by the same artist that did Samurai Jack but I reckon that the Drinkbox team should receive at least the same level of recognition. The environments are vibrant and full of life while the character models fit seamlessly in with their surroundings.
All this would fall flat on its face if Guacamelee didn’t deliver where it counts, the gameplay. Your luchador skills seem limited at the start but the combat is deceptively deep. Even with a small move set you can pull of some pretty complex combos. Abilities are expanded upon at a steady pace. Leaving you with just the perfect amount of time to master one skill before gaining another. You encounter the familiar Metroid trope of needing a specific power up to gain access to different areas. Drinkbox made the excellent design choice to incorporate your fighting abilities into the traversal and puzzles. In a lot of situations the ledge will be just too far and will require a sneaky Rooster Uppercut to reach. By the end game I felt like a true luchador as I smoothly linked abilities together to navigate the final few areas.
Alongside the surprisingly deep combat, Guacamelee also has some surprisingly challenging platforming sequences. Throughout the game you must collect hearts and skulls to increase your health and special meter but there are also six different parts of a luchador mask to collect. It’s entirely optional but these sections, while being the hardest, were the most rewarding part of the experience. If you feel up to the task, you should definitely give them a bash. Your controller might hit the wall but the exhilarating thrill of success makes it all worth it.
The game is littered with references to other video games, both new and old, and various reddit memes . Some people say that they are unnecessary but I enjoyed them. They are only prevalent in one area and add to the light-hearted nature of the game. After all, you’re a luchador, with the ability to transform into a chicken, tasked with saving the world! Guacamelee has a tongue in cheek attitude throughout and loves to embrace it.
Drop in/drop out co-op is present but only locally. I didn’t actually try it out despite the fact that I intended to play it co-op after I first saw it. There are some tricky puzzles and precision platforming was required more often than expected. Having a second player here would only hinder you but you can avoid most of these scenarios and breeze through with a pal if you want to.
Drinkbox have hit a home run with Guacamelee . They have created the perfect blend of jaw dropping visuals with fluid, fantastic gameplay. I found it hard to tear myself away from the game and completed it in two sittings but I know I’ll being going back for a second and third play through. It’s a cross buy title meaning that buying it on the PS3 will also blag yourself a Vita copy at no extra expense and vice versa. There is also 20% off for PlayStation Plus subscribers until April 24th, €10.39 as opposed to the usual €12.99, either way Guacamelee is an absolute joy to play and is worth every single penny. You’ll love it, I promise*.
*If you don’t love it, you are some sort of crazy lucho