In reviewing games, I’ve played a lot of them, ranging from incredibly good to absolutely terrible. Having played all those games, it’s rare that a game stands out as much as Guacamelee! does.
Guacamelee! combines entertaining gameplay, a beautiful style, and a great sense of humor to become an example of what a great independent game looks like. If you’re reading this review, wondering if you should buy it, the answer is a resounding yes. Read on to find out why.
The story revolves around Juan, an average-guy-turned-luchador by a magical luchador’s mask. When his girlfriend, el presidente’s daughter, is kidnapped by the evil Carlos, Juan is forced to go on a quest to rescue her and save the world. If it sounds a little cheesy, it’s because it is–but that’s on purpose. The story is littered with humorous references, including Star Wars and various internet memes. I’m sure I didn’t catch all of them, but there’s a ton to keep you laughing throughout. Even the names of some of the power-ups (POLLO POWER!) are hilarious. The story is told through very short cutscenes and text–always entertaining, but brief enough that they never over-stays their welcome.
The art style is one of the things that makes Guacamelee! stand out. The game puts a modern gloss on its old-school roots, with beautiful and unique character models, fluid animations and a gorgeous environment to explore. It’s an incredibly stylized look that impresses from the very start. I found myself just staring at the backdrops through some sections of the game–it’s that pretty. Screenshots don’t quite do it justice, because the animation adds a lot to the look. The game’s villains are an especially visually interesting part of the game, ranging from a reanimated skeleton to man with a perpetually burning head. The soundtrack keeps pace, providing a Mexican ambiance to the game.
The gameplay falls very squarely into the side-scrolling, open world of the Metroidvania style. It’s a tried and true mechanic that works here, but developer Drinkbox wasn’t simply content to replicate the ave-old formula. While there’s plenty to explore, where the game really shines is in combat. At first, your list of moves is fairly limited–just basic punches. Throughout the game, you’ll gain power ups that allow you to mix up the combat, as well as the ability to open up new areas of the map. Each power up has a color associated with it, and throughout the environment are scattered blocks of corresponding color. Those blocks can only be smashed with the move they’re paired with, so if you come across a block of a color you haven’t acquired yet, you’ll have to make note of it and backtrack later. In addition, later in the game enemies will develop colored shields that can only be destroyed by the move with the same color. All of this takes what could have been bland button-mashing and turns it into complex combos and throws in combat. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience when you can string 50+ hits together in a single combo, taking down enemy after enemy in rapid succession.
Guacamelee! also incorporates a dual-world mechanic, where you’ll have to flip between the lands of the living and the dead to navigate the environment. It’s a cool mechanic, but doesn’t really take off until about halfway through the game. There are also some light RPG elements mixed into the gameplay, allowing you to upgrade Juan’s abilities throughout the game. You can find chests that contain pieces of heart and gold (not unlike Legend of Zelda) that allow you to upgrade your health and special meter. There are also stores scattered liberally throughout the game that allow you to buy powerups and even some new attacks, allowing you to customize your play through each time and adding replayability. That’s a good thing, because the game is a bit on the short side-about 8 hours-but when the only complaint against a game is that it’s not long enough, you know you’ve got a good game on your hands.
Drinkbox really went all-out to provide a well-rounded game, included Sony’s under-utilized cross-buy and cross-save functionality. That means that if you buy the game for the Vita, you’ll also get the PS3 version. Save your game on one system, and you can immediately pick it up on the other. For those who own both consoles, it’s a sweet deal. On the PS3, the game supports local multiplayer with a second character, a female named Tostada, to the screen, to help Juan on his journey. Multiplayer is a fun (if not necessary) addition.
Guacamelee! is about as near perfection as a game can be. It’s a ton of fun to play, beautiful to look at, and you’ll be laughing at every ridiculous cutscene. Drinkbox has created a masterpiece that everyone should play, and at just $15 for both versions, everyone can afford to.
+ Beautiful, stylistically unique graphics
+ Engaging gameplay that will keep you coming back for more
+ Entertaining cutscenes and character that will keep you laughing throughout
- Game is just a little bit too short
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
Guacamelee! was published and developed by Drinkbox Studios. It was released on April 9th, 2013, at the MSRP of $15.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review. The game was played to completion for the purposes of the review.