Gather round, amigos and amigas, and let me tell you a tale wrapped in corn flour with a hint if cilantro and lime. A tale of bravery and endurance, steeped in culture (and the sweat of the Luchador) – that is too big to be contained in a single world! It is a story about hope, adventure, and many, many goat-based one-liners. Let me tell you the story of Drinkbox Studios’ Guacamelee!
The adventure begins during the Dia de los Muertos festival, where celebration turns to sadness as El Presidente’s daughter is kidnapped by an evil hombre from the other side (as in: The Land of the Dead) named Carlos Calaca. Humble agave farmer, Juan Aguacave, grew up with the victim, and dare I say that there may be some sparks between the beautiful lady and the huge and handsome (if a little awkward) Juan. Eventually, Juan finds himself at the receiving end of Carlos’ rage, and then wakes up in the Land of the Dead (which is just an alternate version of his homeland, a la Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver). After wandering around, trapped in the Underworld, Juan stumbles across Tostada, the Guardian of the Mask, who sends him back to the land of the living as a powerful Luchador to rescue the niña de sus ojos and save the world as we know it from the clutches of Calaca.
As a Luchador Superhero, your initial repertoire of moves is somewhat small; however, even though you are limited to some simple melee moves and throws, you can string together some pretty impressive combinations thanks to the fact that tossing an enemy into a crowd of other enemies results in a lot of hurt hombres. As you explore the various areas of the countryside, you will discover Choozo statues that grant you new, more powerful abilities – taught to you by a strange and hilarious transforming goat hermit. As your skills grow, so too does the skill and power of your enemies. Also, some of your new-found powers allow you access to previously inaccessible areas, which makes exploration even more fun1. While there are main objectives to follow, Guacamelee! is definitely something of an open-world adventure, complete with side-quests – so increased mobility is always welcome.
We all need someone to look up to. Juan’s heroes are just bigger than yours.
Of all the powers, the ability to switch between worlds is probably the most cool and challenging. While switching between the land of the living and the land of the dead bring difference in ambiance (palette changes as well as audio cues), there are sections that are physically different. While in the one world, you can see the faint, twinkling outline of walls and ledges that will magically become solid once you switch to the other world. You can imagine the platform challenges that Drinkbox have designed to make you yell out “¡Ay, caramba!” over and over again as you repeatedly fail a particularly tricky section. Additionally, various monsters inhabit one world or the other, and can only be harmed in the world that they live in; of course, when you are not “in sync” with them, they can still hurt you. This “double-standard” combat mechanic can be just as controller-crushing as the platforming sections – which makes victory in both cases all the more sweet. Luckily, success is something that will eventually come thanks to the forgiving nature of the game (you can never really die – you just re-spawn).
Guacamelee! is the perfect balance between originality and inspired tribute. References to other games (like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Tales From Space) and other bits of pop culture are sprinkled liberally throughout the game in such a way as to keep the player immersed in the game world. Even the game-play itself is a mixture of some of the classics (“Metroid-vania” is a term that Drinkbox uses) and its own, unique style. The pacing is fantastic, resulting in entertaining play sessions – whether on your own or with a friend. Events unfold at a decent pace, and thanks to the convenient size of each screen and the fast-travel statues, you can zip around and find the latest objective without wasting time.
To add more awesomesauce to the awesome is the ability to play local co-op. With the simple press of a button, a friend can become Tostada, the Guardian of the Mask. It doesn’t really change very much in terms of overall game-play (as Tostada has the same move set as Juan); but playing Luchador volleyball with the carcasses of your opponents is definitely something that’s more fun to do with a friend. One player will always have priority over another (usually the one that moves off-screen first) – causing the other to “teleport” to the side of the initiator. Also, death to one player results in a timed re-spawn as a bubble that must be popped (a la Mario). This trick can be performed at will by any one player at a time, allowing for some creative ways to surpass some of the more challenging platforming levels.
Juan and Tostada take their show on the road.
The visuals for the game could easily be mistaken for an Adult-Swim style cartoon. Production quality is very high, and this can be seen in the design of the environments and character, as well as in the smooth animation. The real gem (for me) is the audio though. The combination of the great sound effects and the music make this an aural treat as well as a feast for the eyes. In a lot of ways, Guacamelee! Is like one of the higher-quality animated films or television shows (like Road to Eldorado, for instance) that deliver an entertaining plot using brilliant animation and clever pop-culture references, all wrapped in tasteful humour that draws on ethnic touchpoints.
As a bonus, this game can be played on the Playstation 3 as well as the Playstation Vita. Games can be uploaded to the cloud from one platform and downloaded on the other. It’s an awesome way to take your game on the road. The game plays and looks equally amazing on either platform (the lack of triggers on the Vita is made up for by touch-screen control), making this functionality a massive value-add if you own both systems.
Drinkbox Studios has created a fantastic game, packed with action and humour, that looks and sounds muy, muy excelente! In all honesty, this is probably one of the best downloadable games available today! If you own either a PS3 or a PS Vita (or both), then you need to get up right now and get this game before I suplex you through your floor. When the only complaint against a game is that it should be longer, that’s a pretty good indicator that said game is fantástico. ¡Olé!