Platforms: PlayStation 3 / Vita Genre: 2D Action-Platformer
Developer: Drinkbox Studios Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Platform Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Guacamelee! is Drinkbox Studio’s latest endeavor and it clearly stands as the best game their studio has ever developed. Having played and thoroughly enjoyed their previous games, Guacamelee feels like a major step for the studio, offering so much more than I expected.This 2D Metroid-Vania platformer utilizes PlayStation’s cross-save and cross-buy functionality, which allows players to transfer their saves between PS3 and Vita since they receive both versions with one purchase.
Guacamelee never takes itself seriously, which is an admiring charm the game possesses. It allows itself to make some genuinely laugh-out-loud dialogue while producing a story as crazy as it is fun to experience.
Guacamelee follows the story of Juan Aguacate, a quiet and humble Mexican farmer who is killed within the first few minutes of the game as he sees the girl he loves kidnapped. The woman in question is known only as El Presidente’s Daughter. The evil Carlos Calaca and his crew of misfits, including a man with a flame face known as Flame Face, have evil intentions for Juan’s love. Juan is brought back to life and is bestowed a magical luchador mask, giving him immense strength and abilities.
It is quite the outlandish story and it won’t be remembered for breaking ground like Bioshock Infinite, but that isn’t necessarily negative. The overall experience is made greater because of these crazy characters. When your mentor is a goat-wizard, you can tell the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The entire game lacks voice-acting, but the wittily written dialogue is funny enough to garner many laughs (especially the goat-wizard). I did find it odd that even with no voice-acting, Juan himself was still silent. This made me never care about Juan or his mission at hand. Not because he is unlikable, but because we never once got to know the character. I still had a remarkable time traversing and exploring the world, but Juan was more like the vessel allowing the experience rather than a character.
Apart from the main story, players have a handful of side missions to complete. These are fairly basic, but also provide some funny dialogue and are quite enjoyable to complete. Who doesn’t love helping a Mariachi band? Drinkbox also worked in some shout outs throughout the game’s journey. From Castle Crashers to its previous title Mutant Blob, the games feels self aware and reaps the benefits.
Guacamelee follows a Mexican theme with billboards around the environment, dialogue from the characters, its charming music and more. The entire package is charming to the core with downright gorgeous environments majestically flowing together. The art style is perfect. Spending time to view the world you are encountering and the attention to detail in the environments is time well spent.
One of the game’s key abilities is shifting from the world of the living to the world of the dead. This in-turn changes the style of the environment around you. Characters in one world may be absent from the other, doors that were broken and off-limits may now be accessible and the style of the music may change depending on which world you inhabit. What makes this ability so impressive is the game barely has any load times to speak of, especially when each location has two alternate environments at one time.
The ability to shift between worlds is also used in traversal puzzles and combat. Trying to make your way through the challenging puzzles while balancing the shift between worlds is a challenging feat for any gamer. This idea feels simple, yet is used intelligently.
Juan also gains new abilities during the game (such as turning into a chicken), adding more challenge to traversing levels. This freshens up the gameplay and allows you to improve your skills as you progress. You will need skills during the latter sections of Guacamelee. They push you to the brink of frustration as it throws challenging enemies and bosses in your direction, which made succeeding much more satisfying.
One of the main features in Guacamelee is combat, which I can say is a mixed bag. When facing standard enemies, the combat feels basic early in the game, but as you progress, the combat will shine as the in-depth system it is. Grabbing, throwing and utilizing abilities makes the combat feel like its own puzzle. Methodically taking down your opponents one by one while switching between worlds is satisfying.
However, during boss fights, I found combat showed its bad side. Bosses will be able to stop you mid-attack, attack you while you are down and spam the same attack until you are finished. One boss in particular spammed the same manoeuvre six times in a row, leaving my character unable to move on the side of the map until I was killed. It feels cheap when your attacks don’t stop the enemy at-hand, yet they can make your attacks useless once they make their move. When you are increasing your skill throughout the game only to have boss battles break the experience and play around the rules, it feels cheap.
As any Metroid-Vania styled adventure, Guacamelee emphasises exploration. The main story can be completed in about six hours on a normal playthrough, with exploration to gain 100% completion adds a few more hours. Access to some areas are off-limits until you obtain certain skills. These are usually marked with a corresponding coloured block, allowing the player to realize what powers he needs to access them and are shown on your world-map, which is an extremely helpful tool. I found myself checking the world-map constantly as I explored for hidden treasure chests and secret areas. It is simple to use, which makes figuring out where hidden areas will be easier. Games within this genre should provide this kind of nature.
Discovering chests will net you gold for purchasing upgrades and both health and stamina fragments. The upgrades available for purchases are small. I would have liked the ability to purchase upgrades for my abilities, but what it provides is definitely welcomed.
Discovery is also made pleasant from the excellent music the game possesses. The Mexican styled tunes are actually addictive. I found myself whistling and humming along with the background track many times.
Guacamelee also offers two-player throughout the PlayStation 3 version of the game, though this is definitely not needed to complete the game. I felt like the single player experience was stronger, but the option is there for players to enjoy.
Leaderboards also exist showcasing players time to defeat the game. I would have appreciated more options, possibly displaying various statistics as it feels limited.
I also experienced four game freezes throughout my time with Guacamelee with most occurring during one boss-fight near the end of the game. This wasn’t enough to ruin the experience since it only occurred a handful of times, but when a game freezes after completing a boss-fight twice, it will frustrate any gamer.
Guacamelee exceeded many of my expectations, making it one of the best PlayStation Network games available. It offers some interesting explorations with witty dialogue, offering more laughs than many games have offered before. When a game with no voice acting can produce this many laughs, it is an outstanding accomplishment. Though the game might seem short to players who breeze through the story, exploring the world for hidden treasures and enjoying the beautiful environments around you provides many reasons to come back. When I completed the story, I wanted to continue exploring. I wanted more side missions and wanted to try the Hard Mode once the main story is completed.
Drinkbox Studios has outdone themselves, producing a combat system that offers in-depth mechanics. Whilst creating some of the most difficult traversal puzzles I have encountered, it allowed some amazing feelings of accomplishment when I succeeded.
Guacamelee is an absolute gem not to be missed. It isn’t perfect, but you will greatly enjoy your time spent exploring the world Drinkbox has created.
+ Exploration is emphasised and produces some of the best moments.
+ Environments are downright gorgeous.
+ In-depth combat and challenging traversal puzzles.
+ Laugh-out-loud dialogue
– Combat shows its issues during boss battles.
– Main character feels empty
– Regular playthrough is under 10 hours.