Guacamelee is likely my favorite title of any video game ever, which makes it a good thing the game that actually bares it is so awesome! Drinkbox Studios, developers of one of my other favorites from recent years, Mutant Blobs Attack, has completely outdone themselves with not only their best creation yet, but one of the most fun and charming games of the year.
In a world that all but worships Luchadores, Juan is just a normal guy who hope he may one day have a shot with the governor's daughter. But when a band of demon's attack he is sent on a one way trip to the land of the dead, he must don the mask and become a Luchadore to save his beloved (and as it turns out, the entire world).
It's a setup seen a million times, but here it's tweeted and turned into a hilarious and unexpectedly engaging tale. Full of terrific and hilarious writing, as well as fantastic characters that while encompassing cliched roles, are all fully developed and likable (even the villains, crazy as it may sound). If this was a movie I'd have been impressed, but when paired with the great gameplay it's truly an amazing experience.
For fans of metroidvanias, this is the equivalent of being serenaded by a mariachi band outside your window. The world strikes the perfect balance between size and navigability,making it almost impossible to get lost but hiding tons of secrets to find. In classic fashion certain areas are blocked off until you collect the requisite move, but what Guacamelee does that not many games of this sort do is make almost every move you gain equally usable in combat and exploration, keeping both parts fresh throughout.
The combat system is easy to understand and yet full of depth in how you use it. Only a few buttons are used but combining them can produce a wealth of different moves, and it's up to you to make the most of them to rack up huge combos, or just stick to the basics and punch everyone in the face. Boss fights require a bit more planning in how you approach them, and this does present a slight problem as they put up a much better fight than most of their minions. Thankfully it's usually just a matter of memorizing their patterns in order to finally beat them.
Platforming is the other half of the package, and the level designs are outstanding. Utilizing familiar moves like double jumps and wall jumping, they place you in new and creative scenarios that proved a joy to navigate. It's not until you begin to use one the most prominent mechanics though, switching between the world of the dead and that of the living, that the levels really take off. Because some platforms (and in combat, enemies) can only be seen in one realm or the other you have to quickly switch between them as you jump from point to point in an amazing display of platforming genius. Even the early sections top anything Mutant Blobs had to offer, and the quality only goes up from their.
A couple of minor playability problems do pop up, with the somewhat clunky controls being chief among them. Because you are required to use the stick and buttons in conjunction with one another to pull off most special moves, it can lead to problems where you are pressing the stink in the opposite direction you need to be heading often sending you off a cliff or into the path of an enemy. They aren't bad, but they could have been better and make some of the more difficult sections terribly frustrating. I also wish that side-missions were highlighted on your map, as there isn't any indication of them in the game and without the achievements informing me of their existence I'd likely have missed them.
Despite these minor issues Guacamelee is an all around excellent experience that makes it easy to gloss over the few rough spots. The art style is brilliant and creative, the gameplay very enjoyable, and the soundtrack a freaking incredible blending of contemporary hip-hop and rock, and traditional Mexican Ranchera music. It's a great deal of fun and incredibly charming though and through, and most of all a game everyone should take the time to play.
Viva la Drinkbox!
Posted: November 22nd, 2013