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Guacamelee! Review

4
  • PS3N

DrinkBox Studios' lucha libre-flavored brawler is smartly designed, beautifully drawn, and just a lot of fun.

DrinkBox Studios is quietly becoming one of the more reliable indie developers working today. Since forming in 2008, the small team has released two entries in its underrated Tales from Space series, and now has Guacamelee! under its belt as well. While the Tales from Space games were fun, if slight, puzzle platformers, Guacamelee! is a full on MetroidVania-style side-scroller featuring, of all things, an adventuring luchador. It's a strange, yet incredibly thoughtful meshing of beat-'em-up brawler mechanics, elaborate and challenging level design, and an aesthetic that mixes Mexican cultural themes with DrinkBox's now-established cute cartoon art style. More to the point, it's a great deal of fun nearly from beginning to end.

You play as Juan, a workaday farmer-turned-lucha libre superhero out for revenge.

You begin the game as Juan, a peasant farmer in a particularly colorful rendition of Mexico that is straight up crazy for lucha libre. That's maybe not too far off from the truth, since Mexican wrestlers are treated with a kind of reverence that Americans would sooner reserve for reality television stars. Anyway, Juan is not a luchador--at least, not yet. While initially just an impoverished man, Juan is forever changed when a skeletal demon comes to town and kidnaps his beloved, whisking her away to various far-flung locales in order to perform a ritual that will merge the land of the living and the land of the dead. Juan is quickly dispatched as he attempts to intervene, but a magical wrestling mask gives him the power, speed, and swagger of wrestling's elite...as well as a few other powers you rarely see employed in the ring.

At its core, Guacamelee! is primarily a brawler. You run around, punching, jump-kicking, and grappling various sombrero'd skeletons, colorful dragons, spike-laden armadillos, and whatever else DrinkBox feels like throwing at you. There isn't a huge array of enemies to fight, but the game is good about introducing them slowly over time, and giving each enemy type variable powers--like attack-coded shields, and dimensional shifting between the living and dead worlds (which you can eventually switch between on the fly)--so as to keep you on your toes. As you fight through the world, you'll encounter giant statues, which you destroy to earn new abilities, like a flying uppercut, a diving punch, and a dash attack.

These statues are maybe the most explicit Metroid reference in all of Guacamelee!, though really, the whole game is essentially a tribute to the classic exploratory side-scroller. There is a larger world map that you can travel through as you like, though many areas are locked until you acquire specific abilities that will allow you to traverse certain environmental obstacles. It's a good-sized world, too, filled with diverse scenery and, in the town areas, people you can talk to and take up side quests for. Unfortunately, the side quests aren't super engaging for the most part, and some of the bonus areas are among the game's most infuriatingly difficult parts. Then again, all that stuff's pretty optional anyway, as you can progress just fine through the story mostly ignoring it.

That progression doesn't take more than maybe five or six hours total, though nearly all of that time is well spent. Guacamelee! is one of those games that is thankfully utterly devoid of chaff. No area in the game feels padded or otherwise out-of-place. The flow of the campaign feels meticulous in its design, keeping the player constantly aware of where they ought to go next, but providing ample opportunity to poke around and look for hidden stuff. The level and world maps are particularly handy, which is always crucial for a game of this type.

More importantly, the combat and level designs are good enough to keep you at rapt attention throughout the adventure. While I might have liked a few more actual wrestling moves in a game featuring a luchador, the flow of combat is tight, responsive, and delightfully combo-driven. Bosses provide a stiff challenge, but the game rarely becomes so difficult as to cause serious frustration. More often, those situations come from some of the game's tougher jump puzzles, which at times can be downright Meat Boy-like in their sadism. Thankfully, DrinkBox relegated these mostly to a few later-game scenarios, rather than sprinkling them all over the place.

It's worth noting that Guacamelee! does feature co-op play, though it's not really much of a draw. The tough platforming sequences can occasionally make this feature a chore, and the combat sequences don't really require a second player to be fun. Still, if you've got a friend around, they can jump into the game at any time, though it'll have to be offline as there is no online co-op support.

Fights against the game's bigger baddies are tough, but the real challenge tends to emerge from the game's occasionally brutal jump puzzles.

What stands out most about Guacamelee! are its visual and audio aesthetics. The game's art is downright gorgeous, nicely animated, and filled with lots of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) visual gags and references that longtime video game and Internet meme enthusiasts will undoubtedly pick up on immediately--though it's worth noting for meme haters that it's all just background art, and none of it impacts the actual game in the slightest. The soundtrack is, unsurprisingly, rooted in Latin music and mariachi, but it's all exceptionally well-produced and lines up beautifully with the game's visual presentation.

Briefly, it should also be noted that Guacamelee! comes in both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita varieties, and that buying one allows you access to the other. Neither version of the game seemed markedly different from the other based on my play-throughs, and the cloud-saving between versions never failed to work as intended. Whichever version you end up playing, you should be just fine.

Its few quirks and off moments not withstanding, Guacamelee! nails more than enough of its ideas to breathe new life into the once moribund lucha libre brawler genre. It's short, sure, but it also doesn't wear out its welcome, focusing solely on the necessary pieces of an adventure that's often as challenging as it is thrilling. In Guacamelee!, DrinkBox has both provided a wonderfully crafted action game for old school and new players alike, and established itself as a developer very much worth paying attention to. I can't wait to see what they get up to next.

Editor's Note: This review originally stated that there were no piledrivers in Guacamelee!, which is incorrect. A piledriver, as well as a few other wrestling maneuvers, are available as unlockables via the in-game store. Giant Bomb regrets the error, as piledrivers are awesome, and we would never want to imply that piledrivers do not exist where piledrivers most certainly exist. Cool? Cool.

Alex Navarro on Google+
77 Comments
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Edited by fiberpay

@rudyarr said:

people not playing this game because of the memes...you are missing out on a great game. Please explain to me why you refuse to play this game. Don't just say "it has memes in it. I'm part of the cool side of the internet, only dumb people like memes, this game has a cat meme and it automatically makes it the worst game ever"

get over it!

Because there are plenty of other good metroidvania games out there that don't rely on stupid memes to be funny.

Edited by Gelf513

Holy shit why are people so upset about some memes in the background art?! I've been playing the game for hours now, and have had a smile on my face almost the entire time. I love the music and art, and the combat and metroidvania elements are really cool. It's not like it's duke nukem forever and the characters are all just quoting shit from ten years ago. There was one line that made a joke about listening to an Adele song, one character's laugh was, "Trololololo", and that's about it. If these types of 2D action games aren't your thing then that's totally fine, but to dismiss a game completely b/c it's got insanity wolf, me gusta, and the TF2 "gentlemen" pic in the background seems unfair to me. Also, I think someone already mentioned but @alex you can totally buy wrestling moves like "piledriver" in the shop.

Edited by FesteringNeon

The people who complain about meme's are not the market they're looking for anyway. They'll find the crowd they're looking to target, and that market of people will totally be happy with the humor and get a great game to boot. You'll be happy you saved your money and didn't waste your time thinking twice, right? You win, like always.

Posted by Homelessbird

Great review, Alex. Looking to pick this up soon.

I wonder, are the memes just too old?

Maybe if all the billboards said:

TOP LEL

then it would be ok. That one's pretty fresh, I think.

Or would that just be worse?

Edited by Sweetz

<>

Duder

I'm a wizard

China don't care

Pick up the purse

etc.

Yes, let's all be angry at memes Giant Bomb community. Oh wait sorry, they're ok when you feel like you're part of a small, exclusive group that knows them? I see.

I'd throw a "Hypocrites, Hypocrites Everywhere" image in here, but am not especially motivated to go the small effort that would require. ;)

Posted by zombiesatemycereal

@sweetz: I'm pretty sure there's an overlap between people complaining about memes who still played Borderlands 2. That game is way in your face about it, while Guacamelee occasionally has them in the background.

Edited by SleepyDoughnut

@msavo said:

@sravankb said:

@jsnyder82 said:

@bbk said:

@doomshine said:

It's don't know why Giant Bomb members of all people are upset about memes.

Is there anything Giant Bomb members AREN'T upset about? This site's comment section is one of the unhappiest places on Earth.

Well, I've been coming to this site since early 2009 (didn't always have this username or account), but lately people have been complaining about literally everything. And most of it, like this whole meme thing, isn't worth getting upset over. It actually makes me feel sorry for some of the people here, who seem to be so miserable for absolutely no reason.

It seems to be the case for the podcast as well. I mean, Jeff and Ryan have always been negative to an extent, but holy crap, the past few bombcasts have been so damn cynical and pessimistic.

You guys are making me depressed... because it's all true. From the Youtube comments to the site comments and the examples you've listed there is so much negativity over video games. I am not an exception, looking at my forum history I see more and more negative or snarky comments. This is a wakeup call in a sense to try and not be such a unnecessary dick.

Sorry to derail the review comments, which is a very good read Alex, I just had to get that off my chest.

It's too true. Ever since a couple of years ago when microtransactions started to become popular, free to play iphone games started blowing up, and Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 made everyone angry, the whole internet has become so negative towards games, this site especially. Back when the site started this community was positive and great, but now it just seems ready to pounce on anything.

Also, I would like to add that Guacamelee! looks great.

Edited by crayotic

Just for the record, piledrivers are illegal in most (if not all?) Lucha Libre, hence why I wouldn't expect to see the main character doing anything along those lines in this game if it's true to the roots. Bad guys though, for sure.

Posted by Homelessbird

Hmmm... it's interesting to see the difference in tone between the comments here and those on the Quick Look, especially the youtube version.

Just food for thought.

Posted by DedBeet

Just played about an hour of this on my Vita and I was smiling the whole time. Nice review Alex. Don't remember if you mentioned it but the soundtrack is awesome so far.

Posted by Dogma

@sweetz said:

<>

Duder

I'm a wizard

China don't care

Pick up the purse

etc.

Yes, let's all be angry at memes Giant Bomb community. Oh wait sorry, they're ok when you feel like you're part of a small, exclusive group that knows them? I see.

I'd throw a "Hypocrites, Hypocrites Everywhere" image in here, but am not especially motivated to go the small effort that would require. ;)

This guy kinda nailed it.

This game looks like a lot of gaming fun. Like the style, like the gameplay. I will buy this very soon.

Posted by LiquidPenguins

This makes me shallow but the memes are such a turn off I cannot force myself to give this a chance.

Posted by arch4non

One or two referential posters would have been fine, but every single poster in that area was either a meme or a reference. That's too much.

Posted by Nevi

I love metroidvanias. But yeah, reddit has made internet memes scummy and I think it was a poor design choice for Drinkbox to hang their hat on.

Drinkbox gives their games fantastic looks. Mutant Blobs managed to look neat and have a strong sense of identity on its own without a constant slew of overt and redundant memes and references. Producing Latin Americanised tracings of advice animal quickmemes is undeserving of what Drinkbox could have done creatively. What if they had come up with some tonally appropriate original designs for those posters? Even some fake tequila brands with weak pun names could get me to crack a smile. They could even have started some original memes, instead they put a turd in the punch bowl.

Edited by louiedog

I just played about 90 minutes of the game and the memes so far have probably only been on screen for about 3 of those. I think memes are dumb, but I'm not going to deny myself this fun game because of such a small part of the background. If that's the reason someone doesn't pick up this game they should probably do some soul searching and learn to relax just a bit.

Posted by LiquidSword

@alex Good review but you say there are no wrestling moves. You can unlock piledriver and suplex from the store pretty early. Don't know how you missed that.

Online
Posted by Taky

@fiberpay said:

@rudyarr said:

people not playing this game because of the memes...you are missing out on a great game. Please explain to me why you refuse to play this game. Don't just say "it has memes in it. I'm part of the cool side of the internet, only dumb people like memes, this game has a cat meme and it automatically makes it the worst game ever"

get over it!

Because there are plenty of other good metroidvania games out there that don't rely on stupid memes to be funny.

Orly? (see what I did there?)

Posted by Alex

@liquidsword: Dunno how I missed it either (though according to another user who sent me this, he missed it too, originally). Regardless, I've removed that line from the review and updated the text accordingly.

Staff
Posted by Nadafinga

I can't think of anything more petty than not playing this game because of inconsequential background art.

Jesus Christ, people.

Edited by Taky

@alex Good review but you say there are no wrestling moves. You can unlock piledriver and suplex from the store pretty early. Don't know how you missed that.

Yup

Edited by Nadafinga

@alex said:

@liquidsword: Dunno how I missed it either (though according to another user who sent me this, he missed it too, originally). Regardless, I've removed that line from the review and updated the text accordingly.

At least we know we can get through the game without unlocking that special move.

Edited by Mento

I approve of any editorial addenda that pertain to mistakes regarding piledrivers. If there's ever cause for swallowing one's pride and amending one's review, it'd better be for something as important as a Mike Haggar Special.

I also approve of kickass MetroidVanias (I'm going to start intercapping this term too) on downloadable services. Outland and Shadow Complex were a lot of fun. I'll sweep this up when it's on sale sometime.

Moderator
Edited by louiedog

@mento said:

I approve of any editorial addenda that pertain to mistakes regarding piledrivers. If there's ever cause for swallowing one's pride and amending one's review, it'd better be for something as important as a Mike Haggar Special.

I also approve of kickass MetroidVanias (I'm going to start intercapping this term too) on downloadable services. Outland and Shadow Complex were a lot of fun. I'll sweep this up when it's on sale sometime.

I think the word should be formatted as InterCapping. Proper.

Edited by Gordo789

I can't think of anything more petty than not playing this game because of inconsequential background art.

Jesus Christ, people.

these people weren't going to play it anyway. They just need something to gripe about on the internet. Game looks fun, will probably buy while it's on sale for PSN.

Edited by fiberpay

@alex said:

@liquidsword: Dunno how I missed it either (though according to another user who sent me this, he missed it too, originally). Regardless, I've removed that line from the review and updated the text accordingly.

At least we know we can get through the game without unlocking that special move.

Or can you? Did Alex actually finish the game? Hmmmmmm lol

Posted by XplusY

I love Guacamelee, but FUCK Guacamelee! Some of the platforming puzzles are insane.

And I would love to see a Breaking Brad having him get the mask pieces.

Posted by NelsonKaiton

I'm really enjoying this game.