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Guacamelee! Review

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  • 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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Posted by RanmaRanma

I love wrestling and this looks fun to boot. Might be worth it.

Posted by VarrosAnon

BUSINESS CAT versus BACHELOR FROG

Edited by MooseyMcMan

Great to see that this game is great! I want to buy it.

Edited by RE_Player1

DrinkBox did an amazing job on the blob games and this looks even better than those! Going to play it on PS3 and use the Vita as a controller ala Wii U.

Posted by UberExplodey

MEMES.

Edited by RE_Player1
@uberexplodey said:

MEMES.

Not sure if this is a complaint although the people I see on forums and comment sections butthurt about the references to some popular indie titles and some internet memes are kind of reaching for negativity in my opinion.

Don't like it don't buy it I guess.

Posted by evanbower

@msavo said:

DrinkBox did an amazing job on the blob games and this looks even better than those! Going to play it on PS3 and use the Vita as a controller ala Wii U.

..Why?

Edited by Rmack

@alex Is the internet humor all over the place ala Borderlands 2 or just regulated to the background in the city area? This is crucial to me enjoying the game.

Edited by Alex

@rmack: Purely relegated to background art and a few minor visual references. That's it.

Staff
Posted by SomeJerk

The worst thing about this game is the people who are so butthurt about the PS4 lacking 100% PS3 compatibility that they refuse to buy this or anything else.

And this is more tolerable than modern day anime.

Posted by RE_Player1

@msavo said:

DrinkBox did an amazing job on the blob games and this looks even better than those! Going to play it on PS3 and use the Vita as a controller ala Wii U.

..Why?

They have the map displayed on the Vita screen if you use it as a controller while playing the PS3 version.

Posted by dvorak

"Internet Memes are funny guys. They're HILARIOUS. They're THE BEST.

Wouldn't have played the game before I noticed those!"

-No one, ever.

Edited by Lava

As soon as I found out it was first day discount for PS+ and get both PS3 and Vita versions for the same price I decided to buy it. Game looks great!

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

Sounds like Guacamelee is going to get my GuacaMoney.

Edited by Pinefresh

I really like the art style of this game and they were half way to a sale with me the second I saw the main character was a luchador. I have to admit seeing the Ikea monkey in the quick look made me roll my eyes pretty hard, but the gameplay looked fun and the review sounds great.

Posted by JacDG

@msavo said:
@uberexplodey said:

MEMES.

Not sure if this is a complaint although the people I see on forums and comment sections butthurt about the references to some popular indie titles and some internet memes are kind of reaching for negativity in my opinion.

Don't like it don't buy it I guess.

Yeah man, people were/are going bananas in the quick look about it, it seemed like it was primarily related to posters in the city, which is pretty non-intrusive to me, I liked the cute references and I do no find memes to be funny, at all.

Online
Edited by rjayb89

Seeing how the UI is presented just makes me think this is an iOS game.

Posted by dropabombonit

Great review Alex. This game has been on my radar for a while now and good to hear that it turned out well. I will be downloading it when it hits the UK PSN tomorrow

Posted by Taky

@jacdg: It is only in the posters in the city - an absolutely non-issue IMO

Posted by jsnyder82

I thought this released today. I can't find it anywhere in the PSN.

Posted by nomtank

@dvorak said:

"Internet Memes are funny guys. They're HILARIOUS. They're THE BEST.

Wouldn't have played the game before I noticed those!"

-No one, ever.

Is this supposed to be ironic? I kind of feel like it's ironic.

Edited by Boiglenoight

@jsnyder82: I had to really dig to find Dark Stalkers Resurrection the day it was released. Same for the Star Wars tables.

Edited by Maajin
@dvorak said:

"Internet Memes are funny guys. They're HILARIOUS. They're THE BEST.

Wouldn't have played the game before I noticed those!"

-No one, ever.

I really, really know people to whom that would be the case. And I don't know that many people.

That said, my impression is that the developers weren't trying to attract players, they were just putting things they liked and thought was funny.

Edited by Doomshine

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

Edited by Taky

@maajin said:

That said, my impression is that the developers weren't trying to attract players, they were just putting things they liked and thought was funny.

That's pretty much the story - in fact - you could distil that down even more by saying the one guy who does art on the team LOVES memes. :)

Posted by mellotronrules

really hope this comes to pc. sony continues to make the case as the more vibrant platform for console indies.

Edited by Video_Game_King

@alex, are you Giant Bomb's official luchador editor?

Edited by Rmack

@alex said:

@rmack: Purely relegated to background art and a few minor visual references. That's it.

That's great news! I was afraid this would be another Borderlands 2 issue of me having to take the LOLCAT train to FFFUUUU station.

Edited by Yadilie

@doomshine: Because I used to frequent the living fuck out of /v/ and /sp/. You know the place where a large majority of those memes came from and were posted ad nauseum. It gets tiring seeing things that arn't that funny to begin with. Not to say Giantbomb is exempt from trying to force stupid shit that isn't funny. Biggest example would be "Pick up the purse."

I like the references to other video games but the other shit? Why don't you try to come up with some actual funny stuff. I mean Drinkbox had some funny posters and billboards in Mutant Blobs that weren't chock full of memes and laziness.

Regardless the game looks fun. And at 11 dollars for PS+ it's a good deal.

Posted by jsnyder82

@jsnyder82: I had to really dig to find Dark Stalkers Resurrection the day it was released. Same for the Star Wars tables.

True. But PSN seems to be down right now, so I would assume they're updating it as we speak.

Edited by billyok

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.

Posted by DirkGently

@yadilie:

@yadilie said:

@doomshine: Because I used to frequent the living fuck out of /v/ and /sp/. You know the place where a large majority of those memes came from and were posted ad nauseum. It gets tiring seeing things that arn't that funny to begin with. Not to say Giantbomb is exempt from trying to force stupid shit that isn't funny. Biggest example would be "Pick up the purse."

Bioshock Infinite used that meme a lot :)

Posted by Taky

@bbk: Only second to Gaffers as the unhappiest place on the internet

Posted by jimmyfenix

watched the quick look it kind of reminds me of outland another great psn title

Posted by jsnyder82

@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.

Posted by Packfan104L4

Posted by MustardDragon

This totally needs to come to PC. I would love to play this wacky game.

Posted by sravankb

@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.

Posted by casper_

i had no idea mexico was so whimsical.

Posted by RE_Player1

@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.

Edited by Lausebub

@alex:

Could you elaborate your complaints about the game a bit more? The review was extremely positive and you seemed to only have a problem with its length and the fact that there are no wrestling moves (which is really a shame). Is it just that this type of game can only be this good for you or did you have other problems with the title? I guess it's just you not giving away five stars lightly.

Thanks in advance. :)

Edited by jsnyder82

@msavo: Oh, sure. I admit I've been very snarky with my comments in the past, too. But the difference is that we're actually acknowledging it and actively striving to be better, and not so negative. I have a feeling a lot of people are only going to get worse.

Complaining incessantly about a few jokes in a video game just put me over the edge. I had to say something, and now that I have, I'm over it.

Posted by Dalai

If this ever comes out on PC, it's a must-buy. I did play this at PAX East and really enjoyed it.

Posted by civid

BUSINESS CAT versus BACHELOR FROG

"Not in the sink - Must be clean" always cracks me up xD

Posted by RetroVirus

I love metroidvania games and Mexico! Seems perfect for me!

Edited by LarryDavis

MEMES.

Yup, this killed any interest I had in it.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@alex Thanks for the review! Bought the game today on your recommendation. And even though your review says otherwise, you can totally unlock a piledriver. Maybe you missed it initially (I totally did), but if you scroll down in the store, you can unlock suplex, piledriver, and "das boot" moves to use after you grapple enemies. Just a hot tip for ya, Alex!

Posted by RenMcKormack

@alex said:

@rmack: Purely relegated to background art and a few minor visual references. That's it.

TOP LEL

Edited by Daveyo520

Yay I am glad it is as good as the times I have played it at PAX. Maybe it will somehow come to PC down the road.

Also it is weird to see a picture you uploaded in a review for a game the page you created.

Edited by rudyarr

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!

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