Sony has been, in the console space, leading the way for unique digital titles. Last year’s award winning Journey was a prime example of this pursuit paying off in a major fashion, but other smaller titles have popped up which should pique everyone’s interest. One such game, Guacamelee, is a game that I had been interested in for a long time.
Guacamelee opens with an agave farmer named Juan being killed by the lord of the underworld. When he enters the land of the dead, he receives a magical luchador mask, allowing him to travel back to the land of the living. He must stop the evil lord before his childhood sweetheart is sacrificed to fulfill a dark prophecy.
The story is somewhat simplistic but the writing is fantastic. The writing is extremely funny at times and a lot of that helps to build the world. A large fuss has been made over the various references that Guacamelee has to other games and to internet memes. There are posters featuring the “Casa Crashers”, Choozo statues (a clear call back to the Chozo statues from Metroid) that give you power-ups and you can even find the main character from Journey. Personally, I was never bothered by these references, as they were few and far between, but if you can’t stand referential humor, you’ll likely have a hard time enjoying the world of Guacamelee.
The game plays as a 2D Metroidvania style game. You collect different abilities in your travels that allow you to reach new areas. There are a ton of hidden health and stamina power-ups as well. Basically, everything you’d expect from a game in this genre is here. However, the game does feature some light RPG elements. Killing enemies will net you cash that you can use to upgrade your health and stamina regeneration. Though It would be nicer to see more choices with what kind of upgrades you can get as it’s very easy to buy almost all of the items in a single play-through.
Combat, however, is one of the biggest problems with Guacamelee. When the game starts, it plays as a simple brawler. It’s not too technically difficult but as the game progresses, it layers on multiple new concepts. The first is the color coated combat. There are four special maneuvers that you can pull off. Each of these has a color assigned to it. As you progress through the game, enemies will have shields that can only be broken by hitting them with this specific ability.
The second concept the game adds is a polarity mechanic, similar to a game like Outland. You can switch between the world of the living and the dead on the fly. So, as you fight enemies some may be in the world of the dead and others will be in the world of the living. This means you’ll have to switch between the two worlds in order to fight them off, as they can hit you in whichever plane of existence they are on.
However, as the game continues, it insists on throwing more and more enemies at you. It can often times be overwhelming when you have to juggle not only having to break enemies shields, but having to switch between worlds as well. This frustration culminates in one of the most frustrating boss fights I’ve ever personally encountered. Not only can this boss switch between dimensions and change his shield on the fly, but he can also dodge your attacks; even if he is cornered. Add onto that the fact that he can perform a juggle attack that can easily kill you if you slip up once, and the game becomes unbearably frustrating.
That said, when the polarity mechanic is used for the games platforming sections, it’s often times brilliant and fun. There are multiple times when you’ll need to jump between platforms located in different dimensions. It’s challenging but the game is forgiving enough in these sections that you often won’t die, or if you do you will respawn very close to where you died.
Guacamelee looks gorgeous, as well. The 2D art style is bright and vibrant. The game features a fantastic soundtrack, as well, adding to the ambiance of the game. That said, by the time you finish the game, you’ll likely want to see more. The game clocks in at a fairly short seven hours.
All of that said, the problems with combat can be very difficult to overlook. While the platforming is brilliant, the problems with the combat mechanics show their ugly heads too often. However, the world is fantastic looking and there’s some decent humor. It’s the sort of game that could have been fantastic but just ends up being good.
SCORE: 7.0 out of 10
A review code for Guacamelee was provided to Pixel Related for Review.