Pileddrive and platform through two worlds


Publisher: DrinkBox

Developer: DrinkBox

Genre: Action/Platforming

Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation Vita

Release Date: April 9, 2013


It's not uncommon for developers to borrow elements of other games and use them in their own titles--this is how entire genres are created in the first place. Not every instance of imitation breeds flattery, but every once in a while a title stands out and makes us appreciate the finer points of tried-and-true design. Case in point: DrinkBox's new downloadable game Guacamelee

You play as Juan, an agave farmer in Mexico. When the president's daughter is kidnapped by Calace, a malicious skeleton from the Land of the Dead, Juan must don a magical lucador mask and suplex his way to his love's rescue. The story is fairly mundane, but the execution is superb. The bright and colorful art style is supplemented by humorous dialogue and entertaining cut scenes.

These story moments are charming, but they bookend the true draw of the game: the gameplay. The 2D exploration takes its cue from Metroid and Castlevania, complete with a map that fills in as you progress. The world is ripe with hidden pickups like extra health and gold. You can also perform sidequests for townspeople for extra rewards.

The Metroid influence extends to the distribution of powers as well. As you explore, you will come across areas the cannot be accessed until a new power is unlocked. This helps encourage players to revisit old areas to acquire new treasure. Most powers cost stamina to perform (the Guacamelee equivalent of Metroid's energy tanks), and can be integrated into combat.

The platforming takes its cues from titles like Super Meat Boy and Mega Man. The controls feel tight and responsive, wich is nice considering how exact your jumps must be. Precision is a must as the game approaches high levels of challenge in the later stages. The difficulty never feels insurmountable, however, and each platforming scenario left me with a sense of accomplishment. This results in a supremely blissful feeling when you unlock the double jump, an ability that gamers take for granted these days.

As the title of the game implies, there is no ranged combat. Instead, Juan uses punches and kicks to stun enemies. He can then grapple and toss baddies, or he can perform special finishing moves that are purchased at the in-game shop. The combat is satisfying and it's very easy to rack up one hundred-hit combos. In later stages, the combat scenarios can become a bit tedious as the game throws varying combinations of enemy types at you, but none of it felt impossible.

DrinkBox has crammed in a number of references to other franchises, like posters hyping boxing matches between Link and Mario or Batman and Bane. There are callouts to Castle Crashers, Journey, and even popular Internet memes like Grumpy Cat. Juan even gains his powers from "Choozo" statues, ripped straight out of Metroid. Some may find the sheer number of references a bit trite, but in no way do they detract from the game's fun factor.

In what I hope becomes a shining example of the compatibility of the PS3 and Vita, Sony has implemented its "Cross-Buy" feature for Guacamelee. Buying the game on one system automatically unlocks it on the other. Saves can be transferred between systems via the cloud, and the Vita can even be used in conjunction with the PS3 for co-op sessions. The system works well and I hope more publishers take advantage of it in the future.

The only major complaint I have against Guacamelee is how short it is-my playthrough clocked in at about 7 and a half hours. This is characteristic of downloadable games, but the game was so fun that I wanted more. DrinkBox has hinted at future DLC, so we will have to wait and see.

Guacamelee is a love-letter to many beloved franchises, but it stands on its own as an entertaining platformer. If you are a fan of platforming, exploration, and satisfying combat, you shouldn't miss this one.

Final score: 8.5/10