The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
When Drinkbox Studios decides on a theme, it goes
all the way. First showcased with kooky '50s sci-fi in its Tales from Space
games (About a Blob, Mutant Blobs Attack), now the team has nailed traditional
Mexican culture. Players control an average guy named Juan who is sent to the
Land of the Dead by evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca after he tries to rescue
childhood sweetheart "El Presidente's Daughter." Juan becomes a powerful
luchador who battles chupacabras and Day of the Dead-inspired skeletons – all
while accompanied by catchy mariachi tunes. Everything is brought to life with
a colorful, cartoony art style and fluid animation.
Guacamelee is a 2D Metroid-style game through and
through. A detailed map helps you keep track of where you're going and various
secret areas. Color-coded blocks wall off special items like treasure chests or
heart pieces, restricting access until you gain specific powers. Throughout
most of the game, you receive new powers from "Choozo" statues (one of
Guacamelee's numerous gaming and pop culture nods) that expand both Juan's
platforming and combat skills.
A deceptively deep combat system is what
distinguishes Guacamelee from its exploration/adventure predecessors. Juan's
ever-growing arsenal of melee combos, air juggles, ground pounds, grabs,
throws, and wrestling slams gives players loads of options in battle. It starts
out with basic attacks, but gradually trains you to be a master luchador who
can easily dish out satisfying 80-hit combos. A variety of super moves – like a
flaming uppercut or powerful headbutt – are highly effective and easy to
perform. Since they're tied to a recharging stamina meter instead of ammo, I
felt free to use them constantly. Ingenious use of a color-coded enemy shield
system encourages you to keep every super move in the mix instead of relying on
a few favorites.
Platforming is simple in the beginning, but later
sections reach a level of challenge reminiscent of Super Meat Boy. Plenty of
wall jumping and tricky triple jumps litter the stages, but the toughest
business crops up when you gain the power to swap between the world of life and
death at the touch of a button. This makes platforms and walls phase in and out
in deviously crafted ways. At several points, I could picture what I needed to
do, but it took many tries to get my fingers to perform the proper complex
series of button presses. Don't let the difficulty deter you; the occasionally frustrating
platforming sequences are nothing that some practice can't overcome. Headaches
are eased greatly by the fact that you're instantly teleported out of a death
pit to the last platform you were on with no health penalty, and the challenges
are tweaked regularly so you're always doing something fresh. The sense of
accomplishment upon completing some of the later setups is tremendous.
Boss battles are plentiful and entertaining.
Characters like a flame-headed cowboy or a jaguar man show up and harass you
long before you get to fight them, offering an insight into who they are and
building up a traditional wrestling feud (sweet versus posters flash onscreen
before every battle). These showdowns feel like they're from the glory days of
the 8- and 16-bit platformer era. Most bosses beat you down out of the gate,
but once you observe their patterns, you learn how to chip away at their health
and eventually experience the thrill of victory.
Anyone who purchases Guacamelee will receive both the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions. The two editions are practically identical (Vitas can’t co-op with other Vitas, and you have to swipe the screen to transform into a chicken), and the cross save functionality works great. It’s awesome to play the game on your TV and bring it with you all on the same save.
Drop-in, drop-out local co-op play is supported throughout the
entire game (the second player controls lady luchador Tostada), though I
preferred going solo for the most part. When one player dies, they turn into
the standard New Super Mario Bros. bubble after a brief respawn period. A
second skilled player is great for extra firepower in combat, but the
challenging platforming segments are only muddied. Battling for camera control
and adding another failure condition in the already nasty jumping sequences is
best avoided. Co-op isn't the best way to play, but giving players the option
to team up is a nice touch.
Even with its platforming frustrations, Guacamelee is an
excellent addition to the genre, retaining important classic elements and
introducing several fresh additions. The main campaign took me around seven
hours (with a decent amount of secret-searching). The pacing is just right,
sending you from one adventure to the next without any bloated, boring spots.
If you've got a PS3 or Vita, go suplex this into your system now.
To see more of Guacamelee in action, be sure to watch our episode of Test Chamber.