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Guacamelee Review: Short But Oh So Sweet

Guacamelee developer Drinkbox Studio hasn't had much success in the past. Despite releasing two great games for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, their timing couldn't have been worse. Tales from Space: About a Blob was a pretty fun platformer for the PlayStation Network; however the game was "released" right in the middle of the PlayStation Network blackout so nobody could actually download the game into weeks after it was released. Their second title, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, was another fun platformer but with the Vitas low install base meant the game wasn't enjoyed by too many. However Drinkbox has released a new game and with no problems seen in the near future, Guacamelee can finally get off to a good start and after playing the game is well deserves to.

If you're looking for a deep and engrossing story in Guacamelee you may be a bit disappointed. You play the game as Juan, an average man who gets sent to the World of the Dead by Carlos Calaca after attempting to save his childhood friend/el presidente's daughter. After entering the World of the Dead Juan dons an ancient mask and becomes an all-powerful luchador. The game then becomes a cat and mouse game of finding your beloved friend and stopping whatever crony Calaca puts between you. That's about it for plot; there aren't really any twists or huge revelations along the way and the story is pretty straight forward the whole way through. But as the title suggests, this game isn't about the story, it's all about the fighting.

Guacamelee is a 2D action platformer that takes many cues from games like Metroid. The game gives you big open areas to explore with tons of areas blocked off until you find the certain power to get by it. The one big difference between Guacamelee and other games like it is that instead of ranged combat (which is common in games like this) Guacamelee consists of only melee combat.  Instead of throwing bombs or sniping enemies from afar, you will punching, body slamming and pile-driving enemies into submission. While I didn't expect it to be bad, Guacamelees combat is far better than I would've expected. Comboing enemies into air juggles and then finishing them off with a pile-driver are combos I wasn't expecting to be doing in a game like this. However you will be doing far more than just spamming on square in combat. Throughout the game you will come across "Choozo" statues (which look very similar to the Chozo statues from Metroid) which, after being destroyed (an act that a certain goat gets very mad about), grants you new powers and upgrades. Most of these powers consist of moves like the uppercut and body slam which don't only give you a new attack but one that can break the color coded blocks all around the world. These powers also come in handy later in the game as some enemies will have colored shields which can only be broken with those certain attacks. Instead of these powers running on ammunition they run on a rechargeable stamina bar. This allows you to only use a few abilities at a time but a recharging meter works perfectly for these attacks that get used just as much in combat as they do for platforming. Guacamelee has a surprisingly great combat system and one that's far more in depth than many of the other 2D brawlers out there.

Like I said, Guacamelee is an action platformer. While a lot of this game consists of you beating up living skeletons and body slamming chupacabras, there is a good deal of platforming thrown in as well. Sadly, the platforming isn't quite as great as the combat, but it isn't bad by any means. While you may not think it, Guacamelee involves quite a lot of precise platforming. It's no Super Meatboy, but a lot of the later levels require pretty precise jumps and executions of your special moves to get by not to mention most of the secrets chests require some tricky jumps and maneuvering to reach. But as I mentioned, the platforming isn't perfect. The platforming feels a bit loose and on far too many occasions I have completely missed a platform or fallen off. Now as I mentioned above, the abilities you get from the Choozo statues do add a bit more depth to the combat but they also add depth to the platforming as well. The best example of this is the Rooster Uppercut which gives you just enough of a vertical at the end of jumps to get past some obstacles.

The game can also be played the whole way through using co-op. While I did find co-op to be fun during combat (as you and your friend can chain together combos), platforming on the other hand is a different story. It's not bad at the beginning but as the platforming becomes more challenging it only gets harder with the co-op. The difficulty gets notched up even more after you unlock the dimension transfer ability which allows both players to switch between the world of the living and the world of the dead on the fly and as you may expect having two people using this at once can be quite annoying and difficult. Still, having a friend come in for the battles is a load of fun and is at least worth trying once.

Guacamelee is a beautiful game. It is overflowing with color and looks like its cut right from a storybook or Saturday morning cartoon. The Day of the Dead inspired art design also goes a long way towards the game looking so great. Another great addition to the game is all of the references found throughout the environment. For a game exclusively made for Sony consoles I found a surprising amount of Nintendo references from what is clearly the Mario Brother and Link on many of the luchador posters around the towns. Also fans of Reddit will find plenty of references to love as they go through the game. My only real issue with the graphics is that at time it can feel seizure inducing. This isn't a constant problem but whenever you get a new power-up or upgrade the game feels the need to flash rapid colors on screen. I usually am not affected by those sorts of things but even I had to look away during these situations. The music is also quite good. The mariachi soundtrack sounds great and despite the same tune being heard throughout most of the game it never really gets repetitive. I also like the attention to detail in how the music changes from an upbeat soundtrack in the world of the living to a slow and depressing one once you go to the world of the dead.

If I have one gripe with this game is that it's a bit short. The game took me just under 5 hours to complete and I added on another hour to finish up the sidequests and get the last of the secrets scattered throughout the world. While that isn't that bad for a downloadable game, the game is so much fun that I wanted a lot more out of it. I felt like the game was in the final chapter right when I was starting to master the combat. What doesn't help is that after beating the game there isn't much else to do. Like I mentioned you can go back and finish up the side quests or go and find those last few upgrades you missed out on but other than that there isn't much there. You do unlock a hard mode after beating the game but as far as I know that doesn't unlock anything new to the game.

Guacamelee is a great game and one of the best games on the PlayStation Network. The surprisingly deep combat system and the beautiful art design go a long way towards making this game a must buy. The iffy platforming and the short length are just small drawbacks from and otherwise great game. Plus if you buy this game you will be getting it for not only your PlayStation 3 but your PlayStation Vita as well, its a 2 for 1 deal. If you have been looking for a great game on the PlayStation Network and you love all those Metroidvania games then look no further than Guacamelee.

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