Guacamelee! Review

Ah humble beginnings.

I can’t quite explain why, but I love Luchadors. I’m not a wrestling fan per-say – too much sweaty man drama and not enough action – but something about this offshoot of over-hyped grappler just appeals to me. The fan-fare, the athleticism, the insanity. It all just makes me smile. It’s almost as though everyone realises just how ridiculous Mexican wrestling is and are happy to go along with it. People seem to understand that it’s more about physical prowess and spectacle – not merchandise and movie tie-ins, and that’s the way it should be!

So when I was handed Guacamelee! and told that it featured crazy combat and a barrel-chested Luchador, I was well amped. But I didn’t know what to expect in terms of gameplay. With a name like Guacamelee! I was thinking a brawler? Or maybe Ms Splosion Man-style puzzle platformer? It is a ‘light’ piece of DLC after all. Imagine my utter delight when I discovered Guacamelee! was an expertly tuned Metroid-vania adventure. And picture the broadness of my charming smile as I was treated to quirky Mexican folklore, clever animation and enjoyable gameplay.

Ah humble beginnings.

Ah humble beginnings.

You star as Juan Aguacate, a simple farmer turned legendary wrestler superhero. Juan is killed at the game’s onset by an evil Charro Skeleton (think Mexican cowboy) named Carlos Calaca. Carlos rises during the Dia de los Muertos festival for a bit of routine mischief and kidnaps the nameless daughter of El Presidente – a childhood friend of Juan and secret love interest. While in the land of the dead, Juan meets the Guardian of the Mask, a fabled Luchdor artifact, who bestows the power of BearMode madness upon him. Forthwith, Juan’s resurrected and sets off after the kidnapped senorita in charming 2D style.

Love it. Hate it. Write a 1500 word article on it. Or make a 20 minute long, abhorrently abysmal, YouTube video on it. It’s the classic damsel in distress trope. But rather than forming the game’s centerpiece, the fair maiden setup serves only to get the ball rolling. The real gameplay focus here is on Juan’s growth as a superhero. From the first ‘level’ right through to the last, you’ll be brawling with zany creatures, navigating dangerous pitfalls and unlocking new abilities, beefing Juan up with both fighting prowess and character confidence in the process.

Juan’s moveset initially consists of standard kicks, punches and throws but the deeper you delve, the more you learn. Before long you’ll have a dozen or so flashy abilities that can be chained together for seamless combos. Dash forward to uppercut a foe, head-butt him a few times in the air then caber toss the sucker into a poncho wearing cactus, golden! Juggling enemies and using a variety of offensive abilities is highly encouraged but not overly enforced. Your moveset also expands so rapidly that you’re often left to fill in the blanks yourself – basics are taught, potential is alluded to and you’re left to your own devices, just the way it should be.

In true Metroid-vania style, you’ll often encounter an obstacle that requires a key item or ability in order to progress. These abilities are tied to the main storyline, and are hilariously found at ‘Choozo Statues’. (Metroid for those of who are scratching your heads) This play style is designed to promote exploration, backtracking and, to an extent multiple replays. There’s also a subtle RPG element layered on top of this, giving you the ability to upgrade health, damage and other minor stats.

For the most part, however, you’ll be pushing forward at full steam. One of the game’s slightly more interesting mechanics, and one that I thought was underused, is the ability to swap between the lands of the living and the dead. It doesn’t creep into gameplay until about the midway point it adds an extra dynamic to the platforming. Contending with traversing the levels, puzzles and combat simultaneously in both a light/dark variant sounds like a god-awful mess but the game’s mechanics are so well implemented that, with a little practice, it becomes an enjoyable breeze.

Piece of cake!

Piece of cake!

Whether it be combat, character interaction or platforming, something is always just around the corner in Guacamelee! to grab your attention, and much of that attention grabbing charm comes from the game’s colour pallet and overall graphical style. Visuals are bright and complement the desert setting exceptionally well. And while the bulk of the ‘story’ is delivered in simple text, ridiculous plot points and subtle character animations had me laughing out loud. (Literally)

The only complaint I have to make with the entire package is that it’s far too short. I clocked in around 5 hours of playtime and managed to achieve about 80% completion. An extra hour or two of exploration later and I was at 100%. So, realistically, you’re looking at about 6-8 hours of entertainment for your $15 purchase.

  • PS3

The Verdict

Guacamelee! is a fantastic little game. The storyline, while not overly complex, is whimsical and fun. Elements like character design, setting, art style and music all tie together to create a near perfect downloadable package. I just wish it was a little longer.
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