*Authors Note* Guacamelee is a downloadable title only available for PS3 and PS Vita. Owners of both systems can pay once and download onto both systems via Sony’s Cross-Buy Initiative. Both versions of the game were played for the purpose of this review with the Vita version being the lead SKU for play.
Guacamelee is an odd title, to say the least, coming from a developer (Drinkbox Studios) with a very odd sense of humour. Upon first inspection, you will notice Guacamelee is a 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania style action-platformer, but only when you play the game will you learn and discover the nuance and depth of the game. You play Juan, a down on his luck Mexican wrestler, who finds himself fighting to save the world when El Presidente’s daughter (and Juan’s love interest) is captured by a sinister group led by a Skeleton known as Carlos Calaca. Juan is killed by Calaca, but while passing through the Dead World he finds a mask that makes him a luchador and capable of bringing down Calaca and co. That’s about it for story, it’s suitably forgettable, it scaffolds the experience, but you have the general premise and justification for your actions.
The gameplay of Guacamelee is the star of the show here. The game doesn’t feature simple run and jump gameplay of typical platforming, nor does it feature your typical action hack and slash style combat, what it does is successfully blend the two genres together. In order to successfully reach a high platform Juan may need to utilise a range of his moves typically designated for attacking to get those few extra centimetres necessary to reach the distance, and in combat he will need to bounce from the ‘Living World’ and the ‘Dead World’ to combat foes who can attack him regardless of which world he is in, you will also need to time leaps and bounds in order to reach those opponents who are flying just above you out of reach. It is brilliantly executed, and coupled with all other Metroidvania troupes of backtracking and hidden collectables, it serves to really flesh out the experience. Everything happens quickly, Juan moves through zones quickly, combat is sleek, polished and sharp, and things only really slow down as your reach some of the particularly difficult platforming zones which will require you to draw upon every skill you have learnt to overcome them. For PS3 owners you have the ability to play cooperatively with a friend, with that friend using a Vita as a controller if need be, Vita owners only however you will be left to go it solo. Also, in case the name of the game didn’t give it away, all your combat moves are melee based.
This is the only disadvantage that Vita owners have because from a visual standpoint the two systems versions are at complete parity, and this is due to the games completely unique artistic style that doesn’t push pixels but holds up on its own due to this style. Both through the writing and the world design there are a lot of pop-culture references that will garner a number of laughs, not to mention the fact that you can turn into a chicken, and smash piñatas for money and other hidden goodies. I can’t say that the soundtrack made any real impression, but at the same time it doesn’t hamper the experience either.
The game will clock in somewhere between 5-8 hours depending on how thorough you are, but immediately following the game’s conclusion a ‘Hard mode’ is unlocked creating even further game-time for the player. The experience is definitely geared toward players who love completing speed-runs but if you wish to play it slow and methodically, the game still works with you by presenting you with many varying platforming and combat experiences. For an $18 experience, Guacamelee delivers on many fronts and certainly commands your time and attention, so go buy it on the Playstation Network now.