Guacamelee! is not an overly aggressive dip. It’s a game, and it’s fun.
DrinkBox Studios is a small developer based in Toronto, Canada. They have a small string of games with solid followings and strong critical reception. The hit you probably know them for was originally a launch game on the PS Vita (though it did drop for the PlayStation 3 and PC platforms): Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack.
Guacamelee! is their newest effort. This PS Vita and PlayStation 3 exclusive launched today for $14.99, and it sports a very distinct style below a round of well made and pleasing mechanics.
Is this Luchador romp through a mystical Mexican world worth your bucks and time? Yes, and here’s why.
Simple Mechanics Make for a Fun Game
In Guacamelee!, after the story-set-up-intro is done, players are met with a very simple premise: explore a 2D world brimming with odd enemies that must be brawled to death. You’ll be sent on objectives, both of the main and side variety, in order to draw close to the storyline of the game.
In keeping with the Metroid and Castlevania inspirations, the game progresses as you earn power-ups that grant you the ability to defeat certain enemies and explore different areas of the game. These areas will be plain inaccessible until you find the power-ups you need, so that keeps things moving in a fairly linear fashion.
But that linearity and reliance on upgrades give players a real sense of progression and character growth. The combat is straightforward and simple, and you’ll use your upgrades to string together longer and longer combos over the course of the game. While Guacamelee! can be played as a very easy button-masher, it rewards players with gratifying combos and in-game money bonuses for going the extra mile and really mastering the combat system.
That parity translates really well to couch co-op, something I was even able to bust out with my wife over the course of this review. She’s typically a gamer who enjoys slower-paced stuff and wouldn’t normally be down for a brawling sidescroller, but she was just fine with Guacamelee!.
Perhaps the only mechanic that I’m not really a fan of here is the swapping between dimensions. Without giving away too much of the plot, there’s basically a living and dead world in Guacamelee!, and you’ll jump between each by moving through vortexes. Some enemies can only be fought in one dimension, or perhaps platforms appear and fade between dimensions meaning that you’ll have to cleverly hit the vortexes to connect jumps in a way that moves you forward.
The whole dimension angle of the game, aside from the cool platforming bits, feels a little too forced for my liking. It’s almost like DrinkBox wanted to take this mechanic further than they were able to, scaled it back and found themselves using something that could have just as easily been dismissed.
Bravado and Style
What’s instantly cool about Guacamelee! is DrinkBox’s decision to make it a game set in humorous Mexican legend. Complete with the look and sound of classic Mexican stylings, Guacamelee! is entirely unique based on its aesthetics alone.
And that really, really works for this game. Rather than being a boring and well-tread take on sci-fi or the middle-ages, this brawler explores a space that gaming rarely ever touches on. And it does so with a really obvious love for the source material. No, it isn’t an entirely factual representation of Mexican myth, but it is both fun and well done.
While I clearly loved Guacamelee!’s art style and humor, there’s one thing that I really felt it sorely lacked: genuine animation.
I recognize the decision to go with static cutscenes without voice work and full animated motion probably came as a result of DrinkBox Studios being a small, indie team. However, the gorgeous artwork in this game really begged for a well animated presence. When the first cutscene fired off in its static, puppet-like fashion, I was certainly disappointed.
Granted, the game’s cinematics still work well enough, and I have no qualms with the silly storyline… I just wanted it to go the extra mile.
Those Sweet, Sweet References
Part of that style and hilarity comes in the form of pop culture and nerdy references that pepper the landscape of Guacamelee!
When you move about the environments, keep an eye out for billboards in the background. They each sport distinct, Spanish takes on memes and gaming icons. So, when you see a poster with a green luchador rocking a triangle shaped mask with the name “El Linko” sprawled below it, know that DirnkBox absolutely meant to craft a Legend of Zelda reference.
You’ll even find trophies with jokes like obvious ties to old Adam Sandler bits.
These jokes come at a constant clip, and that really helps the moments of exploration and retreading old ground go by a lot better. Rather than getting bored of the environments, you’ll constantly notice new inside jokes and puns that move from simple to outstanding.
A Great Addition to the “Cross” PlayStation Catalogue
DrinkBox have obviously delivered a labor of love. This romp through 2D Mexican myth is one of the best games selling for the PlayStation Vita.
And, thanks to its $15 price tag and the fact that buying it once scores you both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita versions, it’s an absolute bargain. You’ll be able to Cross-Save with this one, so have fun switching between both the portable and couch bound flavors of the game.
The only big knock we can give Guacamelee! comes at the expense of missing online cooperative play. Want to go with friends? You’ll have to share some couch space. Otherwise, the game’s length and replayability all pale when stacked next to its quality and price.
Guacamelee! is a standout and is a must-own for fans of brawlers and the PlayStation platforms.
Disclaimer: We received a code to review Guacamelee on both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. We played the game to completion before starting this review. We were held to an embargo shared with all sites except for one.