- Simple combat system that has a bit of depth
- Brilliant platforming sections
- Witty dialogue
- Talking goats
- It’s a bit short
- Side quests are few and far between, and don’t really add anything
Guacamelee! is more than just an awesome pun within a name. You only have to look at Drinkbox’s largely overlooked Tales from Space games to know that the studio is capable of special things, and their latest project delivers a slice of luchador fist from the heart of Mexico. In fact the quirky platformer/beat ‘em up hybrid is one of the stronger PSN offerings this year, and pretty much anyone with a love for either genre or silly Mexican head garments owes it to themselves to download it right now.
The game starts off innocently enough, with a farmer named Juan mulling about while getting on with his own business. Before you know it, an evil skeletal dude known as Carlos Culaca comes out of the land of the dead, bringing with him legions of minions, and taking away the protagonist’s childhood friend/secret love interest. It’s then where Juan is sent to the Underworld, where he finds a mystical luchador mask that makes him look like a beefed-up version of Rey Mysterio, which gives him the powers to take down his bony new nemesis.
As you’ve probably gathered from that description, Guacamelee! never takes itself too seriously, the story is mad yet light-hearted and the dialogue is constantly witty and never boring. The narrative isn’t deep or engaging yet doesn’t need to be, it matches the gameplay itself in being accessible but at the same time a whole lot of fun.
Within the first hour or two, the combat system comes across as a typical button basher. Smashing the Square button with a few dodges and throws here and there wins you most fights, but as you progress you start to see that there are some intricacies. Thanks to a Gym in the game’s main hub, you can learn combos from a chicken trained in the art of combat. Its here than you realise there’s potential for numerous ways of making yourself pretty much untouchable with a bit of practice under your belt, with some chains requiring eight or more inputs with precision timing to pull off.
The real game-changers are the Chozo Statues littered throughout the adventure. After smashing one and revealing some kind of goat/man hybrid, you’re given a new ability. Four of these correspond to colours (red, blue, yellow and green), and another skill allows you to shift between two dimensions (dead and alive) which are integral not only in the platforming sections but combat as well. Enemies gradually become encased by coloured shields, broken only by the corresponding attack type. Then you’ve got to consider whether they’re in your world or the other, so before long you’ll find yourself constantly switching between dimensions mid-battle while trying to ponder whether an uppercut or a slam is what’s needed to cut through the enemies’ defence.
This ingenious mechanic stems to the platforming too. Depending on whether you’re in the world of the dead or the living, different objects tend to populate the scenery, vital for progress as they allow you to uncover wall jumps, secret ledges and passageways and more. It reminded me a lot of Ubisoft’s Outland, you’re required to switch between the two dimensions on the fly between jumps, and sometimes navigating the environment requires a great deal of thought. For example, crossing one area may require a jump, double jump, dodge, world switch, a side punch, and an uppercut just to get to the other side. It might sound overly-hard and confusing, but in motion it feels natural, logical and thanks to a handy respawn system when you fall, manages to provide the right level of challenge without forcing you to retry portions that you’ve already completed.
Aside from the main story there are other little bits to get stuck into as well. Each area offers a number of little challenge-style rooms, where if you can make it around the carefully-constructed obstacles, you’ll bag either cash, a health upgrade or a chunk of stamina. There are also a small handful of side-quests from various villagers, although these are for the most part simple fetch quests that don’t add much to the experience. Finally, and in what’s probably the most challenging part of the game, there are five different orbs to collect. While a few of these are really easy, a couple of them are teeth-grindingly tough and will give even platform enthusiasts a run for their money.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s presented to perfection. The cartoony art style is quirky and unique, the animation is top-notch, and the levels match their design quality by each nailing their own distinctive theme. The visuals are matched with cheerful mariachi band-style music throughout, so all in all it’s just a joy to play.
As a whole, Guacamelee! is up there with the finest games on PSN this year. It’s a simple enough brawler that has an added layer of complexity for those who want to take it that far, and one that gradually unfolds the further you delve into the adventure. The platforming is also incredibly solid, with the two-world mechanic used to great effect to create some seriously challenging instances. It might be a bit short, but it still lasts longer than about six pots of Guacamole from Tesco. In other words, buy it.