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Guacamelee!

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By Fr33Lanc3r.00713-09-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Guacamelee!

The Defence

Developer:
Drinkbox Studios
Publisher:
Drinkbox Studios
Genre:
Action, Indie, Platformer
Release Date:
09-08-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
RAM:
1 GB
HDD:
800 MB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

Platformers of the Metroidvania style are few and far between in this day and age, with even the original games having moved away from the style years ago. Fortunately for fans of the platforming style, the indie developers are here to fill the gap. And therefore, I present you – Guacamelee!

The Trial

Set in Mexico in the time of the luchadors, Guacamelee! has you starting out as a down on his luck Agave farmer named Juan. While helping to organise the local festival, and rekindle an old flame with El Presidente's daughter, she is kidnapped by Carlos Calaca - ruler of the world of the dead - who kills you. While in the world of the dead, you come across an ancient luchador mask - the power of which is sufficient to return you to the world of the living - and you set off in the pursuit of Calaca, hoping to stop whatever evil plans he is attempting to bring to fruition. Over the course of your adventure you’ll come across a couple of helpful characters; Tostada, the guardian of the mask you wear and the character you’re coop friend can control and Uay Chivo, the shapeshifting Goat-man that teaches special moves; beat up the undead minions of Calaca, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll stick it out and save the girl. Oh, and the world!

Didn't think roosters could punch but ok...

Didn't think roosters could punch but ok...

But really, it isn’t a serious game. In fact, Guacamelee! has its sights set quite firmly on humor. The variety of references and the obscurity of some of them, is astounding - having everything from the ‘me gusta’ and ‘business cat’ memes, to the developer’s previous titles, to the classic Metroid and Castlevania games that pioneered the platforming style - and it’s been a challenge to hunt down all of these Easter Eggs and work out what all of them are, especially since many of them originate from games older than myself. Pretty much every character you meet is stereotyped to the point of cliché, the love interest/virgin sacrifice, the femme fatale with a thing for double entendres, crazy cowboy guy, the meddling priest, and the grumpy old letch - it almost becomes a collection mini-game in itself. The unvoiced dialogue between these characters does pull of decently enough but that particular part will not be the strongest suit of the game. It’s comical and makes you laugh but then again, it has its limits.

Guacamelee’s gameplay is most obviously designed for a controller, but the default keyboard controls aren’t offensive (and can be changed if they don’t meet your standards). Juan comes with the classic abilities: attack, jump, dodge, grab and special, with the special moves dependant on the directional buttons you happen to be pressing at the time. The variety in enemy types causes you to switch up your style (fast enemies can dodge attacks, requiring you to get a hit with a special to knock them down; tunnelers need to be dislodged with a slam before you can hit them; etc) and master the entirety of your arsenal, which is good, considering that by about half way through you’ll be needing to chain together a variety of different special attacks to progress anywhere. The platforming, while reasonably well controlled, has several moments where you must quickly chain together a variety of jumps, attacks and dodges in order to make your way to the next part of the main objective. I don’t begrudge the game opportunities to make obsessive players show off a bit, but when those opportunities are moved beyond the collection side quests, you end up stuck with a broken keyboard after more than half an hour of trying desperately to progress. It also doesn’t help when the game has a habit of crashing right after you’ve completed a particularly difficult combat or platforming section.

The unique feature that Guacamelee! brings to the table is it’s ‘dimension shift’ mechanic, which allows you to swap between the world of the living and the world of the dead - first with the help of portals, and later at will. Some enemies will only have a physical presence in one world or the other, forcing you to swap to their dimension if you want to damage them. Also, some platforms and blocks are only present in one world or another - often as part of the same platforming section - leading to some mind bendingly odd puzzles requiring not only precision platforming, but correct timing of your dimension shifts as well.

Must have been those beans I ate.

Must have been those beans I ate.

Guacamelee! is a game that oozes style. The slightly blocky character aesthetic fits in well with the idea of a muscle-bound man with a chiselled jaw fighting his way through hordes of the undead. You have to appreciate the work put into making the environment design look so amazing, while still feeling very different, in both the world of the living and the world of the dead. The music is memorable and very Central American. It stays with you for days and you’ll find yourself humming your favourite tunes time and time again. Swapping between worlds causes some subtle shifts in the music that changes the feel of the environment completely - and for bonus points, one of the side quests involves reuniting a Mariachi band, which then plays music for you whenever you visit them. I sat there for about 10 minutes just enjoying it...

The Verdict

Guacamelee! is an immensely fun game to play. The humor is well executed, the combat and platforming flow well together, even if the difficulty curve is a bit wonky at times. It wraps it in a package so appealing that you can’t help but appreciate the artistry of the sound and graphic designers. Worth checking out even if you don’t normally go for Metroidvania games.

Case Review

  • Music: One of the most memorable soundtracks of the year.
  • Style: From the character design to the background textures, this game sports a wonderfully unique style.
  • Humor: It’s not the most sophisticated, but it’s better than some other attempts, and it caused a few chuckles.
  • Platforming: Can get frustrating, especially when it asks you to chain together several moves in a short time frame in order to progress.
  • Difficulty: It’s not so much a difficulty curve as a solid stone wall at the top of a small hill.
  • Crashes: Infrequent, but rather irritatingly timed.
4
Score: 4/5
Some irritations aside, Guacamelee! manages to be fun and funny without being over the top.

Appeal

The music, man! THE MUSIC! It’s the amazing, charming, whimsical, kitschy [insert several other buzzwords that refer to quirkiness] music that gets you as soon as you start the game! The Mexicana-tinged music of Guacamelee! is what I was looking forward to the most in every new level. The excellent and charming tunes are accompanied by an equally dazzling art style that manages to feel unique but familiar at the same time. Lots of exaggerated and angular proportions, bright and varied colour palettes and a warm, dusty glow to the overall visuals fill the screen at darn near every turn.

The game’s got quite the flair for humor as well, with lots of appropriately thought-out video game references and an internet meme or two (I know, but roll with it) and some genuinely funny, albeit un-voiced, dialogue. While normally I’d lament the fact that a game this funny has next to no voice-over, in this case the game actually gains more as I often found myself giving the characters voices and reading out the lines myself. What? Stop staring.

Metroidvania games are rather rare these days but to get one that is as fun and exudes as much charm as Guacamelee! is truly a sign that good times are ahead. A sizeable world map with numerous optional nooks and crannies to explore, more collectibles than you can throw a barrel full of bananas at, fun combo-based combat and precise platforming controls make Guacamelee! one of the best side-scrollers in years.

 

4.5
Score: 4.5/5

Appeal

I have to say, Guacamelee! took me by surprise. At first I thought it might not be that good or interesting, but I was certainly wrong about judging the book by its cover! From the moment the game started, you’re thrown into a very rich and detailed 2D platforming world inspired by Mexican culture and wrestling. Not to mention the story is surprisingly entertaining, with some funny remarks and comedy moments from time to time. Even the combat is surprisingly interesting with different abilities and combo moves that help you fight the different types of enemies you’ll be facing off against during the story. Take note, even though this is a 2D based game, it isn’t linear at all, you can travel back to locations already visited to collect coins from hidden chests, fight different enemies you couldn’t beforehand, or get through to secret areas which required an ability you didn’t unlock till later.

There are quite a few abilities and upgrades to choose from the vendor, who also act as checkpoints, and you’ll find them appropriately placed so there is no need to suddenly travel very far if you die after a minute or two. For travelling purposes, you can also teleport throughout the world to make your trips quicker by using the talking stone heads once you have discovered them. This is very useful as it could take a while to travel from place to place without them. With the combos and combat in the game, sometimes you may get the impression that the game may be limited, which it is in a way. But it certainly makes up for it with new moves and combos that you learn throughout the game, which can make tricky combat situations a whole lot easier.

Overall, Guacamelee! took me by surprise, as not many 2D platformers out there tend to try and be completely different. I know this game has taken some inspiration from certain games like Shank, but it feels unique. Although the game might not last for very long, but it will definitely be worth your time. The developers should be proud of themselves and it should definitely be used as an example of how to make things almost unique in design.

4
Score: 4/5
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Posts: 53

So... it's not just an entire game based around a horrible pun?