Guacamelee! Review (PSN)
Guacamelee goes a long way in proving that while it’s important to be respectful for that which came before you should by no way be constrained to a the original box when designing something of similar origin and draws heavily from the 2D classics such as Super Metroid and Castlevania.
You start Guacamelee impoverished Mexican farmer named Juan whose simplistic life is flipped upside down when el Presidente’s daughter, who happens to be Juan’s true love, is kidnapped by the demon-skeleton Carlos Calaca. After a ham-fisted rescue attempt Juan is killed and resurrected as a Luchador in a realm of the dead filled with numerous creatures and enemies that stand between your vengeance and reunion. Juan develops his skills as a luchador throughout his journey in temples, deserts and forests; honing his wrestling ability to take on the deadly Calaca in one final showdown.
Guacamelee is extremely smart about layering itself; it shuts off areas too advanced for the player by requiring a power that Juan has yet to learn and allows players to slowly develop their play style before throwing them in too deep too fast. A dash attack will destroy blue blocks and a headbutt will destroy the yellow, while this seems simple at first glance it’s a gradual progression that teaches you to rely on your core skills from the very beginning of the game and treat these additional moves as something special that is to be coveted. New abilities will often open shortcuts through the dungeon for faster traversing upon a second trip or unlock a door with previously unseen secrets hidden behind.
Many of these new abilities figure into the combat as power attacks and rely heavily on Guacamelee’s tight controls to be successful. A simply flick of the analogue stick and you could be uppercutting an enemy that you’ll then chain into a dash and finally a ground stomp; the game never has a problem registering what you’re telling it and excels at responding quickly and allowing you to get creative with your combos and air juggles. Although talking about air juggling and combos can often be daunting it couldn’t be simpler, each power attack utilises the same button and simply a new direction on the analogue stick triggers it. Learning the system is as quick as can be and Guacamelee gives you a lot of time to find your own flow with new abilities and plenty of combat arenas to hone your skill but is an absolute delight when you finally start mastering the control scheme and taking down large groups of enemies with a single combo and watching the hit counter mount up to astronomical numbers.
The enemies vary enough to always feel like a challenge in the game; you’ll have single skeletons down easy until a few bone-throwing skeletons join the group or a dodger skips across the screen. The variety and combinations ensure you never get bored and the game is never not challenging. Guacamelee sits safely on the challenge line without ever feeling completely insurmountable.
While the game’s platforming, for the most part, is pretty simple and kept approachable there are some areas where the game feels as if it’s taunting you much in the way that classic Mega Man games used too. The timing on moving platforms will need to be spot on or the combination and speed with which you need to hit multiple buttons in a sequence will have your hand contorted around the controlled and your Vita at risk from hitting a wall and yet you won’t want to stop playing even if your patience is at breaking point. Although a lot of these areas are secondary to the main story and completely unnecessary they are certainly worth the effort and time to see.
The boss fights in Guacamelee are a welcome change to the game’s usual pace. The game asks something different of you in these very controlled scenarios and wants you to think outside of the box; it’s a challenge of intelligence and patience rather than speed and power. The bosses will attack continuously with devastating accuracy and are almost impossible to defeat with brute strength alone and will require the timing and finesse the rest of the game teaches you to be used in conjunction with each other. The boss fights feel like the final graduation point for you finally understanding a new ability and allows you to draw a line under a section and move to the next ability and dungeon.
Guacamelee is visually striking in every way, the character designs are crisp and the levels are vibrant and stand out on their own as well as tying in with the developing narrative surrounding Juan. His ability to move between the Demon and Real worlds allows each area to hold two very different feelings and atmospheres for you to embrace and explore. While you’ll be traversing each area numerous times it never feels old or tedious to do so as you will certainly run into something new as you switch freely between world.
Unfortunately Guacamelee allows Co-op play through local connections only; although this is fun and extremely easy – buying once and you get both PS3 and Vita copies which can be used from the same profile to play together – it feels little more than an afterthought rather than something not to be missed. Although it can be fun to scour the desert or temple for secrets with a friend it really doesn’t make any difference at all and adds no value to the product as a whole.
Drinkbox Studios perhaps show the greatest respect for 2D side-scrollers seen in a long while; they don’t constrain themselves within the confines set by the previous games that were loved so much. Guacamelee pays homage without sacrificing itself in the process and shows a smart and vibrant game that holds some serious thumb bending challenge can still belong in the world of triple-A titles and it does it without apology and because of that stays true to its core and delivers an extremely strong overall product.Guacamelee! Review (PSN),