Guacamelee! Review


 

I’ve caught the indie bug.  After completing Limbo I had to play another game from PSN‘s indie library.  I decided to play Guacamelee!,  a 2D action-platformer in with game design similar to Super Metroid and Castlevania.  Will keep the trend of high-quality gaming set forth by Limbo?

Cultural Reference and Style

Remember the show Mucha Lucha? It aired on Cartoon Network a few years ago.

Playing Guacamelee! is reminiscent of watching Mucha Lucha.  Colors are vibrant and the use hand drawn characters over traditional sprite-based design adds to the appeal. The use of Mexican culture gives the game its own lane. Environments mimic old Aztec temples, jungles, and old Mexican towns.  Even special movies have a Mexican flair.  It is refreshing to see developers use cultural references outside of standard Western themes.  You will never mistake this game for something else.

Versus flame face screenshot

The game also has hidden treats for those who enjoy Easter Eggs.  References to Super Metroid, Mario and Final Fantasy are just a few of the shout outs ‘hidden’ through out the game.  The use of these references gives you a reason to slow down and enjoy the level of detail put into each environment.

Unique Gameplay

We’ve all experienced Super Metroid/Castlevania style of game design.  As your character  progresses through the game, new areas of the world become available thanks to new abilities.  In Guacamelee! colored stones block certain areas that you cannot access without the right ability.  However, where certain games limit abilities to specific situations, Guacamelee! encourages you to utilize all your abilities.

Powers x Combat

Unlike other games all your newly gained abilities can be used in combat. The game rewards you for creativity in combining abilities to increase combo damage. Instead of the standard 3-hit combo, you could launch a character in the air, follow them for an aerial juggle then hit them with the Rooster Uppercut before ending it with a frog slam.

Juan fighting characters in different dimensions

Navigating the Map

There is an inherent flaw with games in the ‘Metroidvania‘ genre–level design can cause extreme fatigue. Do you really want to travel back to the beginning of the game to see what was behind that colored door?  While gaining new abilities is great, traveling a great distance just to open a secret area isn’t.  Fortunately, traversing the world in Guacamelee! isn’t a chore.  Levels feel tight and concise, and if you must travel great distances there is always a warp stone close by.  The developers also cut down on the need to back track by limiting the numbers of inaccessible areas and tying story elements into backtracking.

All Powers At The Ready

I commend Drinkbox Studios for creating a game where every ability is important.  Unlike some games where you only need certain powers for certain situations, in this game you need them all.  It’s not usual to encounter two enemies–both requiring you to use a different power to kill them. Or having to fight multiple enemies in different dimensions at the same time.  Even the platforming requires you to use more than one ability at once.  If you’re going to explore every nook and cranny you better have quick reflexes.

Playstation 3 vs Vita

I originally intended to play this game solely on the PS Vita.  However, after completing about 70% of the story I had to switch to the Playstation 3.  Unfortunately, the ergonomics of the Vita did not support long gaming sessions with frantic controls.  After a couple sessions with the Vita I started to experience some hand cramps.  The PS3 controller is more suited for the frantic button presses than the Vita.

Juan running from beast

However, moving from the Vita to the Playstation 3 wasn’t a simple transition. I found the control scheme on the Vita better suited for platforming than I did the PS3 controller.  The roll and dimension swap live on the shoulder buttons of the Vita.  On the PS3 controller roll and dimension swap are assigned to L2 and R2.  It might not seem like a big deal, but I found my response time to be slower on the controller.

You will have the same experience on both platforms.  There is no loss of content, except for multiplayer. On the PS3 you can play local multiplayer while the with the Vita you need someone else with the game and the device to play over Wifi.  Both versions of the game look great.  I like the fit of the game on the Vita, but did enjoy the bigger characters on the PS3. There is cross-save and if you buy the game for one platform you get it for the other.

Summary

Juan standing by statue in land of the dead

Guacamelee! is an excellent game.  Like Limbo, it takes what was great about the “golden age” of gaming and improves upon it.  The game has style, and use of Mexican culture give the game a distinct feel over others in the genre.  Drinkbox uses every ability and combines them to make unique combat and platforming experiences.   For $15, you get more than your money’s worth.  If you are in-between games or need something to play I suggest you pick this game up.

Score: 9/10

Charles M.

Blogger.Gamer.Morehouse Man

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