Guacamelee! is a Metroidvania action-platformer available for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita via Cross-Buy. Drinkbox Studios developed the game with the help of the Sony Indie Pub Fund. Prior to this, Drinkbox developed Tales from Space: About a Blob for the PS3 and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!! for the PS Vita. Guacamelee continues a streak of using exclamation points at the end of a title, but departs from the Tales from Space themes dealing with a slightly more grounded concept of luchadores and the apocalypse. For those that have not checked out the interview we ran with Chris McQuinn of Drinkbox Studios, check that out here.
Hurry up, get to that mansion, Juan. Run as fast as those spindly legs will allow. Something’s wrong though, he feels it as he approaches the mansion. As he is about to enter, fire rushes out and debris blast into the sky. Do not just stand there, do something, Juan! The smoke is thick, the air charred and smothering, but she is in danger and what can he do but keep moving. The mansion is rumble and flames, wrecked.
Then this mean looking charro chingon shows up out of nowhere, and El Presidente’s Daughter is slung across his back. She tells Juan to run, but before he can act, he is boxed in by a flaming gunslinger and a saucy mamacita. These locos start jabbering on and Juan can only think about saving her, but before he can make his move, an unworldly aura seeps up from the ground. The air seems crisper, but fouler somehow. Then his skin feels striped clean as tendrils close in on him.
What happened to him? He cannot tell, but the world seems different. Similar, but off. The flames are gone and there is a eerie tint to everything. Even without everything aflame, the world seems acrid and decayed. Without any clues, he runs and notices that this strange place looks like the Pueblucho he knows, but everything seems dead. What is going on? That luchador statue, it is not right. What is with that glowing mask? Before he can think, a figure materializes in front of him. It is becoming a thing. This masked luchadora, Tostada, tells him that this strange mask has chosen him and it will bring him back to the world of the living. Juan does not understand, how can he be dead? But he has no choice but to don the mask because El Presidente’s Daughter is still missing. Maybe this mask will give him the strength he needs to take down that evil charro, Calaca and rescue his old friend and lost love.
Guacamelee features the traditional damsel in distress video game trope, but filtered through the lens of Mexican folklore and culture that the game is drenched in, it seems new. There is a bustling humor to the game and the dialogue is hilarious. The lighter tone never betrays the story, but gives the entire thing levity and a warm feeling that keeps it from being too self-serious. Hiding beneath the story of Juan’s desire to save his love is plenty of subtext and extra meaning resting in the layered texture of the Mexican folklore and traditions present in the game. Unlike other games that use history, folklore and myth to bolster a game’s world, Guacamelee never feels the self-conscious need to advertise the allusions and references because at its core, it makes the gamer feel at home like they grew up with these stories and traditions.
Juan begins his journey as a simple agave farmer with basic punches and a paltry jump, but by the end of the game he is able to rush up walls, suplex chupacabras and switch between dimensions at will. Oh and he can transform into a pollo to reach into small crevices. Gameplay in Guacamelee mirrors and channels the Metroidvania style extremely well. It introduces new gameplay elements and moves slowly. The game makes sure that the player has plenty of time to become accustomed to these new elements and master them before shortly adding another move to their repertoire. Juan eventually has plenty of powerful moves to rebuke the many enemies that he will face as he tries to save El Presidente’s Daughter. Despite his power ups, combat is never easy and the game will challenge players as it forces them to juggle multiple enemy types at once. Then it will throw a curve ball by having players fighting enemies between dimensions forcing them to switch back and forth to wipe out rooms of enemies. Chaining powerful moves together and using throws expertly will make combat seem like an orchestrated dance rather than wildly throwing punches.
The platforming elements of Guacamelee often get incredibly tough as it moves from simply hopping from platform to platform to having to dodge barbed vines while jumping to a new platform. Eventually when Juan gains the power to traverse multiple dimensions, gamers will need to switch between the living and dead world quickly to make it to the end of a dessert or temple. This seems easy at first, but becomes increasingly tough as it requires precise timing so Juan does not smack into a wall and fall into a pool of acid. By the end of the game, the timing needs to be so precise and switching between dimensions becomes so quick that it is like keeping a beat. While the game runs well on the PS3, PS Vita owners will be pleased by the smoothness and intuitive control experience of the game and in some ways that is the best way to play it. The challenge of Guacamelee is refreshing and rewarding that it will keep players coming back to best a tough area because figuring out the best strategy is a satisfying task.
Graphics and SoundGuacamelee! is a visually virtuous game that is splashed with color and radiates charm at every corner. The game runs extremely well and watching Juan barrel through a temple full of dangerous enemies is a treat. Drinkbox has packed the world’s background full of visual jokes, allusions and references that will please gamers. Mexico is a location that is not explored often in video games and by exploring the richness of the country, Drinkbox has created a beautiful game full of eye catching structures and locales. The art style is gorgeous and seeing this world in motion is amazing. At certain points in the game, there are certain visual effects that are subtle yet arresting, especially when switching between worlds. There needs to be a petition drawn up and signed by everyone for Drinkbox to release the incredible soundtrack on CD or iTunes. The music mixes very video game specific electronic music with traditional Mexican styles to create a soundtrack as engrossing as the graphics. It would not be surprising if players left Juan hanging and left the game running simply to hear the great tunes in the game.
Drinkbox Studios has created a game in Guacamelee! that is hugely unique and will win players over almost immediately. It is dripping with personality and charm that make it hard not to fall in love with it. By setting it in Mexico, something not explored much in games, works to its advantage because the folklore and culture adds a spin to some worn tropes making them fresh again. It may not have been their intention to make a statement with Guacamelee, but Drinkbox has indeed made one because it shows a part of the world that has been largely ignored in video games and illuminates the depth that can be found in it. For a game that was born out of homesickness, the game certainly will make players feel like they have arrived at home.