Pre-release videos for Guacamelee! made it seem like a snazzy-looking 2D platformer with a lucha theme, but playing the game reveals so much more than that. It’s amazing that the trailers didn’t hype up the depth in the gameplay, but there’s a lot to do here, and 99% of it is fun. As Juan, you’ll go through a variety of lands to save your girlfriend from the clutches of evil. The MetroidVania formula has been given a lucha spin in Gucamelee!, marking the debut of METROIDMANIA.
When MetroidMania runs wild, there will be some big boots, but no legdrops. There are skeletons to fight, but unlike L.A. Park, they sadly don’t dance around to the tune of “Thriller”. They can, however, be toppled by a well-timed combo of not only a basic uppercut, but also the mighty rooster uppercut, which not only reminds me of the Red Rooster, but also smashes through red shields and red blocks, and sends you hurdling skyward with every use. Other moves gained include the headbutt, a suplex, and a piledriver.
The combat system weaves them all together nicely too. You can chain basic punches into uppercuts, daze an enemy and then either do a basic Triangle throw, or use one of the special moves with Circle and hopefully throw them into another enemy for slightly less than massive damage, but still create an opening to do some. Unlike most MetroidVania-style games, you’re limited to close-range combat here – meaning you can’t rely on having a lot of room to maneuver. You’ll have to make great use of the defensive skills given to properly use your offensive talents.
You can roll through some attacks (and electrified vines) using either L2 or the right stick, and while the right stick feels a bit more natural, it’s more awkward if you’re using the d-pad. Fortunately, it feels great when using the left stick to move, and L2 works well enough for when you are using the d-pad to move around. All of the combat elements work well together, and by the time you’ve got a decent array of moves at your disposal, you’ll be fighting a variety of enemies with different-colored shields that you’ve got to break through one-by-one and having a blast doing it. There’s a slight learning curve on the combat due to the shields and throw mechanics, but not much of one.
Beyond combat, you’ve also got some complex platforming. There’s plenty of simple stuff that you’d expect from any platformer and then things like portals causing dimension shifts in mid-jump that will send you into the muck if you mis-time any part of the sequence. They’re very nerve-wracking, but minimally frustrating since failing just results in a respawn on the screen with no health lost – so they’re just trial and error.
Guacamelee!’s sense of humor is outstanding, with a slew of references to not only other games (like a princess being in an another castle, a mysterious carving of a tie-clad monkey wielding a barrel, a Lucha Mario Bros. Poster, or getting new powers from statues shaped almost exactly like the ones from Metroid), but movies like Wreck-It Ralph, singers like Adele, and an assortment of silly things like concerned townspeople talking to you about their favorite thing ever – a luchador figure, or someone asking you to rid his home of chickens. The latter becomes much funnier once you unlock the ability to turn into one early in the game, since it becomes impossible to ever want to lay a beating on one.
There are some minor quibbles with the game though, largely related to glitches and freezing. I had to restart my game once due to a grounded plant enemy never sprouting up a closed-off fighting area. Fortunately, due to the frequent checkpoints and auto-saves, this didn’t set me back too far, but anything that takes you out of your rhythm in a MetroidVania-style game is annoying even it is fixable with a restart.
The visuals are absolutely incredible and come to life thanks to a fairly unique art style that goes with an animated look, but no black outlines. As a result, nearly every second of the game is spent staring at something bathed in color. It might be a variety of shades of yellow and orange for sun, or perhaps blue and green, with some reds and pinks thrown in for good measure. The world feels very alive and even in the game’s darkest moments it’s hard to not at least crack a smile due to the beauty of what’s before you.
Jumping and running animations are nice, but the stilted animations for moves is a pleasant surprise in that they don’t hurt the game and really help keep the pace fast. The suplex is a suplex in the loosest sense, and the same goes for the piledriver – it allows wrestling fans to get some kicks out of the moveset while still making things broad enough that non-fans won’t be annoyed by them taking too long. Given the wrestling-heavy themes, it’s amazing to think of it as a MetroidVania first and a wrestling-involved game second or third, and have it work out in its favor since that approach means it’s appealing to a far broader audience – and this game really does deserve to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
The soundtrack is full of outstanding Spanish-flavored tunes that stay stuck in your head for quite a while after playing. It’s all quite hummable – on par with Fandango’s theme that is currently sweeping the world thanks to viral videos. Maybe Guacameleeing will become a thing soon. The sound effects are also well done and get across everything they should with the right amount of seriousness and goofiness. It’s basically cartoony in every way that’s good, and none of the bad.
Cross-Buy support means that for $15 tops, you get two versions of the game. Guacamelee! gives MetroidVania fans something new to enjoy after beating Symphony of the Night for the millionth time on the go, while PS3 owners have a game of that ilk to call their own – much like how 360 fans have Shadow Complex. The game controls very well on the Vita, and the usage of touch for some gameplay elements works surprisingly well.
There’s a lot of fun to be had here thanks to the cheery nature of the visuals, which will dazzle you every time you turn the game on. There’s always something new to see that you’ve missed before – usually a reference of some sort – and the MetroidMania gameplay is done really well and benefits from feeling quite a bit different due to how close-ranged all of the combat is. There are some minor problems that can hopefully be patched up shortly, but the overall product is outstanding and highly-polished in every meaningful way. It’s a must for any MetroidVania-style fan, and wrestling fans who’ve never played one should use this as a gateway game into the genre.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Guacamelee! for the PlayStation 3 provided by DrinkBox Studios.