DrinkBox Studios, the fine folks behind Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, are back with a new Mexican themed metrovania IP to blow your eyelids open! But, does it live up to the potential of the Tales from Space series? Read on fellow nerds!
Your name is Juan, and you’re kind of a bum. You see, you had dreams of being a luchador…and that didn’t work out. But, one day a demon of a man shows up and steals El Presidente’s daughter (your love interest naturally) away in a fiery blaze, taking your life in the process. By harnessing the power of the luchador, you return to the land of the living to save the woman you love and the world (double naturally.) This may sound like a bit of a snooze to some jaded gamers, but if the formula works, don’t fix it. Every moment in Juan’s world feels genuine. The heroes and villains are so well written and fleshed out that even though I knew what the punch line of the coming jokes were, I always found myself giggling at the ridiculous dialogue. If you’re looking for something completely fresh, this may not be for you, but if you’re looking for great characters with a classic well-done story, look no further.
Although the story was great, the first thing you’ll notice is the games beautiful graphics and art style. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is (why not just look right above here?), but it’s something that looks great and never becomes dull or boring. Just as you start to forget the art style in the gameplay, they throw something visually dazzling at you. The colors alone are a solid enough reason to pick up this game. They honestly almost pop out from the screen at times, especially some of the later special moves that seem to partially be there just to add another color you haven’t seen yet. All this plus the great character designs (especially the main cast) still put a grin on my face when I think back. The music wasn’t bad either, and that’s always a plus.
It’s hard to talk about Guacamelee in detail without spoiling the player’s experience. Because the story is so simple, a lot of the complexity is in the little changes that happen throughout the game, allowing the player more freedom to explore and brawl. Speaking of which, brawling (or meleeing?) is where Guacamelle really shows it’s hand. DrinkBox has developed something between a button masher, beat um up, figher and rpg that really doesn’t have any other direct comparison. You start off with two moves, a basic combo attack and throws. Once you’ve done enough damage with basic attacks, you get the chance to grab your enemies and throw them in any direction you choose hitting other enemies and adding to a type of juggle combo system. This system of play, especially early on, makes for a fast and fun throwback to the old school, while cementing itself as a completely new entity all together.
This is all dandy until about half way through the game when your rate of receiving new attacks and abilities (especially the ability to move between the land of the dead and the living) increases, almost making the game irritating at times. In one fight you may have to worry about enemies with shields that can only be broken with certain moves, having to switch between two dimensions where enemies from each can attack you at the same time, and a relentless assault making it hard to keep up with all the hectic movement on the screen. This may be a fault with the length of the game rather then the difficulty of it however. Because of it’s short length for the genre (somewhere between 4-6 hours, my playthrough being 4:23), Guacamelee constantly barrages you with new attacks and abilities that you don’t have time to fully understand in battle, before moving onto the next. This left me and my second player often struggling, feeling like we were receiving cheap deaths from enemies using distance attacks in the dead dimension when we were in the living dimension. This frustration often caused us to simply put all our efforts into beating one dimensions monsters before moving onto the next rather then switching back and forth throughout the battle taking a lot of the combo filled fun out of the fights, and thus turning them into a bit of a boring romp through the last third of the game.
Luckily between the so-so brawling there was plenty of room to puzzle and explore. Like many games recently, Guacamelee has a focus on exploration, and it does it well. Back tracking through the beautiful world never seemed like a chore because of the rewards waiting for you at the other end. Whether it was just the simple act of getting to break those colored blocks you saw earlier, getting tons of upgrades, or solving the complex platforming puzzles. The puzzles in this game usually amount to ‘get across the room and break a chest’, but how you do that is always a fun experiment in timing and using the correct abilities. Also, if timing just isn’t your strong suit, the game almost never requires you to complete these areas and are only really necessary for completionists like myself. Yet, they add so much to the base game that it’s hard to ignore their allure for too long.
In the end, Guacamelee is a great game bogged down by a few annoyances (including some iffy platforming sections) and a combat system that simply becomes too complex. But, the whole package is so strong, it was easy to overlook it’s imperfections. Guacamelee sounds like a fun game, because it is, and it deserves your attention (and your money).