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REVIEW: Guacamelee!

REVIEW: Guacamelee!
Shaxster
  • On April 12, 2013
  • http://talkingship.com

 

Does this Mexican platformer belong in the land of the living or the dead?

A WONDERFUL WORLD YOU JUST WON’T WANT TO LEAVE

03

Guacamelee! is unlike much else you’ll find on the PSN store. It’s a superb Metroidvania-esque title telling the story of Juan, a humble Mexican farmer on the day of the Mexican celebration Dia de los Muertos. He’s called to save ‘El Presidente’s Daughter’ from Carlos Calaca, a skeleton that has crossed over from the land of the dead. In doing so, Juan dons the mask of a luchador and sets off to rescue the princess (and, ultimately, the world): a standard and simplistic video game plot. It could have been developed better, but ultimately it doesn’t feel like it needs to be. What sets Guacamelee! apart is the incredible art and soundtrack. Both have a strong Mexican vibe, vibrant and vivid, and manage to create a wonderful world that you just won’t want to leave. Better still, you will regularly switch between the lands of the living and the dead: when you do so, both the art and music change. Colors become darker, the tempo of the music slows and water turns to lava. The distinction between the two worlds is subtle but just enough to incite a grin every time you switch.

Grinning’s something you’ll do a lot while playing, actually. The script is exceedingly humorous and littered with gaming references, as are the environments. Keep your eyes peeled for billboards and shops with in-jokes a plenty: ‘Los Super Hermanos’ was a favorite of mine. It’s truly astonishing how much attention has been paid by Drinkbox Studios to every small detail, and it serves to make the game significantly better than any alternative.

PLATFORMING THAT’S BOTH PUZZLING AND CHALLENGING

http://youtu.be/OtWxSQ6jj9Y

This attention to detail carries through to the gameplay and level design. The controls are absolutely perfect, and the platforming is both puzzling and challenging. Whilst the game starts off very simplistic, it increases in complexity and sophistication as you progress. Upgrades are unlocked regularly, each allowing you to explore the 2D environments further and reach places previously just out of reach. The pacing of these upgrades is perfect too: just as you become familiar with one mechanic, another is introduced.

The same goes for the combat: whilst initially simple, you will soon find every battle tests you to your limits with the multi-faceted system that Drinkbox have employed. Different enemies will require different approaches, meaning that each fight is as much a puzzle as a button masher. The balance between challenge and enjoyment is for the most part just right, but towards the end it becomes punishingly hard, to the point where you just don’t want to play anymore. This is particularly prevalent in the later, repetitive boss battles, which are without a doubt the weakest part of the game.

 

PLATFORMING THAT’S BOTH PUZZLING AND CHALLENGING WILL TEST YOU TO YOUR LIMITS

JUST CHALLENGING ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU WANT TO KEEP ON PLAYING

08

Throughout the rest, you’ll consistently be surprised by the genius level design. The mechanic that allows you to switch between the living world and that of the dead is developed over time, and allows for some really enjoyable platforming sections. Objects and walls only present in one dimension are pointed out with a faint glow, and you’ll make use of them to progress through levels, consistently swapping dimensions at just the right time so you make each jump. Drinkbox manage to make each level just challenging enough to make you want to keep on playing, as well as suggestively placing markers to entice you to explore and collect the many chests that are scattered around the levels. Whilst the upgrades you gain from these are relatively small (such as a bit more health or stamina), you’ll want to collect them nonetheless, purely to increase your overall playtime. The game is very short, coming in at just over 6 hours, and there’s not a huge amount of replayability, so you’ll want to make the most of the time you have with this superb game.

The game supports cross-buy and cross-save, so if you buy it once you’ll get it on both Vita and PS3. I preferred the Vita version myself, as the game is definitely suited to short bursts of play, but both versions are superb. The PS3 version supports co-op: an odd decision, as that isn’t something the game’s exploring and platforming really benefits from.

CONCLUSION

For a low priced PSN download, you’d be mad not to pick up Guacamelee!. Yes, it can get annoyingly hard. Yes, the story isn’t particularly enthralling. But that’s more than made up for by the lovely art, music and gameplay. My biggest complaint? There aren’t enough avocados.

THE GOOD

  • Brilliant platforming
  • Great gameplay mechanics
  • Superb graphics and soundtrack

THE BAD

  • Too difficult at times
  • Relatively weak story

SCORE: 8/10

FIN

Guacamelee! is out now on PSN for PS3 and PS Vita. We reviewed the game using both versions, primarily the Vita version.

Review copy kindly provided by Lunch PR.

  • Cameron Lim

    Finally got around to buying and playing the crap out of this game and it is great but dang does the platforming get difficult towards the end. Still haven’t finished it but I will.