Humor in games is a lost art. Portal was clever, it made is chuckle. We got a cheeky laugh out of Assassin’s Creed II when your uncle shouts, “It’s a-me! Mario!” Even games like Ratchet and Clank are chock-full of absurd humor that flirts with being inappropriate. All that said, with the absence of personalities like Tim Schafer from game writing for the past several years, there has been a void in my heart. I was missing games that thrived on nonsense, had a Looney Tunes-like soul, and were fun to boot. Lo and behold, here comes Guacamelee!, a game I picked up on a whim and couldn’t put down until I was done with the second play through.
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation Network
Guacamelee! is a love letter to games. Not just games in its genre like Metroid or Castlevania, I mean games in general. Posters for wrestling matches between MegaMan and Majora, a handful of references to Zelda and Mario, and even a wanted poster for Grim Fandango adorn the backgrounds and walls of the game. The environments alone make the game a treat, as each one is colorful and bathed with life. From shady forests with assorted lights floating in the back to ancient temples covered in carvings to an arid desert with a cactuar statue looming in the distance, it’s obvious that great care was put in even the most minuet of Guacamelee!’s details. What’s even more impressive is that each screen in the environment essentially has two versions, as you eventually unlock the ability to move between the realm of the living and the dead (spooky, I know).
Abilities and their use are actually another surprisingly strong point in Guacamelee! as despite being the same genre as a Metroid-vania type game, its puzzles and obstacles feel fresh and not recycled from two decades of jumping and hitting. Part of the success of special powers and upgrades is the simplicity of them, as most of them involve pushing the directional stick and pressing the ‘O’ button. The other success of Guacamelee!‘s tight and responsive powers is how well they fit with the games mood. I don’t want to ruin the nature of acquiring each of them, but it will give old-school fans a good laugh. Each power is used to break block of corresponding colors, and as the game progresses it has a natural feeling learning curve that gently tests you a little more with each new challenge until you’ll feel like an old pro. It’s a beautiful thing to see a game so dedicated to teaching players how to be good at traditional gaming, and yet so challenging for seasoned veterans going back to find all of the games copious amount of collectables.
In a way, DrinkBox took a page from RockSteady Studios (Arkham games) when making combat. They took a simple concept and set of moves for the hero to do, and made the enemies a challenging set of puzzles to defeat. Some enemies are strictly melee, some are ranged, some can only be hurt with a certain type of move… the amount of variety in encounters is truly staggering. Each new enemy is introduced solo, then brought in to small groups of adversaries until the game expects you to have mastered the art of defeating them. This brilliant style of teaching makes game overs more inspiring than discouraging, as you get a sense of, “Silly me, I should have used the uppercut,” and not “Screw this game, it’s too damn hard.”
All that praise aside, Guacamelee!‘s slightly over-used, if not charming, story comes to a quick and halting end. That is to say, just as you’ve acquired all the powers and are really flexing your luchador wrestling muscles; you are thrown into the last fights and then the game is over. Really, this is a compliment to DrinkBox for making such an excellent game that I wanted more, but I couldn’t help but feel as though it was over too fast. t
Guacamelee! deserves an award, really. It is commendable that a game that chose to tread into such over-done territory manages to tower above even some of the more recent iterations of old favorite like the Castlevania for the 3DS or Metroid: Other M. I have not played any of DrinkBox’s other works, but after this adventure, I plan to. Give Guacamelee! a try, especially if you have a Vita; as the cross-buy feature lets you start on console and keep your wrestling shenanigans going on the go, or vice-versa. Either way, you’ll have no shortage of fun. Viva la fun!