If you’re a fan of the Metroidvania genre, you should go do yourself a favor and buy Guacamelee right now. To cut to the chase I’m giving this game a 10/10. It’s perfect.
Let me explain.
Let’s just imagine I had the power to remove parts of Guacamelee. If I were to remove all of the metroidvania elements from Guacamelee, it would still be an extremely solid combo-focused action-platformer. There was never one point in my entire play-through that I thought the game was being cheesy or unfair. It was only because I didn’t get out of the way or evade properly. All enemies beacon out their intent giving you a full moment to properly dodge or retaliate. The combo timer lasts long enough for you to keep the chain going as long as there are enemies on screen and keeping the chain going was of utmost import. Guacamelee is considerate. Even removing metroidvania-themes from additional abilities, they are still meaningful and add a sense of flair this side of Devil May Cry.
But this is a metroidvania game. So not only do you have this super-polished action-platformer but most of the abilities that you gain – by busting up Chozo statues no less – also double as keys to new areas and sometimes triple as platforming mechanics. Take the first ability you get, the “Rooster Uppercut”. The Rooster Uppercut is not only an ability that bolsters your repertoire of more-combohood, it also acts as your first double-jump AND as a key to unlock red boulders. The color your ability is fringed with is very important as they not only signify paths that need a certain ability to proceed but they also double-down on this idea by giving later enemies shields of various sorts. Put briefly, sometimes you’ll see enemies with a red shell that will require you to use the Rooster Uppcercut to break that shield before you can begin doing damage. Later on this really starts to pay-off to make the combat take on a frenetic pace.
No metroidvania game would be complete without a map and Guacamelee’s map is intuitive, insightful and elegant. With a quick glace you’ll instantly be informed of the current map’s completion percentage, your current play-time, how much money you have and how many pieces of Luchador mask, heart, and stamina you currently have. Digging further, the map alludes to places unexplored with a fade-to-black paint-stroke or with a colored block that stopped you from progressing. There’s no need to keep notes or retain a bunch of locations in your memory. Guacamelee is considerate.
I’m gonna try and segue into another important aspect of Guacamelee by citing some of the homages Drinkbox Studios paid towards older games. Please bear with me. If you pay close attention to the city, you’ll see billboards of older video games styled in a Mexican luchador fashion. Later on in the game you’ll be escaping a giant beast of sorts as you lead him to a bridge that you draw in by grabbing a big ax. One of the achievements you can get in the game is titled, “I am Error” and you get it by performing a function which is itself an homage to Zelda: lttp. I think you can see where this is going. But more important is the function I just mentioned which let’s you instantly change dimensions from the land of the dead/land of the living. Naturally, as you might suspect, the major difference here would be the world alternating from a vibrant living world to one of decay. Again, taking things a few steps further, sometimes enemies can only be hit when in a certain dimension and to make platforming require a bit more finesse – often times feeling inspired from hardcore platformer Meatboy – certain platforms will be hidden from a certain dimension by giving off a twinkling-silhouette requiring you to deftly alternate between realities as you navigate a spike/saw-ridden area. Guacamelee is about taking small ideas and cranking them to eleven while also paying respects to some of gaming’s greats.
Somehow Drinkbox Studios managed to cram all of this gorgeous gameplay into a beautiful package. Guacamelee is positively dripping with detail. From properly animating both different dimensions, streaks leaving your feet as you slide and dust falling from the ceiling when you ground-pound, every hint of an action is connected with a concert of subtle detail. It’s truly astounding to see and looks down-right eyebusting on the Vita’s OLED screen. Which brings me to the fact that Guacamelee is cross-buy. Meaning you buy once and own on both PS3 and PS Vita. Cloud sharing of saves means that you can play between the two stupid easy.
Seeing as IGN got an exclusive review on this game, I feel I need to comment on the one negative they gave this game: the length. Basically IGN is saying that this game should have been longer and I want to say, ‘ No IGN.’ We really need to end this idea that games need 40+ hours of play time. Guacamelee is paced absolutely perfectly. From level design teaching you to use your abilities outside-of-the-box to increasing the ways you can chain combos to not penalizing you for exploring areas that will be certain death. There were many areas that Drinkbox Studios could have lengthened the playtime of Guacamelee. But they didn’t. Guacamelee is considerate.
Check this: I was honestly going to give Guacamelee a 9.9 out of 10 because there are certain areas that you can’t switch alternate dimensions. (These are the lengths I need to go to find faults with Guacamelee) One of the biggest draws to metroidvania games is exploration–albeit understanding that you will fundamentally be blocked from certain areas until getting a ‘key’. So to find that the game actually prevents you from switching dimensions in certain areas seems crazy to me. (Note: 99.9% of the game you can switch dimensions) I was going to cite this one example of where the game fell short. However, the “I Am Error” Achievement clearly shows that Drinkbox Studios did indeed use the alternate dimensions as a puzzle for exploration. Knowing that they didn’t want me to switch here means they didn’t want to lead me down a wild-goose chase. Drinkbox Studios values my time and doesn’t want to waste it.
I’ve gone on for a thousand words now and I haven’t even touched on the story or sound. They are great in their own right. The story is charmingly zany that plays on itself and the soundtrack authentically backs that feeling up. I can not say enough good things about Guacamelee. I hate repeating myself but I feel that I can’t stress this enough: Guacamelee is considerate.
10/10: Guacamelee perfectly distills a combo-heavy metroidvania game in a Mexican luchador themed setting. Buy this game immediately.