Drinkbox Studios first jumped onto the scene in 2011 with their first game, Tales from Space: About a Blob for the PS3 via the PlayStation Network, and then a sequel to that on both PS3 and Vita. Drinkbox Studios have really outdone themselves with their newest game, Guacamelee!, a Metroidvania/beat ’em up mash up, an interesting combination that works really well. Let’s break things down.
In Guacamelee! You take the role of Juan Aguacate, a normal agave farmer with the hots for El Presidente’s daughter, and an ambition to become a Mexican wrestler, or luchador. One day a skeleton by the name of Carlos Calaca appears and kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter, and Juan arrives on the scene to save her. Calaca then kills Juan, although, in the land of the dead, a magical luchador mask awakens to him, granting him the powers of the luchador, and the ability to go back to the land of the living and rescue El Presidente’s daughter. The story is interesting, and much of the dialogue is clever, witty and funny, with many laugh out loud moments.
The story, while never dull or boring, doesn’t really drive you to complete it as much as the incredibly fun gameplay itself, with fun environments to explore, abilities to acquire, hidden chests, as well as health and stamina upgrades. Guacamelee! plays out like a Metroidvania style of game, meaning a 2D platformer with plenty of hidden and locked off areas that you first need to find the skill to come back and open, making for backtracking very common and enjoyable, as well as never making an area seem old. Combat is brawler style, with melee combos as well as throws, grapples, and traditional wrestling moves, all melding into a perfect harmony. As you progress, enemies begin to have shields, forcing you to use certain combos and certain special moves, increasing the enjoyment of the combat system, never making it seem stale. The special moves you get are all pretty common for games of this type (for example, an upward attack that gives you a little aerial boost and breaks certain blocks above you for instance), but the game and the environments use all of these abilities together very, very well. Later in the game, you get the ability to swap back and forth between the living and the dead world, opening up new or different paths, as well as giving each area a new, unique look. When you defeat an enemy, you get money which you can then spend on health and stamina upgrades as well as a few new grapple moves. The controls in Guacamelee! are very sharp and concise, with no control feeling quirky or in the way. It only uses the touchscreen for the Vita to pull off one move, and it is very responsive.
Presentation and Music
Guacamelee! has a 2D cartoonish art style with popping colors, vibrant locations and funny, interesting characters. All of the special moves have bright colored effects surrounding them, making each special move fun to watch, and graphically impressive. Every area is vibrant and reminiscent of Mexico, and the Mexican culture, with Spanish being on nearly every billboard and nearly every dialogue opportunity, really immersing the player into the world. Once you get the ability to swap between the land of the dead and the land of living, you get to see each area in a different light, with new colors, and more than just palette swapping, the backgrounds and props can change when you switch between the land of the living and the land of the dead, making each area fun to explore twice. Each character is very unique and has their own personality, even the townspeople are fun to talk to, especially with the witty and clever dialogue. The music and sound effects work well into the game and some bgms are actually pretty catchy, as well as the ‘new power obtained’ jingle. There are a lot of references to other video games, pop culture and internet memes included in game, although you can view them one of two ways. I personally thought they were funny and interesting little additions, while others may find them annoying or forced. There are enough to not notice all of them on one play through, but enough to get the point across.
Unfortunately, this is where Guacamelee’s glaring weakpoint is. As a Metroidvania type of game, there are plenty of places to explore, and while there are a number of challenges and hidden things to find, the game won’t take you more than 8 hours on a 100% playthrough. If you really wanted to, I’d say you could tear through the game in 3-5 hours. There are also a number of sidequests, involving miscellaneous objectives, such as chasing chickens, or finding people or items, and they are all enjoyable and varied. Once you beat the game the first time through, you unlock hard mode, making the enemies tougher, for another fun playthrough. Guacamelee!: Super Turbo Championship Edition adds additional areas and bosses which are also available as DLC, but I have not delved into that as of this review.
Why the Vita?
The game controls very tightly on the Vita, and the only Vita specific feature that is used is the touchscreen for navigating menus and for one specific move. The game saves at every checkpoint, making it easy to pick up and play, or to sit down and power through. As this game is cross-buy, you can play on the PS3, save your game to the cloud, and pick it up on the Vita for on the go. What’s even more interesting to note is that you can play on your PS3 and TV using the Vita as the controller, and then the Vita’s screen doubles as the map screen! This way, you don’t have to pause the game to view the map. Very cool addition.
The Bottom Lines
- Humorous, witty dialogue.
- Very fun Metroidvania style gameplay mixed with brawler style combat.
- Beautiful environments and unique characters blended together with a lovable cartoon style.
- Cross-buy, cross-save, and Vita controller function.
- Too short!
Final Score: 9/10
Guacamelee! is a fun, great game that will keep you wanting more. Unfortunately, there is only so much for Guacamelee! to give. All in all, an excellent title everyone should play.