Even as the PlayStation 4 and new Xbox slowly force our old consoles into obsolescence, independent studios are still churning out some truly unique and downright fun games. This has been the case with DrinkBox Studios, who has already bursted onto the scene with great games like Mutant Blobs Attack. DrinkBox has outdone themselves, as Guacamelee! is a perfect blend of the exploration in Metroid with a unique take on the brawler genre by adding lots of wrestling and luchador-inspired moves. Not only is it strong in the combat front, but the general aesthetic of Mexican cultural themes and a distinct art style make this a downloadable gem that you shouldn’t miss.
The game is very derivative of the mechanics found in Super Metroid and Castlevania, so much so that there are some blatant homages to the franchises. The story isn’t bad, but definitely isn’t as strong as the unique look and feel of the game. You, Juan, are a common farmer turned super powerful luchador. After the evil Carlos Calaca, a living skeleton, steals your beloved from you, you are quickly killed. However, a magical luchador mask revives you and turns you into a legendary luchador warrior. While occasionally delivering some simple humor, the real meat of the game comes with combat and exploration, as this magical mask gives you some pretty insane powers.
Fighting undead hordes hasn’t been this much fun in a long time. For a ‘Metroidvania’ type of game, Guacamelee! goes the extra mile for making extremely satisfying content. The fighting works like a mix of Castle Crashers’ long chains of combos, with a few extra quirks thrown in. Once you beat on your enemies long enough, you can grapple them and really open up your options. Tossing your foe into a group of enemies will stun them, leaving them vulnerable to your beat down. Or you can simply kill the guy you’re dealing with now. As you progress, you’ll unlock different moves and maneuvers, some of which you’ll literally need to get through particular pieces of the environment. It’s like a slightly more clever way of Samus needing a different beam to get through a specific door. By the end you’ll have all sorts of grapples, takedowns, and tosses to create some devastating combos.
All the areas have a unique look to them, with an aesthetic that works well in Guacamelee’s favor. The whole game looks absolutely gorgeous, with a contrasting color palettes and beautiful locations that give the whole game a nice look. The soundtrack is also catchy, with Mexican-styled music constantly changing throughout the environments. Some of the earlier areas boast tons of references. Everything from ‘Me Gusta’ pictures to ‘Destructoid vs. Giant Bomb’ posters are displayed, mainly as background visuals in the introductory town. Some may find this aspect annoying, but it wasn’t as intrusive as, say, Borderlands 2, so I didn’t take issue with it. As you explore different locations, you’ll get things like fast-travel stone heads, shrines that let you save your game, and even let you expand your movepool to make you one of the most complex luchadors I’ve ever seen.
An even more fascinating aspect of the game is the concept of the living and the dead worlds. This is a similar concept to The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, where there was a dark world that had specific properties. In Guacamelee!, it expands on that concept by changing up entire battle scenarios based on if it’s the living or dead world. These living and dead world put a whole new spin on familiar enemies and territories, pretty much forcing you to think on your feet and change up your fighting styles accordingly. There are portals all over the place that open the tears between these worlds, some of which cause Super Meat Boy levels of difficult platforming. These difficulty spikes are few and far between, however, and a greater emphasis is put on the combat.
The PS3 version boasts co-op, but it doesn’t add too much to the experience. The game isn’t too difficult on its own, and with a second player, it’s pretty casual. The Vita version doesn’t have this, but it isn’t missing out on much. Speaking of the Vita, Guacamelee! is another shining example of the good that comes from Sony’s Cross-Buy system. If you buy the PS3 version, you’ll get the Vita version for no extra charge, and can even transfer saves between the two systems. Hopefully more indie developers will keep Cross-Buy in mind as we start to look toward the PlayStation 4 for the future of console gaming, as it’s worked out pretty well for games that have put it in so far.
Despite some of these cooler nuances, the game is a little on the short side. Getting through your first playthrough shouldn’t take you longer than six or seven hours, and completing the game to 100% won’t take double that, but that’s not so much a complaint. I just want more from this game, as the combat and aesthetic are second to none. It’s a beautiful gem on both Vita and PS3, and you’d be crazy to pass it up.