Guacamelee places you in the shoes of Juan, a humble farmer. Soon after the game starts, his village is attacked and he races to rescue his love, the local president’s daughter. He finds her in the hands of an undead skeleton named Calaca and tries to save her. This, inevitably, leads to his death. All is not lost, however; in the land of the dead, he finds a magical luchador mask that brings him back to life to fight Calaca and save the woman he holds most dear.
The story really isn’t the important part of Guacamelee. It serves the purpose of driving you forward through the game’s four-to-six hour length, occasionally giving you a bit of humorous dialogue or a boss fight to overcome. It’s pretty generic and has the issue of not giving you the “true” ending unless you collect all of the orbs, something that will require a lot of poking around or a FAQ due to their very hidden nature.
Where Guacamelee really shines is in the combat and platforming elements. The game plays like a single-plane brawler. You have your attack button, a grapple button, and a special move button. Attack combos are basic, but grow more complex as you unlock special moves over the course of the game. The grapple button comes into play when an enemy has been appropriately weakened. At this point, you can grab them and hurl them around the screen. This is never not fun and amusing and is a very important tactical maneuver as the game goes on, since a thrown enemy knocks over others they hit in flight.
The special moves come into play a lot too. Each of them is color-coded, giving you the ability to break through similarly colored blocks to progress through the map. You can use these moves in combat just as extra powerful attacks (governed by a stamina meter) but later enemies require these moves to defeat. This is because they have colored shields that require breaking in order to damage them. When a group of enemies each has a different color shield (a common occurrence at the end of the game), this can get quite hectic to manage.
Traversal is also a key element of Guacamelee. It starts pretty simply, just basic jumping from platform to platform. Each new ability, such as the one that allows you transition between the living world and the dead world, makes platforming more complex and challenging. The special moves propel your character around, giving him extra jump height and distance. This is key to some of the platforming sections. By the final hour, each section can require several quick button presses to overcome, balancing switching between the two worlds and usage of several special moves. I loved these section because of how well thought out they were, utilizing all of my platforming abilities at once.. None of them were particularly impossible, but each was fun to figure out how to overcome.
The oddest part about Guacamelee is the overabundance of references to memes and in-jokes amongst gamers plastered everywhere around its world. Just walking around the early town of Santa Luchita will reveal dozens of references to 4chan idiocy such as Pedobear and Business Cat as posters on the various buildings. These are easily the strangest thing about the game and can quickly break immersion for those astute gamers. The game references make a bit more sense but also go pretty far for a joke, such as the fact that all new moves come from statues that look exactly like the Chozo statues from the Metroid series. None of them are particularly funny; they just exist in the world. These references don’t ruin the game but may hamper your enjoyment of its atmosphere, since it seems so out of place in the otherwise Latino world.
The art style is gorgeous. It’s packed with color and super-attention to detail (although a lot of this detial are those references I mentioned above). All of the animation is fluid and looks great. The fact that almost every screen in the game has a living world version and a dead world version, and that each looks quite different, is a testament to the artists who worked on the game. I loved traversing to a new area and seeing the environments they created.
Musically, Guacamelee is also fantastic. Most of the tracks have a distinctive Latino theme but manage to remain fitting to the game’s odd tones as well. There wasn’t a single track I didn’t enjoy, and it even seemed to get better as I progressed further and further into the story. There are few games I would consider buying the soundtrack for; Guacamelee is one of them.
Also worth mentioning is Guacamelee’s cross-platform capabilities. If you buy the game on the Vita or the Playstation 3, you are given access to both versions. Saves can transfer between the two but this requires a bit of forward thinking; you have to remember to upload the saves to a cloud and pull them down on the other version. The Vita version plays just as well as its console counterpart, but the lack of four shoulder buttons requires usage of the touch screen for some moves. I suggest playing it on the Playstation 3 if possible for this reason and also to get a better, bigger view of the gorgeous art.
Guacamelee really surprised me. It didn’t really seem like something I would be into, particularly because of the strange style of the game, but I ended up having a great time with it. The combat was simple but remained fun throughout. I really liked the challenge of the later platforming sections, especially those that required use of ALL my abilities. It was also just a fun game to look at and listen to. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a Metroidvania-style game or a fun brawler; it adequately satisfies both tastes in one fell swoop.