A good game can be released now, in the 80s, or in ten years when we have to pay for DLC to have a lifebar or minimap. Okay, maybe the future is still a little bleak. But retro gaming is about more than when a game was released: it’s about the philosophy behind its design. It’s about a certain unique visual flare, catchy tunes, and challenging yet fun gameplay that will keep you coming back for more. A certain indie title named Guacamelee! released for Steam, PSN, eShop, and XBLA manages not only to be a good modern release, but it adds a big helping of retro nostalgia on top of that.
And that may sound like a bit of a contradiction considering it’s a modern game. But when you factor in the heavy influence it’s taken from the likes of Metroid or Symphony of the Night-esque Castlevanias: it’s easy to see why this title can give you a series of nostalgiac flashbacks when you play it. But Guacamelee! does more than simply emulate the games it draws inspiration from: it redefines them in its own way to make it a unique product.
The game visually looks like a mixture between South Park and Samurai Jack, with beautiful stylized cartoon graphics that are vibrant and full of a distinct pop. Fans of DrinkBox Studios may be familiar with this style from their previous indie hits: the Tales from Space series. The art design stands out even more considering the game takes place in Mexico and is heavily inspired by the likes of the Lucha Libre pro wrestling style, Mayan culture, and the holiday “Day of the Dead”. The cartoon quality of this game makes its humorous tones and dialogue seem that much more appropriate.
You play the game as Juan, a typical hard-working agave farmer that just so happens to be built like Hulk Hogan. He lives in a humble village that celebrates the fighting spirit of the luchador (Mexican pro wrestler) with great enthusiasm. One day while preparing for a local festival, Juan’s potential love interest; who is only known to us as El Presidente’s Daughter throughout the plot, is captured by the skeletal remains of a former hotshot horseman named Calaca and his band of misfits. Juan is killed by said horseman and is sent to the land of the dead. Now usually that’s saved for the end of a good story, but in the case of Guacamelee? That’s where the story begins.
Juan is greeted by the mysterious female luchador Tostada (who is available for play in co-op mode) and granted with the power of a mystical mask. And thus our everyday farmer is transformed into a masked vigilante and brought back to the world of the living to kick some serious undead butt. The game plays out like a typical Metroidvania game, which for those who aren’t in the know means that it’s a 2D action platformer that takes place on one giant map. That map is interconnected between smaller locations that you will revisit as you gain more powers. All of this is done in order to discover new locations and hidden treasures.
Guacamelee! (Yes, using that exclamation mark is necessary every time I type it) manages to differ from the Metroidvania formula by having its combat naturally focus on the beat-em-up style rather than arm cannons or vampire killing whips. So fans of arcade brawlers or fighting game combo technicians have a lot to love here too, as the better and bigger your attacks are the more coins you earn after a fight. While your arsenal is limited in the beginning, you’ll soon be using said coins to suplex and piledrive skeletons and chupacabras to their untimely demise. Some hordes of enemies will even be fought in “locked” rooms Mega Man-boss style. Once completed, a giant piñata will appear and you will proceed to beat the coins out of. Life’s great, eh?
Coins are not only used for unlocking moves though, as you can also spend them on upgrades for Juan as well. While some upgrades can be found hidden along the map in treasure chests, such as heart pieces or skull pieces (for health and stamina respectively), you can also purchase them from the abilities shop. Abilities too are hidden throughout the game, in the form of the Choozo Statues, a blatant parody of the Chozo Statues from Metroid. Juan has a knack for smashing them to pieces every time he comes across one though, which is ensued by hilarious dialogue from the goat-man who owns said statues. He serves as your mentor throughout the game and will grant you with powers such as double jumping, clinging to walls, and this game’s version of the morph ball: the chicken. Yes, you turn into a freakin’ chicken and it’s as amazing as it sounds.
Juan will also gain the ability to transfer back and forth between the worlds of the living and the dead, complete with aesthetic changes and auditory changes in music. At first it starts off as a clever design for a temple, but is soon integrated throughout the majority of the map, nearly doubling the areas for you to explore. Before you know it, it will be commonplace to switch back and forth during every temple or battle you encounter. And there’s quite a bit to uncover in this game if you’re a completionist. I beat the game in around 8 hours initially, but once the boss was defeated it was revealed to me that I had just found a piece of a collectible item I wasn’t even aware existed. Better yet, if I collected them all: I’d get the alternate ending.
These mysterious orbs are hidden delicately throughout the map, and can go by unnoticed even with the most OCD-explorers out there. Guacamelee! offers a lot of platforming puzzles throughout the course of the game, and they offer a level of challenge and excitement that would delight any fan of the genre. But the biggest platforming challenges come in the form of two of the orbs. One is located within the Cave of Madness, which features the devilish disappearing blocks from the likes of early Mega Man games. And when I say features, I mean it’s practically nothing but those disappearing platforms. The other area is known as the Treetops, and will certainly be a callback to fans of titles like Meatboy. While not impossible challenges, they are tough platforming experiences. But with enough trial and error, the obstacles will bow down to your fantastic skill and the orb will be yours.
There are seven orbs in the game, six of which are in the standard edition: meaning you can unlock the alternate ending without the need for DLC. The DLC orb is an optional way to skip one of the other orb challenges should they prove to be too difficult, but DLC orb is no pushover in its own right. The DLC pack El Infierno focuses on El Diablo’s power struggle with Calaca within the depths of hell itself. The DLC features seventeen challenges to earn bronze, silver, or gold on. Earn ten of a certain medal or higher and you will unlock a door within the devil’s domain that will reward you with a bonus costume. Each costumes comeswith its own advantage and weakness. I managed to unlock all three costumes, but not without a little help: After five orbs are collected; your chicken powers go beyond that of a normal clucker. With spiffy new threads and all the orbs collected, it was time to challenge the final boss again.
And the alternate ending is definitely worth it. While the minimal cutscenes and lack of voice recorded dialogue might take some out of the story, it’s definitely worth it regardless as it’s a very charming and well-written. You build a connection to the whacky cast of characters in the game, from every major character to minor ones that give out sidequests. They are all humorous and bring personality to the game, with my favorites being Calaca’s band of baddies and goat-man Uay Chivo. Speaking of Calaca and his charismatic compadres, the boss fights in this game live up to expectations. They are fun, challenging, and unique. What else could you ask for?
So after 14 hours of a main game and DLC, what else is there to say about Guacamelee? As a fan of pro wrestling, Metroidvania, platforming, puzzles, and chaining combo attacks: there’s nothing negative to say about this game. I will whistle and hum certain fiesta songs from the soundtrack and dream of saving Mexico from impending doom, all whilst being a bawss and wearing a lucha libre mask. Just like life intended. With Guacamelee going for 15 dollars (not including the awesome El Infierno DLC) it’s quite a steal for fans of the 2D genre. Don’t believe me? Go ask a chicken, he’ll tell you it’s worth every buck-buck.
Overall 9 out of 10
Verdict:- With Guacamelee! you have one of those oh so close to perfect titles it is somewhat unimaginable such a thing could be released amongst a generation of unfinished rushjobs!
Truly a throwback in the best possible way, this 'MetroidVania'-style game takes everything we here at RGG love about both scenes and smushes it into one. Heck, with this review being published in 2015 and the game being released initially in 2013 it's already shining with its longevity.
It's strongly recommended you get loco with the lucha hero Juan and the DrinkBox's fantastic Guacamelee! Also, now it is 2015, you can hit up enhanced editions on multiple platforms, so there's little excuse to miss out...
And you do NOT want to miss out!!
Second Opinion:- The 'Metroidvania' style of game hasn't gone out of fashion since it was popularised back in the 90's on that grey box that you had to flip upside down to play.
Typically, Transbot would be yawning at an over relied on genre...BUT, the character, charm, heart and soul that just seeps out of Guacamelee! is so utterly appealing, it's impossible to ignore or indeed deny.
A cult classic in the making and a healthy showcase of old meets new, make this an Indie gem well worth picking up. Even on contemporary systems like the Xbox One. Bzt.
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10