You Should Try My Guacamelee Soup
Going into Guacamelee I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t even paid enough attention to know that it was developed by Drinkbox Studios, makers of the excellent Mutant Blobs Attack series, but as soon as I saw their splash screen I got a little more excited. Before I played I was expecting some sort of vegetable-based brawler, and even as I played the first 30 minutes or so of the game I still thought I was playing a fairly standard side-scrolling brawler with a mildly disturbing sense of stereotype. Once things opened up a bit it became clear what this REALLY was; a side-scrolling brawler with a bit of Metroidvania tossed into the mix.
This begins the tale of Juan the luchadore, a man tasked with rescuing some ladies and stopping some undead folks from wreaking havoc and messing with forces that shouldn’t be messed with. Over the half-dozen or so hours I adventured with Juan (and occasionally a friend) I unlocked a variety of wrestling maneuvers which I used to dispatch an array of evil armadillos, chupacabras, skeletons and the occasional boss by means of punching them, flinging them into each other or with a good old fashioned suplex. Juan has an array of combos he can use by mixing up jumping, punching and any of the half dozen or so “super moves” that amount to an uppercut, a head butt, a flying fist attack, a frog stomp and some leaping and flying abilities. The timing is pretty lenient and careful aim will let you net 50+ hit combos relatively easily.
Those “super moves” actually have a variety of uses. Sure, you can use them to bash whomever to bits in conjunction with your regular attacks (you DO have a special meter that drains when you use one of these attacks, but it refills pretty fast) but some baddies will be surrounded by a colored shield. Before you can do real damage to those guys you first have to hit them with a special attack that breaks that barrier. Yellow barriers mean you need to headbutt, while red barriers require an uppercut. On occasion the action shift to a small arena where 4 or 5 of these enemies will warp in each requiring a different special attack to break down their shield.
On top of THAT, there is also a dimensional shift mechanic where Juan will go between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Early on this happens at predetermined times, but later you’ll gain the ability to switch at will. Enemies will be based in both dimensions, and while you are in the alternate dimension to them you can’t directly attack them and they will appear just as a silhouette (that still can harm you however). That dimensional shit can also alter the landscape and add or remove walls which will become an important part of traversing some of the levels later on.
As you cruise through the world you’ll notice quite a few areas that are blocked off to you by large colored blocks. Guess what gets you past those blockades? That’s right! The super powers! As you unlock those from a friendly goat you’ll gain access to previously cut off areas in levels you’ve been through already. Some of those new areas will have chests full of coins or health/stamina upgrades, while others will open up entire new sections of the map. Of course this means you will be backtracking through a lot of areas you’ve been through already, but a nice fast-travel system usually means you don’t have to go TOO far out of your way. It’s not quite up to the same levels as the classic Castlevania games but there is a fair bit of stuff to explore.
All this action takes place on top of a very tongue-in-cheek tale rife with quests to get cheese to make an enchilada or reunite a mariachi band. There are only a couple of these side quests though and you’ll essentially barrel right through the story. Some of the boss fights proved to be pretty aggravating to me though as they are a pretty huge spike in difficulty. Of course, these are the days of death having no consequences so you’ll just pop back in a few steps away from where you were. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some challenge here. Quite a few of the levels have some pretty insidious puzzles that require figuring out the correct balance of changing dimensions, using super powers and tight jumping.
Guacamelee has a nice clean look but it’s almost a bit too derivative of The Behemoth mixed with Klei at times (a fact they give a nod to with a “Casa Crashers” poster in the background). The swirling ribbons of color that surround Juan when he launches an attack is both a useful and artistic touch. Sadly there are only about a half a dozen total enemy types not including the bosses. It’s a shame because these are some of the best Day of the Dead inspired designs since Grim Fandango. Those aren’t huge flaws by any means though and while a bit sophomoric at times there is some genuine humor in the writing. Throw in the sweet deal of a cross-buy/cross-save package and this becomes almost a no-brainer for PS3 owners who also have a Vita.
So yeah man, it’s crazy and it’s got a wacky name and you know you want some Guacamelee. Don’t forget to put some lime on it or it’ll turn brown.