In 2013, one of the best yet most underutilized settings in gaming struck again. The southwestern style, found in gems such as Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption and Ubisoft’s Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, serves as a strong cornerstone for Guacamelee. In this south of the border platformer, you play as an agave farmer named Juan. Within 5 minutes of starting, Juan’s childhood crush, who happens to be the governors daughter, is taken! Juan heroically charges toward the governor’s mansion to help but meets the villain Calaca. The powerful foe quickly dispatches our hero, and flees the seen of the crime. He is now in the land of the dead, where the layout of the world may be the same but the entities that inhabit it are not. As the farmer makes his way back through town he discovers a magical luchador masks, and it is after donning this disguise that Guacamelee truly begins.
Every game you play has something unique, some facet that sets it apart. Anything could fill that spot, a narrative style, visuals, interesting characters, or in Guacamelee’s case a fusion of many things. Gameplay is one of these driving forces, with mechanics that have drawn comparisons to both the classic Metroidvania style of games along with the classic 2d beat em’ ups of old. Along Juan’s epic journey he finds more and more special abilities, each of which only takes two button presses at most to pull off. The easy pick up and play, along with a steady curve to mastery really drives players to press on with mechanics even when a particular story section or segment wears thin. With enemies that are (generally) fairly easy to defeat, using the tight move set to create 150 move combos can be extremely rewarding. Tying the intricate combat systems to the games exact platforming also works well, allowing for players to mess up and redeem themselves all in one jump. These elements combine and lead to some of my favorite parts of Guacamelee. At certain points throughout the game there are rooms and areas dedicated to one specific type of gameplay. From melee centric rooms filled with opponents which end in prizes to gigantic jump puzzles that require split second precision, this game can get very difficult very quickly when you look in the right areas. these rooms become even more interesting when the games light/dark world elements are tied in. Similar to games like Outland, Juan can move between the worlds of death and life by hitting a trigger. Since the action happens so quickly, a jump puzzle can see you combining this with a number of elements. One jump can be combined with wall jumping, uppercutting, world swapping and dashing in a matter of seconds.
As to the narrative content in Guacamelee there isn’t a whole lot to say. There is a very clear comedic overtone to most of the game, and many of the intended goofs find purchase, but that is obviously dependent on taste. One of the best gags lies within the aforementioned powers. As the game takes clear inspiration from early metroid games, it is hilarious when you find that powers are given to you by statues which are… very similar… to Chozo statues from the Nintendo franchise. The comedy can be more subtle as well, as in almost every major area there are posters hung with luchadors aping game characters, memes and movies. While the villains are great, very characterized and each with some fantastic lines of dialogue, the story itself really doesn’t do much, merely serving as a thing to get you from section to section and power to power. Thankfully, the in-between bits are so fun that the main storyline doesn’t weigh anything down.
While the first playthrough is fun, challenging and rewarding in itself, when you restart the game on Hard there is a more substantial weight to each aspect. Along with the increased difficulty, playing through Guacamelee with the collectibles in mind greatly increases the replay value. 100 percenting the game requires multiple trips to the same locations with new powers, as well as completing all of the aforementioned challenge rooms. While completing the game this way requires a bit more skill and patience, the sense of accomplishment afterwords reminds me back to games before its time.
With the exclusion of a passive story, each individual aspect of Guacamelee is either solid or spectacular. When blended together as they are, an experience unlike anything else is created. The game draws you in with its beautiful color pallet and animations, gets you hooked through gameplay, and keeps you there with its sense of humor and constant progression. Guacamelee is an adventure you won’t want to miss, and with the upcoming release to all practically all platforms means there is no reason to. With only a lackluster story to its fault, Guacamelee is a 9.5/10 game that cannot be missed.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts on Guacamelee be sure to share them in the comments or on twitter @CometIndy, Hope you enjoyed the article- Ethan H.