After having success with Mutant Blobs Attack, Drinkbox Studios is back with this Mexican wrestling themed Metroid style platform adventure. Those who lack imagination may not see the obvious potential of this mix of styles but it helps to create a unique take on a genre dominated by both Samus and the Castlevania games.
Starting out as a Mexican villager named Juan, players are soon caught up in a strange tale of the supernatural when a long dead Mexican wrestler tricks the devil into turning into a chicken. He then returns to merge the real and super natural worlds together. Killed while trying to save the girl he loves, Juan is resurrected thanks to a magical luchadore mask and heads off to rescue the girl and save the world.
Graphically, the game does a good job of putting across the Mexican theme with a heavy Cinco de Mayo influence giving it its own unique and macabre atmosphere. The villages look straight out of a western and are coloured to look sun scorched and dirty in the way they do in all the best Western movies. There are also numerous references for gamers to find with our favourite being the 'missing' poster on one building featuring a picture of Manny from Grim Fandango. As you explore the world an enthusiastic mariachi band plays over the adventure, though it might have been nice if they had learned a few more songs. It all ends up creating a world that feels vibrant and new and is likely to draw players in quickly.
In classic Metroid style our hero starts out with only a handful of moves and then gradually acquires more as he progresses. These moves can then be used to access more areas and continue the quest. Most of these are given out by breaking statues placed around the world (which themselves reference Metroid). Most are standard things such as granting a double jump or the ability to break a certain colour block. The one which raised the biggest smile was when we were granted the power to turn into a chicken. In effect this grants the same power as the morph ball in Metroid, but that never allowed you to peck enemies to death.
You are also granted the ability to shift between the real and super natural realms at will. This becomes an intricate part to solving problems as pillars may exist in one realm but not the other. Things like water can also often turn to lava in one of the realms and the switching offers up some satisfyingly complex puzzles to negotiate.
Away from the platforming the other big focus of the game is the combat. Our hero being a wrestler means he has to grapple and punch his way through enemies. Some of the powers granted to reach new areas also act as new moves and a selection of throws and grapples can also be purchased with gold coins found around the world.
Moves can be strung together to create big combos and it feels tactile and satisfying throughout. Pummel on a monster enough and you can then press triangle to execute a throw which can be aimed at other enemies to continue the chain. As the game progresses enemies become covered in different colour shields which need specific moves used to break. It can be difficult to remember which move breaks what (and not the easiest if you are colour blind), but we rarely came up against anything that stopped us dead because of this.
The enemies may not be that tough but some of platforming certainly is.
Even early on players not used to super quick button presses and timing may become stuck. Often you are required to link at least three special moves together to reach a platform and it only gets tougher. At one point we had to jump block through spikes, double jump, uppercut and then dash to reach a small platform with only tiny margins for error. We didn’t come up against anything insurmountable but more casual players may well struggle in places.
Luckily there are plenty of save points so large areas don’t need to be repeated. The game asks players to pull off short bursts of skill and is very reminiscent of titles like indie darling Within a Deep Forest - in that once you have done the difficult bit it saves soon after to try and counteract frustration.
The game seems like a natural fit for the Vita and is a great example of just how good indie developers can be. The PS3 version allows for on screen co-op action as well which is a nice touch. With the cross save (and buy) functionality it just adds another reason to go and check this out. The difficulty may put some off but we would highly recommend you give it a go as it is undoubtedly one of the best games available on the Playstation Network. This is also a decent sized adventure clocking in at around five to six hours with further scope for finishing side quests and searching out hidden chests should you so wish.
In summary, Guacamelee! Comes highly recommended by us. It manages to take elements that should be well worn by now but turns them into something that seems fresh and new. It’s a great example of the type of creative flair being shown by indie developers and can proudly stand next to the Metroids and Castlevanias of this world.