The Meroidvania genre has games in all shapes and sizes but many of them don’t focus on using melee combat. While games like the Castlevania series have some melee combat, the main focus is using long-ranged weapons like whips and magic. Metroid is also known for long-ranged combat with Samus’ various weapons and beams. But what about a game set within the Metroidvania genre that not only uses physical combat, but uses it in creative ways to solve puzzles and get through tricky platforming?
From the studio that creative Mutant Blobs Attack, DrinkBox developed a game called Guacamelee which has you don the shoes of a farmer-turned luchador named Juan who sets out to save the world from an evil skeleton warrior.
Pushing the genre in a interesting direction, does Guacamelee offer a great brawling time? Or ring out a bit to early? Lets don our masks and go on an adventure to save the world!
Juan is a kind man who works as a farmer but when word comes out that his first love is coming to his home, he sets out to the church to see her. After seeing her and reuniting, something horrible happens and he runs outside. Carlos Calaca (an evil skeleton) appears to have captured her and has his minions take Juan out. Waking up in the in other dimension, he discovers a special mask. Once he puts it on, Juan becomes very strong and he sets out on a adventure to not only save his love but save both dimensions from Carlos’ evil plans.
What makes the story work is two key factors; the characters and the writing. While the basic plot is simple that your character is clear to take care of, the games cast of characters is really charming. Everyone has a personality and the villains are real people. They don’t just fight Juan and call it a day; they interact with him across the entire game in different ways. You have a fire-based bad guy meet Juan in a bar and he comments on why his head is on fire endlessly. He even lets you go, saying ‘You got lucky’ and gives him some money to get a drink, encouraging him to say out of the nearby desert.
Another example is a noble warrior you meet very early in the game who respects you but still is willing to battle you. The boss fight between Juan and him is one of the hardest in the game but it feels justified; both are skilled warriors having a great clash to see who is the strongest. I love villains like these, as it makes you respect the people you are fighting all the while not making them blank characters that are there ‘because they have to be’.
The games sharp writing helps with this greatly, as every bit of dialog had me chuckling. References to other games are common, with heavy nods to Nintendo franchises and other indie games appearing in full force. But original jokes are present too and they work great within the context of the game world. The goat-human you encounter across the game and the chicken form of Satan are great examples of this; very charming characters who are there to help guide the player but also crack a joke now and then.
For a genre that doesn’t need anything more then a clear goal to complete, the story for Guacamelee is very strong and one I really enjoyed.
Design & Gameplay
Like your standard Metroidvania, you have a large open world to explore but parts are locked out depending on the abilities you have unlocked. Through exploring major temples of each location, you discover new abilities that can not only be used gain access to new locations but also have a larger tool-set when in combat.
You have two towns in the game world to explore which offer you side-missions to complete, hidden collectibles to unlock and charming dialog to discover. I liked this set up, as it encourages you to see everything the game has to offer. This is helped greatly by quality level design that makes usage of all your key abilities that you learn.
Platforming sections in Guacamelee are rewarding and get progressively more challenging as you progress through the game, more so in the hidden areas needed for the 100% ending. Combat is the meat of the gameplay though and for a major feature, it needs to be quality. Not only is it well done, but it’s one of the best combat systems I’ve ever seen in a 2D action/platformer.
You have basic attacks with the Square Button but you can grab your enemies once the Triangle button appears above their heads. Once you grab them, you can either toss them in any direction or use slam moves (using the Circle button + direction of the D-Pad) that can stun nearby enemies. Special moves are quite varied including a dash punch, powerful uppercuts, body slam with splash damage and head slam. These moves when paired with your grabs and punches create a deep combat system that has you frantically mashing buttons to preform combos to take everyone out.
I loved the combat system a lot and it gets even more complex once dimension shifting gets unlocked; swapping between both plains and making sure your hit counter stays high feels great and rewarding. Add to the fact you get enemies that have color-coated shields (breakable using specific special moves) and you have battles that use everything in your arsenal. My only issue with combat is that later in the game it can get very hectic, leading to enemies ganging up on you sometimes. It isn’t much of a problem but on Hard Difficulty it can get really rough.
Boss fights is where combat shines really bright, as they make use of all your abilities and it feels great to take out these challenge foes. Especially on the hard difficulty as they are a great challenge to overcome. Controls ensure combat and basic platforming feel great though, as input response is good and every action works as intended. In the console versions, co-op is supported and it can lead to really fun brawling action if you have a buddy nearby. The entire game can be played in co-op, so consider that feature if you have a spare controller.
Like most Metroidvania’s, you have collectibles that increase your health and stamina but one feature is costumes. You can get them through DLC but they have various effects on your stats. For example, you can have a Devil Suit that has every attack you land drain health and get an extra stamina bar but at the expense of lower health. Another has you become a soccer player that adds a charming effect of your chicken form (this games morph ball) turning into a soccer ball. These costumes slightly change combat dynamics, but I wanted to mention them due to owning the DLC.
Overall Guacamelee feels wonderful to play due to tight controls, quality combat system and great level design making usage of all your central abilities.
Guacamelee is not the longest game, clocking in at about five to six hours for just a basic playthrough but you can get more hours out of the game through 100%ing the game. This will add a good deal of time to a playthrough, considering how challenging hidden platforming areas are. You also have DLC you can purchase that adds a new location to visit containing combat challenges which can let you unlock costumes for the base game.
There is also additional content on-top of the main campaign if you have the release of Guacamelee on the PC, Xbox One, Wii U and PS4. It gives you new moves to pull off in addition to new levels to complete. It’s one of the best versions of this game but the base release across PC, PS3 and Vita contains a lot of value.
This is a fantastic looking game mainly due to quality animation work and a striking art direction. Using Mexican-themed art, it leaps off the Vita screen with a vivid array of colors. I love how this game looks, due to them making the world feel so alive and festive.
Creature design is also strong and renditions of iconic video game characters within this art style (as Easter Eggs) are great to see. Sound design is great, with every attack having an audible impact and basic effects sounding satisfying. Music is great as well through having very catchy tunes that make you tap your feet as you are exploring the game world. The location of the ‘Tule Tree’ has such a great track for example, with it blending various instruments and having a great melody.
For a game with heavy combat focus, the frame rate is important to nail. I’m happy to report that the frame rate in the PS Vita release of Guacamelee is a stable 60FPS at Native Resolution. This ensures everything feels great when playing the game. Other versions are locked at 60FPS as well and feature higher resolution options. The PS4/Xbox One/Wii U/PC releases of Guacamelee have more effects and visual quality due to the higher power on offer.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
Guacamelee was one of my first indie game experiences on the PS Vita and it was such a positive experience. It shows how quality releases can come from small studios and teams that poor their heart into a project. Having quality gameplay that blends combat and platforming perfectly, a story that is surprisingly impressive, and presentation that looks slick and stylized; Guacamelee is a game I highly recommend to any fan of action/platformers or Metroidvanias.
This game was reviewed using the PS Vita version that I purchased.