Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2018. Please disregard this original review.
How to make my favorite game: Have things to find and collect that boost the main character’s abilities in order to get even more things to find and collect while going through big and little baddies in a colorful, but consistent world. Also, throw in some RPG mechanics while you’re at it. Something which Guacamelee! does not do, but it seemed to get the most important parts. As the only reason why I was not excited for its debut being my inability to play it, or willingness to buy most games at full price. Oh, but it just had to be one of those games I’m glad to have played, but never want to play again.
Release Date: 08/8/2013
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS3, PS Vita
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Rig: AMD FX-8320, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7770, Windows 7 64-bit, Xbox 360 controller
Guacamelee’s story is as old as video games stories get after shoot the thing because it will shoot you. With the protagonist Juan about to meet his childhood friend, the daughter of El Presidente, before she is kidnapped by a magical skeleton who sends Jaun to the Land of The Dead where he is granted magical powers and unfounded strength. Or in my case, you played as Juan before getting to the first save point, where you promptly switched to the female co-op character. A mummy lady who, despite getting an achievement for beating the game as her, does not change the plot at all. With masculine pronouns being thrown your way and the name Juan not being altered in text based dialog segments.
From a mechanical level, Guacamelee is surprisingly busy despite ultimately being a 2D platformer. For combat, it is essentially a character action game with a simplified interface of having basic hits, special strikes, and throws to use on injured baddies. While also incorporating a light and dark world element toggleable with the right trigger, the ability to both dash from, run up, jump from, and hold onto walls through the use of two buttons, while also being very heavy on getting collectables, as would be the case for something that is so Metroid that there are Chozo statues that contain upgrades. Upgrades that feel to over complicate the game in what feels like the worst way.
I can’t recall the last time I complained about controls in a game, especially a 2D platformer, but when incorporating all of it’s mechanics, the controller inputs required from the player can be more than a little overbearing. With the secret areas that contain chunks of a mask required for the good ending being some of the most aggravating platforming challenges to thankfully not include lives of any sort. Requiring an excellent control of the main character’s abilities when flipping between dimensions, jumping right next to a wall when doing so, but not inside of it by any means, and being sure to jump between A and Y in a harmony that I’m surprised only took me about an hour to get right, as pressing RT and A simultaneously to have the screen briefly flash before going changing mid-jump never felt right after ten hours of play.
And then there are certain challenges that make me question what the developers thought the core mechanic to master was in Guacamelee, as there are a plethora of challenges to pursue. With the majority of them being rather obnoxious segments where you need absolute precision by, say maintaining a combo count of 140 while not being able to dodge from attacks, which works great when fighting enemies who target a line projectiles your way right before firing. All for what feels like a last minute addition of content that produced more irritation than anything as you need to be perfect with how you choose to jump as a timer goes down, ranking you progress every step of the way.
As for the character action bits, the enemy variety feels like an assortment of obstacles you need to frantically juggle between. Breaking down their color coded barriers with the appropriate move and hoping that you rolled over to the skeleton who throws bones, but getting hit right after he lobs it at you. With the dimensional juggling only really meaning that you should probably throw enemies from one dimension into their death will at least help out with this game of crowd control.
Which possibly is just a reflection of how I am not very good with these character action games, but Guacamelee doesn’t really demand for you to be if you want the vanilla experience. As you get health back from getting higher combos, and from passing by one of the save points placed about five minutes from one another, if that. As the only time I did die was due to how I didn’t understand boss’s pattern, or how I should respond to it. One of which I attribute to my own idiocy, while the other due to how I dodged to dodge an attack, when I was actually suppose to jump for that, resulting in me getting hit about once. Even then, your main source of secrets is either money that is spent on upgrading your stamina and health, or stamina and health upgrade shards.
Though, in a move that I find to be rather uncharacteristic of me and my collectathon raised mind. I did not venture to get every single one, mostly due to the aforementioned challenges, and because of how insanely deep the game assumes its players would dig into for its combo system. Up+X, Up+X, LT, A, X, Down+X, Down+B, Up+B, X, B was where I drew the line on this, as the game never really demands anything as complex as that combo, let alone a place where a baddie would survive past getting to the end of that combo. As rooms are rather small, or when they are not, it is very likely one would fall and lose any possible streak they had going for them, which as stated before, is not necessary or even that rewarding aside from a goat man giving you a cheeky grin off to the side.
While on the visual side of things, Guacamelee opts for a simple, but eye catching colorful 2D art style with characters made up of mostly flat edges though are still more than able to bob about in idle animations. Animations that are likely a factor in how the combat did not click with me, as the enemies motions, even when exaggerated, never seemed to demand my immediate attention. Possibly due to how the environment as a whole is very colorful, making the rainbow of baddies blend together, as it is incredibly easy to not recognize how an enemy behind another enemy is doing an attack animation until it is too late to dodge because the sombrero wearing skeleton just let out a smack. Oh, and does it ever get more clustery when throwing in either fully black or fully white variants of the enemies when flipping between worlds.
Perhaps I am a bit bitter or even harsh with my look into Guacamelee. Yet, the mechanics feel taped together, a lot of the platforming is something of a pain in the butt, and the combat feels like a cluster, though I was pretty crappy at Bayonetta. However, those are merely the more memorable negative moments, as when the game works, it quite simply works. I just happened to see more times where it didn’t than most.
Fans of the genre or premise might enjoy the product. There is a kernel of goodness, but it’s still surrounded by some non-goodness, making the final product a bit “bleh”.