Stagnation in video games is all it takes to get up the ire of most players. And currently nothing seems more atrophied than zombie titles and retro throwbacks. Sprite based homages and the shambling dead have effectively replaced the WWII shooter in terms of oversaturation. You’d need a pretty stunning angle to coax the more jaded player base into another zombie throwback. Something in the lines of a Metroidvania brawler starring a luchador who will routinely suplex the undead. That might just do the trick, making Guacamelee the WD-40 for tired game clichés.
Once the President’s daughter is stolen, you have to become a bad enough dude to rescue her. And if that groaner of an opening has already sent you away, then Guacamelee might not be something you want to invest your time in. The game is washed in reverence for popular culture and classic games. Your tolerance for Internet culture won’t be pushed too hard, thanks to the stunning presentation in Guacamelee that keeps the game from becoming a playable version of one of those lazy Facebook meme pages. The game is a treat to look at throughout and boasts the most impressive world inspired by Mexican folklore since Edgar’s stage in Psychonauts. The way the setting interacts with the nods to Internet culture ultimately make the jokes not only palatable, but amusing.
The aesthetics and setting might be one of the game’s biggest accomplishments. Mexican folklore is so rarely touched upon in the gaming landscape and often only used for cheap laughs. The team at Drinkbox wisely crafted a world that is fairly respectful while still being entertaining and surprisingly funny. The game’s world elevates Guacamelee and is ultimately one of its standout features.
Also on display is a rather deep combat system. What sets Guacamelee apart from the rest of its Metroidvania ilk is a combat system inspired by the grapples and throws of the luchador. After a few successful strikes, your enemies become fair game for throws and suplexes. I now know that there is nothing more enjoyable than launching a skeleton into the air, then waiting for the right moment to leap up after him for a comically timed piledriver.
As you acquire new skills, the combat gets deeper, but also creates a strange disconnect from the rest of the experience. Firstly, this game is developed for accompanying speedruns and it shows. There are leaderboards dedicated to the task on full display once you boot it up and the evade system that is implemented does wonders for simply getting you around enemies. The enemies themselves can’t even handle most of the more complex moves in your arsenal. I was able to stick with a barebones air juggle through most of the game. There is a multiplier that nets you more gold, but I had managed to clean out the shop before the game came to an end. The combat is fun, even during the more chaotic sections. But as it becomes more robust, it begins to pull away from the main experience. It’s nothing too troublesome, though it leaves the game feeling unsure about what it wants to achieve near the end.
Staying true to its progenitors, Guacamelee’s platforming sections range from clever to frustrating depending on the given situation. Almost halfway into the game a warping mechanic is introduced that takes cues from A Link to the Past’s alternating world and Outland’s shifting mechanic. It adds a decent amount of challenge to the main game and provides frustrating puzzles to players who are adamant to find every hidden collectible and health upgrade they can grab. The Mexican folklore aesthetic plays into this mechanic as well, shifting you between the world of the living and that of the dead.
Guacamelee’s influences cannot be missed. If it had come out during the timeframe it is busy celebrating, it might have been forgotten as a colorful Metroid clone. Thankfully Drinkbox Studio has the gift of time and a wicked sense of humor. This game’s character reaches into every crack and crevice of gameplay that helps it rise above the more gimmicky nostalgia-based platformers. It’s completely aware of when to pull back and let the game carry itself without the help of its forbearers. Some aspects of the gameplay may not gel as well as the game progresses, but it never stops it from being entertaining.
Dorian Scarlett was born in a combination arcade/fun zone. He was then taken to Florida, educated, and now seeks refuge on the internet where he writes about games. If you were ever curious to see material comedians throw out, you can find those at his Facebook. Or if it strikes your fancy, go enjoy the horrible things he likes over at the Tumblrs.