How do you differentiate your own 2D Metroidvania game in the sea of action adventure platformers? By casting a Luchador as your protagonist and filling it with Mexican and Internet cultural references. It’s an unorthodox mix that worked but not in every way they intended.
Drinkbox’s Guacamelee was filled with audio and video vibrancy. I loved the soundtrack for its blend of Mexican and electronic beats. I would go as far as to say the soundtrack was more colorful than the visuals themselves. The eye catching visual style reminded me of Dexter’s Laboratory or Jonny Bravo with its sharp angles and the accentuated physique of the hero, Juan.
The daughter of the president was kidnapped by an undead overlord and it was up to her childhood friend, Juan to save her. Unfortunately Juan was killed by said overlord. Fortunately for Juan, a luchadore mask brought him back to life and gave him superhuman wrestling powers. It was a weird setup but I felt there was just enough justification to support the supernatural abilities of Juan. Every facet of his being was loosely connected in some way and that’s all that mattered to me.
I like my Metroidvania games a little less chatty though — even more so when the writing and humor falls flat. I felt Guacamelee was inundated with call backs to year old internet memes. Chozo statues and acknowledgements to other games are fine, just keep the Courage Wolf and other internet rubbish out.
The game was a joy to play. Juan was as adept at platforming as he was at delivering suplexes. I was pleasantly surprised how deep the combo system was. It felt like I was in the Street Fighter IV Trial Mode at times. It felt satisfying stringing together special moves and juggling opponents with air combos. The combo system felt sharp and deliberate and not at all random.
I didn’t do a deep dive into Guacamelee’s secrets. I didn’t feel the compulsion to backtrack and explore previously blocked off areas because I was powering up at such a rapid pace. I reached the end at around the six hour mark and felt satisfied with what was offered.
It wasn’t a difficult game but it wasn’t a cakewalk either. As Juan grew more capable, the challenges in platforming and battles rose to test him. I wish more games were as headstrong as Guacamelee. They didn’t bother with the slow ramp up with new abilities. It was like they skipped steps two through three of a five part lesson plan. It felt like they were saying: “We showed you how these tools work, now here’s the final exam”.
This game felt very lean with nary a moment of filler which could explain why I thought it felt disjointed early on. I was finding powers and abilities in rapid succession and it felt unusual for a Metroidvania game. It was like the developers wanted to give those abilities as soon as possible so they could show off all the puzzles they conjured with them.
With so many cheap indie games out on Steam and other digital stores, Guacamelee could have easily fallen into my backlog of games that “I wished I could play but don’t have the time for.” I was glad carved out the time to play Guacamelee because it was fantastic despite my reservations with some of the writing. It was a fun six hour excursion into Mexican folklore that left me satisfied.
For more information on Guacamelee, visit the official website.