Guacamelee! Gold Edition Review

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What do you get when you combine metroidvania gameplay with luchadors? The answer is obviously Guacamelee, one of the most original and compulsively entertaining indie IPs I have come across recently. Guacamelee was originally released on PSN (the Playstation Network Store for those of you alergic to all things Sony) but was recently ported to the PC on Steam this past week. Gracias al Senor for that because it would be a tragedy to miss out on this luchador’s adventure.

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Juan goes for agave to a-great-A! So many puns! 

Guacamelee follows the travails of the lone aguave farmer Juan Aguacate, who dreams of becoming a successful luchador wrestler so that he can impress the presidente’s daughter (who ironically has no other name). His plans are foiled when the king of the dead, a skeleton king named Calaca, kidnaps Juan’s love interest and kills Juan in the process. No worries though, because upon arriving in the land of the dead, Juan quickly is revived when he puts on a magical luchador mask which allows him to (eventually) flip between both dimensions (the living and the dead). So ya, the plot is utterly ridiculous, but Drinkbox Studios knows this and has a ton of fun along the way with a series of utterly ridiculous (and sometimes flat) gags and an absolute metric ton of hidden references to other video games of both the past and present. One standout is a particular sidequest which puts you on the hunt for a missing boy who likes to dress in green and hunt for monsters with his magical master sword. This is just one of a couple dozen references hidden throughout the world.

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Remind you of anything? There are references to other games scattered throughout just as awesome.

But the real highlight of Guacamelee is its game systems. This is a true metroid-vania game, complete with rewarding backtracking, new powers, hidden secret, leader-boards for fastest completion times etc. etc. It is almost like Guacamelee had a list of the features required for a solid entry into this popular genre and tried to fit each and every one in. Whatever they did, it payed off, because I had a blast hunting for hidden power-ups while fighting off the skeleton army of luchadors and other sombrero wearing minions. The fighting system Guacamelee employs is a pretty straightforward 2D beat-em-up that emphasizes grappling to keep the numerous enemies at bay. Combine this lucha libre style melee combat with an ever-growing arsenal of special attacks, and pros will soon be picking up combos in the couple hundred. The combat is consistently challenging but always fair, with only one or two of the boss fights being a little disappointing in this area (in particular the 1st phase of the last boss, who is pretty cheap until you learn all his moves). There is nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but it is all executed with such mastery that I didn’t miss the innovation. What Drinkbox really innovates on is the exceptionally unique and charming setting. The art design here is top notch, really exploring this bright Mexican landscape which has never really been the basis of such a quality game before. I will say that I missed the lack of voice-acting, particularly because the dialogue lost some of the sarcastic charm and irony that it was relying on simply being a pop-up.

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Sometimes the dialogue tries a little too hard (although it might have been more successful with voice actors). Still, who doesn’t like a few cat-tostrophic puns!

Before I drop my final verdict I want to quickly touch on the “Gold Edition” title that was appended to this PC release. The “Gold Edition” denotes the inclusion of some DLC and the ability to create and upload new costumes through Steam Workshop. The DLC, from what I can tell, is a series of challenge rooms that can be tackled to wrack up gold medals. There doesn’t seem to be leaderboards though with these rooms, which means that the added content could probably be completed in an hour or two. To put the length in perspective, you are talking about 6 hours for a decent completion of the game (I probably had about 70 percent of the items) and another couple hours for the DLC. But there is also a New Game+ mode that unlocks upon completion along with leaderboards for speed runs on both modes with or without 100% completion. Add in Steam Trading cards, achievements, the aforementioned costume editor, all for around 15 dollars, and that is a serious steal in my book.

That is why I am giving Guacamelee! Gold Edition a solid A-.
If you are looking for an utterly entertaining and irrepressibly charming metroid-vania game with a sense-of-style all its own, you can’t do better that putting on the luchador mask and joining Juan in his epic journey.

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So what do you think? Are you going to put on the luchador mask? If you’ve played the game, do you agree with my review? Can you make a by-the-book metroid-vania with a funky new style and get away with it? I think so, but I would love to hear what you think so write to me on the comments below.

Proteus – Summer of Indie Pt 2

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Welcome to the second installment of my Summer of Indie series. Now I know I said I would be talking about Proteus and Dear Esther but I really didn’t like the latter as much as I thought. Maybe in a later piece I will try to articulate why, but for now I want to talk about the much underappreciated Proteus, whose creators Ed Key and David Kanaga have not gotten enough attention despite the multitude of indie awards they have received. So today during the Summer of Indie lets talk about Proteus.

Proteus

Before I get too deep here, I want to say that I am still not quite sure that Proteus is a game so much as a simulated, three-dimensional oral and visual experience. That’s a lot to take in, I know. What I mean by this is Proteus puts you in a strange and surreal local where you are not tasked with any particular end-goal, which is very different than most other games out there. I guess the most popular comparison would be a game like Minecraft, in which you simply find yourself in a world and it is up to you to decide what to do next. Yet unlike Minecraft and other crafting games, Proteus does not give the player any sort of abilities besides walking through the environment, looking around and taking screenshots (which I did liberally, as all of the following are from my game). So without further ado, I am going to dive into this bright, and above all, joyful world.

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The word “giddy” kept coming to my mind while playing. 

The opening to Proteus really sets the stage for the 45 minute to an hour and a half experience. Upon starting up Proteus, the screen slowly irises open, like an eye opening from a long nights sleep. Your character is standing ankle deep in an expansive, pixellated body of water. In the distance looms an island populated with a few trees with a tall mountain scraping the sky behind them. That said, it is impossible for me to say what exactly will greet your waking eye when you play because each experience is unique in Proteus. The popular term is “emergent gameplay” and while it is hard for me to connect Proteus to a word like “gameplay,” this game is completely emergent. Much like Minecraft‘s expansive worlds, Proteus also creates an entirely new landscape that you get to explore each time you boot it up. For example, the second time I roamed Proteus my island had a massive tree in middle of it, which I called the “world tree” just because I could. The first time no such tree existed but there was a large stretch of mountains that ran along my islands edge.

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Your world will probably look nothing like this. Don’t hate.

But back to that start, upon “waking up” I instinctively started moving towards the island. Once I made it to the shore, I noticed a neon pink pixellated tree shedding square leaves on the ground. The soundscape changed as I approached, the synthetic strings of the ocean was mixed with tinkling tones that grew louder as I approached the tree. Moving from there up the side of a hill dotted with yellow flowers, the sound changed again to include birds chirping and a light bell. I soon ran across some creatures I might describe as bright orange chickens, pecking at the ground. I must have startled them because they soon moved away, making lights digital beats as they moved off to the distance. I chased them around for a while until I got distracted by a mountain I wanted to climb, or a large tree, or a bunny that bounded off when I approached. It went on like this for a good ten minutes until the sun began to set, the sky shifting gradually from blue to orange to grey as a storm rolled in with the onset of night. I could climb a mountain to escape this cloudy night and look up at the night sky decorated by stars and a massive moon or look look at the shifting clouds below and the mountains peeking out above the clouds. It was simply beautiful in that this world was simple and yet beautiful to look out upon.

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Is that pixel snow? Why yes it is…

I hesitate to write further about my experience after this point because it was so uniquely mine and each event I experienced I found on my own, guided by my own natural curiosity instead of a quest tracker or other traditional game device. But Proteus is not simply one randomly generated landscape; this experience does have a beginning, middle and end. I am not giving away much when I say that the island shifts between the four seasons which is activated by a subtle game mechanic in the world that you have to discover for yourself. Each season offers its own unique soundscape and visual landscape despite keeping the same island layout. While these seasonal experiences are interesting, I was happy that the timer for each day is about 15 minutes, because some seasons like winter are rather barren (understandably so). But I want to say again, Proteus has a proper ending, which I must say left me breathless, a feat that doesn’t often happen in video games, or in other media for that matter. Seriously, Proteus isn’t over until you hit the title screen again, and until you do keep playing; the ending is totally worth it and something I will not spoil for you (though I would love to talk about it in the comments section).

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“If only stuff like this happened in real life,” says the geek.

So in the end is Proteus a game? I am not sure but I am also not sure I care. Proteus is a digital world that is entirely unique and completely player driven. I could see many people getting bored with it and stopping thirty minutes in just because the sense of joyous awe might begin to wear off, but for those of you that love to get lost in nature, or for those of you that love to play games simply to experience another world, then I can’t recommend Proteus enough. Keep in mind that once you have journeyed on Proteus‘s island once, maybe twice, you will probably not feel the desire to again, which might be too much of a constraint to spend the ten bucks on, which is the game’s full retail price on Steam. But, if you catch it on sale (like say during the Steam Summer Sale) or in a bundle (like I did) then Proteus is totally worth it. Trust me, no cup of coffee offers the same experience as a hour or so exploring the stunning, joyfully designed world of Proteus, which is why I am giving Proteus a solid Pick up on Sale.

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So, what do you think? Have you played this indie gem? If you haven’t would you consider it? Should more games like this be made? Leave your comments below and let me know what you think!