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.
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.
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.
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.
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.