The dark eyes peer at me, and I immediately know what I need to do. I close my Luchador fists, and launch them towards the boney fellow. The strike lands, and I follow up with a takedown. The sweat is pouring underneath my mask, and I look up at the growing horde of undead that stand in my way. Drinkbox Studios, the team behind the instant Vita classic Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack are back with platformer Guacamelee, serving up a bowl of Mexican themed Metroidvania and, as you'd expect, the game is full of character. At the same time Guacamelee offers a deep fighting system, lots of platform hopping and gorgeous cartoon visuals.
The story: Juan is a simple man born in a small Mexican village, and his childhood sweatheart is taken by the undead. In order to conquer evil Juan has to put on the Luchador mask and save the love of his life. The tale is told through lines of texts uttered by the characters, but all the same Drinkbox have managed to infuse Guacamelee with lots of character. The cast is incredibly rich, and even if Juan is rather laid back, his allies and villains more than make up for it with captivating dialogue. The plot may be simple, but it still manages to keep our interest thanks to its charm and character, and we will forever remember bad guys like Jaguar Javier and Flame-Face.
The single most impressive aspect of Guacamelee is without a doubt the visuals. The art style reminds us of Cartoon Network's Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars. It's a visual style that sets Guacamelee apart from other games. The art runs through the entire game that encompasses everything from fire breathing dragons to shapeshifting wizards. There is as much visual pleasure to derive from the environments, where the massive world offers huge temples, dark forests, and cosy Mexican villages. The fighting moves also stand out, with colours jumping out of Juan's fists as he successfully connects with an enemy. Fireworks indeed.
The colour and fanfare also comes through in the soundscape, that offers up a suiting mix of Mexican tunes (brass, maracas, etc.). The music transform every fight into a scene from Zorro, where your moves appear to be part of some eloborate salsa explosion. It helps in building the Mexican theme, but in all of its overwhelming greatness it also pokes fun, and it will make you smile throughout.
Sadly these enjoyable little tunes are repeated much too often. It's a shame as the quality is there; you just wish there had been a little more variation. With all dialogue presented in text boxes there are no voices to break up the monotomy of the audio. And while there is nothing wrong with how the story is presented, some added love in the sound department wouldn't have hurt.
Guacamelee is made up of two main components - old school platforming sections and a deep system for combat. You're presented with an open world where you can freely travel between various villages, deserts, and forests, and when you learn new abilities and tricks you can explore previously blocked paths. Juan will jump, roll and use his brains to traverse the world, a world that is full of enemies you take on using a variety of punches, kicks and grappling moves. Both parts of the game are equally well designed. There are plenty of combinations to master, and you'll gradually unlock more moves and abilities that will both simplify and complicate the game - but the game will keep you excited about your next discovery or ability at all times.
In addition to Juan's Luchador abilities there's also a dimension system. The evil Galaxa, the main villain of the game, has disturbed the order of things as the world of the living and the world of the dead collide. The player can shift between these worlds or dimensions. It complicates combat as you'll need to shift dimensions to hit certain enemies, and it also adds a layer of complexity to the platforming - and these sections aren't easy to begin with. Guacamelee is difficult and will frustrate you at times. The puzzles you'll encounter will require a combination of smarts and quick reflexes. The difficulty is always there and it ensures a tremendous sense of accomplishment every time you clear a room or dispose of a gang of enemies.
The open world begs the player to return to previous areas and look for secrets with new abilities unlocked. These hidden paths are indicated with coloured blocks. This adds additional appeal aside from the main story that takes 3-5 hours to complete. There is a small amount of side quests to complete, but you will handle most of these as you play the main story.
It is a little on the short side. It's an issue not because of how it relates to the price, but Guacamelee is so well designed and full of character that you can't help but wish it was longer. There is a co-operative mode where Juan and his tag-team partner play together locally on PS Vita. The mode is exclusive to Vita and adds some lasting appeal, even if Guacamelee is best suited to single player as combat and puzzles are designed with one player in mind. It's nothing that detracts from the experience as the game flows flawlessly with two players as well.
Drinkbox Studios have created yet another gem of a platformer. They follow up the excellent Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack brilliantly, proving that the studio is capable of creating some of the best titles available on PSN. The deep combo-based fighting system is easy to grasp yet hard to master, and challenging platform sections requires quick thinking and lightning reflexes. The fantastic visuals give Guacamelee a unique look, and to make things even more appealing you'll get both PS3 and Vita versions for the price of one, and cross-platform saves are possible. Guacamelee is a must buy for all platform fans, and if you weren't aware of Drinkbox Studios previously, it's time to start paying attention.