DrinkBox Studios dominates the luchador side-scrolling genre with Guacamelee! (PS3, PS Vita, and PC). This indie-made heavyweight borrows heavily from the gameplay mechanics of the Castlevania and Metroid franchises, but Guacamelee!‘s gameplay fluidity and spectacular graphics keeps gamers wanting more excruciating piledrivers. The recently released Gold Edition features skin creation tools exclusively for the PC and the El Infierno expansion pack, which adds several trial stages to the game’s campaign mode.
You play as Juan Aguacate, who’s a run-of-the-mill farmer in Mexico. Shortly after you’re introduced to him, El Presidente’s daughter is kidnapped by Carlos Calaca, an Evil Charro Skeleton, who intends on merging the words of the living in the dead. Juan begins his journey to rescue his beloved by becoming a luchador superhero. As a luchador, Juan is transformed into a powerful fighter who can learn several devastating wrestling abilities while he encounters challenging and unique-looking baddies. You can also purchase new costumes that come with unique perks — and nothing can beat playing as a chicken. Nothing.
People will readily compare Guacamelee! to Metroid. The game’s developers refer to the game as a Metroidvania-style action-platformer. Players can venture in a non-linear world map that gets bigger when you learn new abilities. Newer abilities will help players overcome environmental obstacles that keep them from accessing other areas. Completing certain areas and objectives will reward you with hidden treasure boxes, ability statues to break and pinatas to kick. DrinkBox graciously rewards players who invest the time to explore by making uncovered levels unpredictable and surprisingly elaborate thanks to the ability to cross dimensions between the world of the dead and the living.
The game showcases very creative and colorful 2D scenery, which gleefully pays homage to Mexican lucha libre lore and Internet memes. For instance, when you travel through towns where there aren’t any flaming armadillos rolling into you, there are billboards that show image memes popularized by sites like the social bookmarking site reddit. Reddit fans — or “redditors” — will find themselves smiling from ear to ear as they venture through the game. Guacamelee! also has some very colorful cutscenes that are simple yet painstakingly detailed.
Players can succeed in battles either by button-mashing basic combos or setting up elaborate air combos and grapples. Players are rewarded with money to purchase additional abilities and costumes when they successfully execute fancy combos. Incorporating stamina-guzzling abilities like the Rooster Uppercut and the Frog Slam in your combos will net you mucho dinero. Seriously, how can you resist launching someone in the air and finishing them off with a bone-breaking suplex?
Guacamelee! has its share of puzzles, which keep you on your toes while providing much-appreciated relief from the occasional grind of fighting through hordes of Calaca’s minions. The puzzles can be challenging at times, but most can be solved with good timing and knowing which buttons to press at the right time. The puzzles require you to think about your course of action before you take them on, so it’s mostly an exercise in mental strength than action. There is a gradual difficulty curve, but the game allows players to respawn at the previous checkpoint if they run out of health. That takes the sting out of failing to solve puzzles. Completing challenging puzzles often yield some great rewards, so it’s definitely worth giving the optional challenges a try.
The game has a great sense of humor that breaks the monotony of traveling from quest to quest. The humor, which is seamlessly integrated into the game’s design, also helps the player get into the mindset that he or she is the hero of the people. The dialogue adds a lot of levity that doesn’t get in the way of your objectives. With plenty of easter eggs and references to classic video games, Guacamelee! stays fresh. I highly recommend trying the game’s chicken thief sidequest if you want a good dose of DrinkBox Studios’ unique sense of humor.
Despite making its way onto Steam, a platform that many gamers readily associate with multiplayer gaming goodness, Guacamelee! lacks a comprehensive co-op mode. One friend can join in on the action, but the levels are designed mostly with a single-player playthrough in mind. Seeing the game’s invitation for a second player to join almost seems gratuitous. While enemies are cleverly designed, you will come across the same ones over and over again. Fans of Metroidvania-style gameplay tend to overlook the repetition and the makers of Guacamelee! try their best to mix up the challenges and compensate for it. The effort cannot easily be dismissed.
Guacamelee! is a fun game that’s arguably more addictive than a pile of cheesy nachos. Believe me, DrinkBox Studios has a game full of cheesy moments, but the cheese is delicious. It’s obvious that the developers put a lot of time and effort to make a game so rich in color and charisma, and yet it’s remarkably simple. It’s simple enough that anyone can pick up Guacamelee!, play it and enjoy it without feeling overwhelmed or overburdened with sidequests. There’s no doubt, in my mind, that DrinkBox Studios has a hit. Now if only DrinkBox had Samus in luchador spandex.
Guacamelee! Gold Edition Minimum PC Requirements
- OS: Windows XP
- Processor: 2-GHz
- RAM: 512 MB
- Graphics: 512 MB RAM
- Hard Drive: 800 MB
Guacamelee! Gold Edition is now available for PC on Steam for $14.99, the cost of a chicken tostada, soda, and a small box of TUMS.