Welcome to the world of Guacamelee! where you will be playing the role of a Mexican man as he travels around a small portion of Mexico to save not only the woman he loves, but the world as well, from an Evil Charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca. This wonderfully lavish and beautiful world was created by Drinkbox studios — an indie developer founded in 2008 in Toronto, Canada.
You take the role of Mexican farmer, Juan, just as he is chosen to aid in setting up a festival that is planned to take place in his home village. As he begins to help preparing for what is supposed to be a wonderful time, he comes across a past friend that he hasn’t seen in years only identified as El Presidente’s Daughter. The real problem arises when a trio who has recently escaped from the world of the dead kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter for some large diabolical scheme just moments after they see each other. However, they haven’t left yet when Juan arrives, and despite Juan’s honorable attempt to save her, he easily killed and sent to world of the dead. This is where the luchadore gods bless Juan with an ancient and powerful mask that will send him back to the world of the living to stop the dark trio from completing their dark mission.
That is all the background information for the game, so now let’s really get into the details about the game. Gucamelee! is an action-platformer with a great combat system that you’ll not only use to fight enemies, but you’ll use to traverse the world. As with most games, all the great moves that really open up the combat system have to be unlocked throughout playing the game. The first time I entered combat there was a simple to follow tutorial that shows you the various attacks and dodges of the core combat system. When you weaken most enemies there is a button prompt that appears above them that allows you the ability to grapple and throw them across the battle area. When you link all these various attacks together you begin to start combos which reward you with bonus money.
Along with combos giving you bonus money you will come across many chests that reward with money. Money is essentially the upgrade currency in the game, and will be spent at stores for upgrades to your health and stamina, or to add additional grappling attacks for combat. When you purchase an upgrade to your health or stamina you get a health or stamina chunk. In order to get the increase to your health and stamina you’ll need to collect three chunks of the respective attribute.
Once you learn the basics you’ll get to start exploring the world using all those base combat skills and your dodge to traverse the world and, of course, to defeat any evil creatures who try to stand in your way. Most of the traveling is fun with the exception of a few areas that didn’t seem so much tricky, but rather like the platforms were placed just a little too far away. This really frustrated me, since I wanted to get everything in every level. Don’t worry, though. What I didn’t realize at first was that Guacamelee! is actually an open world styled game not only allowing you to go back to areas once you gain new skills to help you complete hidden areas that may have been inaccessible your first time through the area, but allowing you to backtrack, or fast travel, to any part of the world you have previously been to at any point you decide.
Through the destruction of various statues in the game you’ll receive new skills from special uppercuts and belly slams, to the ability to wall jump and double jump. Not only will you receive these additional skills, but a humorous scene with a very particular goat-man who is very upset with you destroying his property. Though he does aid you with teaching these new things, he plans to get you back one of these times. When he does, you won’t even see it coming! These skills not only add a layer of ease for traveling the rest of the game, but really lets you start to explore the deep combat system and really have a lot more fun mixing up the skills for crazy high combos.
Exploring the combat system and learning combos will certainly make it much easier to take down some of the tougher enemies in the game. There are several different enemies which are referred to as minions from the world of the dead. You’ll come across the basic ground enemies throughout most of the game, and they won’t take many more than a few hits and a grapple to defeat. You’ll also come across plant-like enemies that will require you to use one of your special attacks to launch them into the air before you can attack them, but if you let them touch the ground for more than a few seconds they will go back underground. The most annoying enemies in the game are actually air based enemies: one of which looks like a blowfish and will explode after ten seconds of appearing and the other looks like a dragon that spit fires at you. Both of which require more a combo based approach if you want to live long enough to defeat them.
Some people may find the game slightly repetitive in the traversal heavy portions of the game due to a lack of variation in the platform design throughout the core of the game. The more fun and challenging portions of the platforming are hidden in the secret parts of the map. Also, the lack of voice acting really bugged me at first, but after about a half hour of seeing the world Drinkbox Studios had created, I jumped over that hurdle realizing that voice acting may have thrown off the balance of the game. The game was sadly short enough that you could play through its entirety in one sitting. I believe I clocked my time at five hours, including completing most of the areas side missions and hidden areas.
On the other hand, the game has an outstanding visual aesthetic combined with a wonderfully Mexican themed soundtrack that really absorbed me into Juan’s world. On top of that I really enjoyed the writing in the game. The parts that you have to read are never very long, and honestly quite humorous. For the game only lasting a few hours, the 2D world is very filled out with all sorts of background gags and to my knowledge the only 2D side scrolling platformer that I’ve played that uses an open-world technique; which really helps make Guacamelee! stand out from the rest. What I enjoyed the most, however, was how the combat evolved with each additional special and grapple attack you get throughout the game. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who owns a Playstation 3 or PS Vita since that’s the only way you’re going to get the chance to enjoy this little indie gem.