by Preston Dozsa, reviewed on
In Another Castle?
A princess has been kidnapped by a villain, and it is up to you to rescue her. The damsel in distress is one of the most used tropes in fiction, and it is so common that you don’t have to look very far to find an example of one. Yet its ubiquity is also its primary fault; you’ve read, watched, listened to and played this story so many times before that they all begin to look and feel like they are the exact same thing. When a new piece of media uses this trope, it is hard to not be dismissive of it. After all, it is just another princess that needs rescuing.
But at the same time, there are a few examples of this that manage to stand out against the tide of works that take advantage of it all too willingly. They can be complex or simple, realistic or fantastical, and yet they all take a tried and true story and turn it into something wonderful. With its beautiful aesthetics, great heart and a keen sense of wonder and fun, Guacamelee is just such an example.
Heroes and Villains
In Guacamelee the hero is Juan Aguacate, a farmer who is in love with El Presidente’s daughter. Unfortunately she is soon kidnapped by Carlos Calaca, a fighter who made a pact with the devil to gain great powers, and it is up to you to become a luchadore and save both El Presidente’s daughter and your hometown from the forces of the underworld. It's a simple tale fused with Mexicana, and the result is quite memorable. Not the least because Satan is trapped in the body of a rooster. Which pretty much sets the tone for the remainder of the game if you ask me.
Set in a brightly colored 2D world, Guacamelee is a reminder of the ancient platformers of old. Levels are lengthy and large, with plenty to explore both vertically and horizontally. Large portions of each area are cut off until you collect additional power ups, allowing you to access hidden areas that yield a variety of collectibles and secrets. It's a Metroidvania style game through and through, but its unique spin on the genre helps it stand out from similar games.
When traversing the world of Guacamelee, the skeletons and demons that pop up to impede your progress are not jumped on or shot at. Instead, you do what any good luchadore would do when faced with opponents: Punch and kick them until they stay down for good. Attacks can be chained together to create some rather spectacular combos, including air attacks and throws, but it is entirely possible to utilize a core set of attacks and skills to finish the game. If you are using a controller, I cannot attest as to how easy or difficult it is to pull off some of the combos, but when using a keyboard a lot of the chains are incredibly difficult to perform, especially since they require quick and accurate key presses in order to succeed. Thankfully you can customize your keys to a different setup if you prefer, but the complexity of some of the attacks is slightly disappointing.
As I stated previously, the world of Guacamelee is a vibrant, beautiful world inspired by Mexican culture. The locations range from small cities with early 20th century architecture to lush jungles and plains that are all varied in style and tone. This is helped by a great soundtrack that infuses electronica with simple guitar tracks to create a combination of old style mariachi bands and modern day techno. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does, and wonderfully so. Honestly, the music and color are the best parts of the game for me, as it is refreshing to see a game that is not afraid to try something unexpected with its aesthetic.
Humor is also abundant within the game. There is the aforementioned Satan as a chicken gag, but it is far from the only joke found within the game. The characters are humorous in and of themselves, including a half goatman who calls himself lord of the goats and serves as a guide for Juan throughout the game. A guide who rarely gives advice and instead lambasts you for being so destructive and violent. And aside from the characters, whose writing is top notch, there are plenty of visual gags along the way. Perhaps the most prevalent visual that can be seen are posters found in each of the towns which parody other games and internet memes, including Super Mario Brothers, Castle Crashers, and the Spy from Team Fortress 2. It's a nice touch that keeps Guacamelee lighthearted and fun throughout.
Laugh while you fight
There is a co-op mode found that can be played if you so choose, but it is woefully underutilized. Namely, Guacamelee only allows for local co-op, with no option for online play. And while that is not a bad thing in and of itself, it is very difficult to play local co-op on a PC game unless you connect it to and television and play with controllers.
This release of Guacamelee also comes with several trial maps that were added as DLC in the original release. Focusing entirely on combat, they are short and offer some challenge for when you are finished with the main story, which is rather short if you want to rush through it. Regardless of its length, Guacamelee is a fine platformer that is lighthearted and entertaining, with plenty of things to fight and laugh about along the way.
Beautiful, great sense of humor, very fun to play
Poor Co-op implementation, controls can get overly complex