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DrinkBox Studios' highly anticipated "Metroidvania" style Guacamelee! has finally arrived on PSN for $15.00, and it's packing style and substance.
Guacamelee! places players in the shoes of Juan Aguacate, an agave farmer and run-down luchador (Wrestler). Before the "Dia de Muertos" (Day of the Dead") can begin, the presidents daughter is taken from the village by Carlos Calaca, an evil skeleton man with a mysterious past. Juan acquires a luchador mask and vows to rescue the El presidente's daughter from Carlos and his lackeys. The story in Guacamelee! is, surprisingly for a game of this type, fairly strong. It's a spaghetti western wrapped in a mexican theme that rides the line of breaking the fourth wall on occasion. The way it's presented and played out is very organicly and learning some of the villain's backstories was interesting stuff. Sadly my favorite villain character never got to tell his backstory, for being socked in the jaw by a luchador's uppercut adjusted the relatively simple task into a difficult one for the character.
The presentation in Gucamelee! is frankly, flawless. It looks, sounds, and plays like a dream. Featuring an almost paper mache artstyle that creates an amazingly detailed mexican world to explore. The in-game animations for both characters and the world itself are superb (Particularly when characters are speaking; the animations that accompany them). The guitar-twanging soundtrack is excellent, and the dialogue is snappy and saucy. The details between the "World of the living" and the "World of the Dead" are amazing. Signs, buildings, foreground, background, and people themselves change seamlessly. Visual references for Giant Bomb, Destructoid, Journey, Mario, Castle Crashers, and more are all present in the background, and noticeable, for those that are well versed.
The "guac" of Guacamelee! lies in its gameplay and most specifically, its combat system. Guacamelee's combat system is more akin to a "2D-brawler" than your run of the mill action-platformer. Jungling combos, linking combat moves, and precise evades and jumps are techiniques you must adapt to to survive the later encounters of Guacamelee!, especially the bosses which put your overall combat skill to the test. Guacamelee! really never lets up strutting its stuff, even near the end of the experience, it always has something new to show whether to entertain or challenge you. There's also something that has to be said about Guacamelee's intelligent design surrounding it's combat system and platforming segments, aside from the fact that they, like the rest of the game, are always keeping the player on their toes. The developers have blurred the lines between a "platforming only" skill and "combat only" skill and have merged the two to create some very challenging and interesting scenarios. Learning the intricacies of the combat system whilst continuing to improve your platforming skills at the same time is not only part of the fun, it's amazingly rewarding. The "World-Switching" mechanic also plays an extremely important role in both the platforming and combat (Very similar to that of Outland). The game features a "shop" which serves as your checkpoint, "regen" station, and well, shop to purchase upgrades for maximum health, maximum stamina, combat techniques and more.
Much like other metroid-vania style games of this type, you explore a interlinked world of dungeons and "rooms". The game does an amazing job to create an immersive experience, especially when it comes to the atmosphere.This can be seen at it's finest in the towns, where the residents spend their days (somewhat) oblivious to the bigger picture while they go on with their lives, chasing chickens and selling whiskey at the local bar. When you eventually make your way to the "Sierra" the weather effects give off a sense of isolation and freezing temperature, really great stuff. The map is fairly large, filled with secrets only accessible later in the game, and the modes of transportation: a fast-traveling system through stone heads dotted around the world, a goat run ability, and "Goat Fly Herp Derp", (I'm not kidding) which is by far one of the coolest ways to traverse any gaming world, if only it wasn't implemented so late into the game, are great.
Guacamelee! has style, but it features so much more. It has heart, which it has in spades. Featuring a consistently challenging and rewarding combat system, great characters that will be missed in the near future, intricate level design, and a last minute credit scene that is evocative of something more, creates an experience that ultimately makes this game better than the sum of it's parts. That is a goal every developer in the industry should try to achieve, because when it happens, you never know how much it truly matters until a gamer like myself experiences it for themselves and that is an experience money can never buy. Guacamelee! should be experienced by any fan of Metriod or Castlevania, but also of any gaming fanatic anyway. Mucho bueno DrinkBox, mucho bueno.