Do you ever have that feeling where you just want to take off your shirt, put on your mask and start wrestling people? No? Just me? Well I played a game this past week where you don’t get that choice. Drinkbox Studios from Toronto has created an action packed game in their luchador simulator Guacamelee!. Well it isn’t so much of a luchador simulator as more of a 2-d platforming brawler with style oozing from every orifice.
Guacamelee! is inspired by Mexican folklore, set between the worlds of the living and the dead. Players take control of a downtrodden agave farmer named Juan Aguacate who has to fight through hordes of undead enemies to stop the evil Carlos Calaca from gaining ultimate power by sacrificing the beautiful "El Presidente's Daughter.” Once you finish the short tutorial, the female luchador Tostada can join in as your tag team partner for co-op play at any time throughout the game.
Set in and around a small village in Mexico, Guacamelee! has players punch, suplex, and pile drive enemies into a pulp, while travelling through alternate dimensions. Guacamelee! expands upon many classic games by blurring the boundaries between combat and platforming, making many of the moves necessary to use for both of these.
Guacamelee! pays homage to many other games, referencing every game it can through winks and nods throughout the environment. Drinkbox actually describes Guacamelee! as a Metroid style game, heck it even features Chozo statues to unlock your powers. The 2d game world is entirely open-ended and chock full of secrets and areas that are inaccessible until you have the proper abilities and equipment. In this case, Juan and Tostada inherit fighting moves from a mystical goat that benefit them in both battle and exploration. Who doesn’t want to use a ‘rooster uppercut’ to open both a doorway and an enemy’s skull?
The combat in Guacamelee! gradually builds your arsenal of wrestling moves throughout the game. The initially bland set of punches and kicks you start out with eventually give way to more specialized moves like ground pounds and suplexes. These can be mixed together for some impressively complex combos especially when you toss enemies back and forth between co-op partners. Taking things one step further, Guacamelee! throws in enemies that can only be defeated with a certain colour coded-attack, making for some interesting brawls. The game doesn’t scale at all, so co-op play makes the combat much easier with a friend.
Battles leave with you coins to purchase new skills while you will need to find hearts and gold to upgrade your health and stamina. All three currencies are the primary rewards for exploration and the game world is filled with hidden treasure chests in what regularly seem to be impossible-to-reach areas.
If you’re like me, you’re going to spend as much time exploring as you are completing the main game. Thankfully the platforming is difficult, yet rewarding and the combat is just complex enough that it doesn’t get tedious. If you like the Metroid-vania style of games with gear-gating and exploration with a dose of character growth then you’re going to be right at home- er, ring with Guacamelee! If one of the players is having difficulty with some of the platforming or if they fall offscreen, they can turn into a bubble. The bubble allows the player to move through the level unscathed and skips the platforming, but i but must be popped by the partner. It is helpful for beginner players, but it can cheapen the experience if abused. It came in very handy for some of the puzzles where coordination was paramount and it was much easier to have one player solve it instead of both.
Halfway through Guacamelee! you gain the ability to travel between the Living World and the Dead World, all while trying to solve puzzles using elements between them. Juan’s ability to hop between worlds sets up a range of platforming puzzles. This quickly becomes second nature, and the battles between enemies that keep jumping between each world are particularly satisfying. Oddly though the whole twin world concept is largely ignored for the first half of the game and by consequence seems strangely underutilised by the end until you find the more difficult platforming puzzles. Either player may swap the dimension at any time, which can make for frustrating (read: hilarious) platforming sequences. It may be in the best interests of both parties to have a designated world-swapper for the more difficult puzzles.
The PS3 version allows two player local co-op on the same screen, so two players on one system. If you own a Vita, you can use it as a controller with remote play and you get the benefit of having the map on your Vita screen whilst you play on your TV. The game does not change or scale depending on the number of players, in co-op you simply have another set of fists to take down the undead. Money is shared across the board, and character upgrades apply to both players. Both the PS3 and Vita versions are yours with a single purchase off the Playstation Network. Guacamelee! doesn’t necessarily need co-op but it doesn’t hurt it to have a buddy along for the ride. Plus, it is especially satisfying when you uppercut a skeleton into the clutches of your partner who then power bombs them into la muerte.
Guacamelee! uses gorgeous artwork, animation, and sound to provide so much character to the game that you can’t take your eyes off it. The visuals are clearly influenced by traditional Mexican art, but the bold angular style still has a personality all of its own. Guacamelee! is one of the best games I have played this year, and should definitely be on your bucket list. It may not have the same impact to have a whole genre named after it, but it does a great job of using the best parts of these types of games and adds its own flavor that tightens the package as a whole. With two luchadors for the price of one I suggest grabbing your favorite amigo and double teaming Guacamelee!
A review copy of Guacamelee! was provided by the publisher.