Guacamelee follows bumbling farmer turned wrestling superhero Juan, who receives his powers from a mystical luchador mask in order to save El Presidente’s daughter from an evil yet comical band of demons. It’s not the most intricate plot you’re likely to discover this year, but Guacamelee leaves plenty of room for self-reflexive humour, poking fun at the 2D Metroid-Vania genre and gaming culture in general.
Much like the games that inspired it, Guacamelee takes place on a non-linear map, with certain areas unreachable until later in the game. Standing between Juan and the love of his life are a number of villains inspired by Mexican folklore. Poncho wearing skeletons, a flame-faced alcoholic and an insanely fast wrestling jaguar make up the cast of baddies which Juan must punch, kick and grapple his way through in order to complete his mission. For a game inspired by wrestling, the game is surprisingly easy to pick up and play, with combos and special moves relatively simple to pull off, choosing to rely on an “old-school” control system made up of the analogue stick and buttons as opposed to placing emphasis on the Vita’s touchscreen or rear touch pad.
A little while into the game, Juan unlocks the ability to transport between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Some enemies will attack from both realms meaning that players must defeat enemies on both planes before being allowed to proceed, whilst a quite a few of the game’s puzzles require Juan to switch planes mid-jump in order to reach a previously hidden platform. Patience is a virtue when trying to best some of the game’s puzzling platforms. Timing is everything when trying to jump across a series of moving platforms, or pouncing from one wall to the next in order to make it to the top of near bottomless shaft. However there’s something about Guacamelee that makes this feel a lot less like a chore. Sure, you’ll probably feel frustrated after missing a platform and falling for the umpteenth time thanks to some ropey collision detective, but at the same time you’ll feel strangely nostalgic for classic platform games where impossible jumps were almost a greater nuisance than boss battles or time-limits.
There are a number of ways in which Juan can be upgraded thanks to the basic RPG elements that have been incorporated into the game. Defeated enemies and hidden treasure chests drop gold coins which can be exchanged at a shrine (complete with talking skull) for extra moves and items. Collecting three pieces of a heart will increase Juan’s health, while three skull pieces will increase his stamina, allowing him to perform more combos. Clocking in at around eight hours, Juan’s adventure is a relatively short one. There are a number of side quests and secret treasures scattered around the map that are only available once Juan has collected all of his power ups and destroyed all the various obstacles blocking you from completing these tasks, so there are plenty of loose ends to tie up but the map is limited in size so you can expect to one hundred percent with ease.
A number of encounters with a strange, wise-cracking old man (who can also morph into a goat) add a number of key special moves to Juan’s skill set. Some of these are combat moves that come in handy when outnumbered , but following in the Castlevania tradition, they can also be used to access areas of the map that were blocked off beforehand. One of the most entertaining parts in the game is when Juan is granted with POLLO POWER, a move that allows him to transform into a chicken by swiping the Vita’s touchscreen, in order to navigate through tight passageways normally impossible for the hulking wrestler to fit through.
The presentation of the game is impeccable. The 2D keeps the game firmly rooted in its retro heritage, with fluid animations and detailed character designs helping it stand out on the already crowded PlayStation Network store. Upon unlocking a new move, the screen colourfully explodes like a piñata made all the richer thanks to the PS Vita’s high definition screen. The gorgeous map design has plenty of easter eggs and hidden gems in the background as games such like Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, Castle Crashers and various internet memes are given a shot of tequila to fit in with the Mexican backdrop of Guacamelee.
As an added bonus, Guacamelee can also be played on PlayStation 3 with save games transferable via cloud storage for access on both devices, with one purchase that can be downloaded onto both consoles. A co-op option is also available with player two taking on the role of female lucha libre Tostada in order to help Juan in his quest. Thanks to the remote play option, the Vita itself can be used as a second controller provided it remains connected to the PlayStation 3 console. The two player functionality doesn’t add anything new to the game, and it would have been interesting to see Tostada get her own storyline but given that Guacamelee is a short game, the cross-platform connectivity is a great way to share the experience with others and getting the most out of the game. It’s just a shame it can’t be played online wirelessly or via ad hoc.
The PlayStation Vita for too long has relied on spin-offs and ports from its older brother but with focus continuously shifting towards directly downloading from the PlayStation Network, small developers are now getting the chance to flex their creative muscles. Considering that the game is basically one big homage to the Metroid-Vania sub-genre, DrinkBox Studios have reinvented a classic style of gameplay and given it a much needed, high definition polish. If anything, this helps Guacamelee stands out so well on its own and deservedly should be considered one of the world heavyweight champions of the PlayStation Vita games catalogue.