Game Review – Guacamelee!

Well, since I got it in a Humble Bundle, I guess it’s time for another game review: Guacamelee!

Guacamelee! is a metroidvania-style platformer themed around Mexican wrestling and the Día de Muertos (Day of the dead). In practice, this means that it’s very colourful, has a fair bit of backtracking, and expects you to punch and grapple with enemies rather than shooting or jumping on them.

Since the only two-player support is for cooperative play, the game takes the opportunity to implement simplified fighting controls similar to Super Smash Bros. but with moves and combo chaining that are much more forgiving and satisfying for people like me who don’t play traditional fighting games. (After all, it’s not as if the enemies are going to get frustrated if you kill them with one massive combo.)

The game recommends an X-Box 360 gamepad and the Linux release detected and configured mine without so much as a hiccup. While the controls aren’t as delightfully “react to you every twitch and thought” responsive as in Super Meat Boy or Escape Goat, they are very solid and satisfying. I’d liken them to a faster-paced, 2D version of Nintendo 64 platformers like Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie… or, perhaps even closer, Super Smash Bros. Melee, since you can punch, kick, and grapple.

The art style and the music are very pleasing. In fact, it’s the nicest high-resolution 2D platformer I’ve played in a long time. (Generally, the really beautiful ones are either running on a 3D engine or mimicking the pixellated retro look of games from the SNES era and before.) However, as the game warns you on startup, it’s not for people at risk of photosensitive epilepsy since it uses bright flashing colours when you gain a new ability or upgrade your health or stamina. As for the music, it’s pleasing but, like most of the platformer music I’ve seen, it’s more for setting the atmosphere than to be listened to on its own. (Though I do have the rain/war temple music on my playlist.)

Given its Día de Muertos influence, it uses the same “switching worlds at the touch of a button” mechanic as in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. However, it balances things a little differently. Guacamelee! relies much more heavily on the “present in one world, absent in the other” mechanic while allowing you to use your foll complement of moves in either. Also, the lack of morphing animation makes the visual differences seem more subtle, so pay attention if you don’t want to mistake it for just a palette swap. (Not to mention that I don’t remember Giana Sisters having enemies who can always attack youbut can only be attacked if you are in the same world.)

(It also improves upon the “please don’t share this DRM-free release” message in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams by only showing it the first time you start the game rather than as a nag screen… though the one in Giana can be disabled if you’re observant.)

One of the things that I found to be a very pleasant surprise was the characterization. The interactions between your character and the villains are entertaining and I especially like how human the villains feel. (I don’t want to give too much away, but I especially like the villain’s main sidekick who also happens to be his girlfriend.) I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in the platformers I’ve played before.

Speaking of delightful little bits, I love their choice for an analogue to Samus Aran’s morph ball… you turn into a chicken. I won’t spoil the context but, as a whole, I found its use in the game very grin-worthy. (Especially once you realize that certain human-form costumes also come with alternate chicken-form costumes.)

…which brings me to the three problems I have with the game:

First, for something that’s otherwise so immersive, did they really need to break the fourth wall so brazenly? The hermit is a hoot… but if I have to smash his statue collection to get abilities, why must he collect chozo statues?

Less egregious but still at least as jarring as it is grin-worthy, why did they have to fill the billboards in the town with meme and game references like “Me Gusta Guavas”, “Angry Rooster awesomesauce”, “Casa Crashers“, and the like (or hide a QR code which only serves as a reference to Fez)? For a game that’s so polished otherwise, that kind of fourth-wall breaking is as jarring as it is grin-worthy.

Second, the length. I haven’t beat this yet, but it definitely feels like I’m completing it a lot more quickly than other metroidvanias in recent memory like Super Metroid, La-Mulana, Aquaria, or Unepic.

Finally, I was never clear on what acted as autosave points (there’s no manual save), so I kept losing the last bit of progress I made because I guessed incorrectly. (I suspect it’s the skull who also acts as a skill merchant, but if the flames and chattering were supposed to signify a saved game, I’d have preferred something less likely to be misinterpreted as “Hey, buy something, would ya!”)

All in all, I’d definitely say that it’s worth a play (especially since they’re fellow Canucks and the first people I’ve noticed acknowledging a national holiday properly :P)… but you might want to wait until it’s on sale again to make up for the length.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Game Review – Guacamelee! by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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