When the PlayStation Vita was launched, Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack was one of the best launch titles available. A 2D, side-scrolling adventure game developed by Drinkbox Studios, it told the story of a gelatinous mound of goop who sought to consume all it could in its search for revenge. Through straightforward, fun platforming gameplay and a unique, comic-like visual style, it quickly became a favourite of mine. Drinkbox’s next title, Guacamelee, takes many of these elements and melds them with some new ingredients to make a ‘videojuego fantástico’.
• Developer: Drinkbox Studios
• Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
• Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
• Also Available On: PlayStation 3
• Release Date: Available Now
You play Juan, a Mexican villager, who is in love with El Presidente’s daughter – or at least we assume this, as Juan is a silent protagonist. However, the evil Carlos Calaca kidnaps her on the Day of the Dead, in order to sacrifice her in a ritual that will see ‘The Living World’ and ‘The Dead World’ joined together. To save the world and rescue the girl he (presumably) loves, Juan goes to El Presidente’s mansion. Unfortunately, being just a lowly villager, Juan is immediately killed by Calaca. Undaunted by this minor inconvenience, Juan wanders ‘The Dead World’, eventually coming across a mysterious mask – that of a luchador (a Mexican wrestler). Donning the mask grants Juan the skills he needs to take on Calaca and his henchmen – and henchwoman – and so, he sets out to save the day.
Gameplay takes the familiar ‘metroidvania’ structure, with the focus being shared between platforming and beat ’em up combat. As a luchador, you would imagine that the majority of the combat revolves around wrestling – and you would be correct [pat yourself on the back]. While hammering the Square button will pummel your target into a daze, the real strength of your skills involves grappling your weakened opponent with the Triangle button, and throwing/kicking/suplexing them into the ground/ceiling/other enemies. This forms the majority of the combat, with added special moves aiding you when things get tough. In fact, these special abilities can also be used when traversing the environment. Each one has a signature colour assigned to it – the red uppercut, the green body-slam etc. – and this can be used to break blocks with their corresponding colour. If you encounter a coloured block but do not yet have that particular ability, Drinkbox have made the genius decision to automatically add it to your map. This means that when you do eventually get the required move, you immediately know where you can access.
In a game like this, where platforming involves small target areas and maintaining combos in attack requires precise timing and discipline, the entire experience lives or dies with its control scheme. As you have no doubt guessed from the review score given above [so, no pat needed this time], Guacamelee nails it. Each movement is tightly controlled – you learn quickly just how far a given action will take you and its effects. This means that as the game progresses and inevitably becomes more difficult, any frustration you feel is never aimed at the game, but at your own lack of skill. There are a number of instances that require pinpoint accuracy to proceed, made even more complex by the ability to shift between the world of the living and the dead – some enemies and platforms are only visible in one plane or another. Eventually, you persevere and the sense of accomplishment felt is amplified, similar to games like Demon Souls. Despite the difficulty of some sections, the game never feels cheap. If you die, it’s because of something you did.
The visuals in the game are beautiful. From the colourful environments to the equally colourful characters, each element adds to the playful, fun atmosphere. The locales are dotted with ‘shout-outs’ to other games, like the posters for ‘Casa Crashers’ or the tag team ‘Los Super Hermanos’ shown above. At one point, after defeating a boss using a switch at the end of a bridge, a character appears stating that ‘The princess is in another castle’. Even without these references, Guacamelee has enough humour of its own to keep you thoroughly entertained.
Drinkbox have succeeded in building on their work in the Blobs titles, adding more complex game mechanics but ensuring that the fun remains intact. Each addition is thought out and makes sense within the game. With addictive combat, a good story and plenty of laughs, what more could you want?