Posted on September 3, 2012, Ross Lincoln Guacamelee: As Good As A Taco Truck And Twice As Badass
What’s could possibly be better than Luchadors? How about Luchadors, plus ridiculous double entendres, plus beasts strait out of Aztec folklore, plus a storm of classic video game references so thick you begin to lose track after hours and hours of giggling? Congratulations, you. I’ve just described Guacamelee, a side scrolling Metroidvania game with elements liberally borrowed from Zelda that, if the PAX Primme 2012 demo is any indication, will almost certainly be required playing for anyone who owns a Playstation 3.
Like a lot of indie titles, Guacamelee is refreshingly free of a high concept premise – if you’ve played a metroidvania game, it’ll be instantly familiar – but it stands out by being full of a jillion high concept ancillary details. You play as a buff Luchador named Juan Aguacate who must navigate through a 2D open world to rescue El Presidente. If a friend joins, they’ll play a female luchador who shares whatever abilities Juan has. The open world (this is a metroudvania title) you wander through is drenched in the tropes of Mexican culture, with chupacrabras, figures from aztec mythology, and of course, Luche Libre. And better, it boasts a beautiful, ornate yet whimsical artistic style that evokes classic cartoons, suggests Mexico without mocking it, and will keep you playing if only to marvel at the work that went into it.
Though the game is still months from release, the single level available in the PAX Prime demo felt very complete and extremely polished. If you’ve played Metroid, you’ll be familiar. The player explores a winding, expanding maze like-environment that looks like a digitized version of Northern Mexico’s deserts, mountains and assorted terrain (with elements of village life thrown in). As you unlock new abilities, you’ll get access to new levels. A nice variation of this comes via the aforementioned Zelda influence. Throughout the game you’ll find what are essentially wormholes. Jumping into them instantly transports you to the shadow of the gameworld, which allows you to battle previously untouchable enemies or react to (or evade) obstacles. (It’s possible there are many more possibilities these wormholes unlock but they weren’t part of the demo).
Of course, the game is full of Luche Libre tropes, and it’s here where Guacamelee shines the most. Melee is in the title, which means that unlike most metroidvania titles, physical combat plays a huge role. Rather than upgrading a ranged weapon or gaining increasingly powerful magical abilities, you’ll gain new combat moves drawn from pro wrestling and martial arts generally. New punches (usually named after food or other silly references), the ability to grapple, jumping moves, if you can think of something, there’s probably a reference to it. For example, the ability to jump against sides of the wall to elevate, ala Jackie Chan (or perhaps Ratchet and Clank). And the best part is that you buy them in classic old school style, either from a Mercado vendor who offers to train you for a price, or a spiritual guru who spends most of his time disguised as a goat.
My favorite thing about the Guacamelee demo was the fact that it felt perfectly balanced. Jokes – like the hilarious double entendres – were fast and furious, combat and exploration were fast paced, and the puzzles were challenging enough to be fun but not frustrating. It’s no brain breaker like, say, Fez, but it won’t make you feel stupid for playing. It also contained some positively hilarious references to classic games that amused without provoking groans. All in all, it’s a solid, smart, little game.
You might remember Guacamelee from the 5 seconds or so it showed up in Sony’s E3 2012 press conference. Though it wasn’t mentioned by name, Sony’s decision to feature it in their yearly LOOK AT US presentation signals what appears to be a growing, if belated, commitment to making PlayStation Network worth the time it takes to login. It’s too bad there won’t be a Steam version, but at least, after 20 minutes with Guacamelee, I certainly feel, possibly for the first time, actual interest in the fact that PSN exists. And that, o readers, is nothing short of a goddamned miracle.
Guacamelee launches early (TBA) 2013 for Vita and Playstation 3. See the official site here.