Review: Guacamelee (PSN/PSV)
Format: PlayStation Network Download (527 MB PSN and 327 MB PS Vita Cross-Buy)
Release Date: April 9, 2013 (US) / April 10, 2013 (EU)
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Price: $14.99 (US) / £9.99 (UK) / €12.99 (EU) (PS3+PSV) *This is a Cross-Buy title
ESRB Rating: E
Guacamelee is available on PlayStation Network and PlayStation Vita. It is a Cross-Buy, Cross-Save title.
The PlayStation Network and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
You start as a “simple” agave farmer named Juan. You’re heading into town as if nothing is wrong with the world, but that quickly changes with an strange attack on El Presidente’s home. His daughter is abducted by an unusual and supernatural figure, as he sends you to another existence. In the confusion that follows, Juan comes across a typically simple Luchador mask, and once he puts it on his head, the mission to save her begins.
‘Guacamelee’ is an excellent addition to the “MetroidVania” genre that has spanned videogaming culture for years. A 2D scrolling action-platformer, your powers are revealed to you one-by-one as you progress through the story. You start with some pretty basic fighting moves, but as you move through the game, Juan/Guacamelee will earn other powers such as a fiery uppercut, a ‘stomp’ move, and even later on, you’ll get to fly! Also, in true “Metroid” style, you’ll search for items such as pieces of stamina and health containers, which when enough are collected, will increase the amount of both. You’ll also collect Pesos as you progress, and will have the opportunity to buy upgrades and new moves at the many altars throughout the landscape.
The action can get pretty frantic, but the tight controls help you pull-off heavy combos and will have you shuckin’ and jukin’ with the best of them. You’ll quickly learn that the dodge button will be your friend, as you’re temporarily invincible as you do so, which helps immensely when the screen is full of enemies, all with differently-colored shields which all need to be broken by specific, color-coded special moves. Every special power that you have is tied to a specific color, so a headbutt is always yellow, and an uppercut is always red, and so forth. That’s not all though because you’ll also gain the ability to turn into a chicken, allowing you to get into tight areas that may hold some shiny rewards. Another major element that comes into play during your adventure is the ability to actually shift between the worlds of the living and the dead, first by jumping into portals, but later at the quick press of a button (or swiping up or down on the Vita’s screen). Speaking of the Vita, ‘Guacamelee’ is the exact same game on both platforms, except that you can’t play cooperatively on the portable.
You can also use the Vita as the PS3 game controller using the Sub-Controller functionality of Remote Play. It’s very easy to setup and use, and unlike LBP2, the visual information on the screen is always the same.
* Instructions on how to use this functionality are at the bottom of the review.
On the screen, you’ll be able to quickly check the world map instead of hitting the “Select” button on the DualShock 3 to do so on the game screen. Also, you’ll be able to instantly see how many Pesos you possess, which is something not normally on the main screen. It may seem like a gimmick, but using the Vita in this way actually works quite well. I did have one instance where the controls felt like they got stuck, but it quickly went away.
In true MetroidVania form, the game gets increasingly complex as you come across some pretty inventive puzzles. Later in the game, you’ll require a good deal of reflexes and abstract thought to get past some of these, especially when you’re swapping between dimensions while invoking a special move at the same time. Yes, I did like some of you probably just did with a *sigh*, but know that I finished this game, so I got through every puzzle thrown at me. At times, you may need to simply stop and take a look at the entire screen to figure things out. It can get frustrating, but it’s supposed to. I can’t count how many times that I cried out something to the affect of “are you serious?!”, but again, a game like this is made for that very purpose. Fortunately, the pacing is setup to give you some much needed breathers. If you need a distraction though, head to town to pickup a quick side-mission, which you’ll definitely want to do if you’re pursuing a Platinum trophy, since some are tied directly to these missions.
I would be an idiot not to mention the dialogue throughout the game, since the writing is pretty great. I’m one of the many people that skip through dialogue bubbles, but in this instance, do yourself a favor and read the text. There’s some funny stuff, and you’ll also pickup some hints at what’s coming up in your travels. The writing is clever, so don’t miss out.
I’m a huge fan of the visuals in every way. The animation is silky smooth with nary a hitch to be seen. The style is almost cartoonish, with a great color palette throughout, and the layers of depth do a fantastic job of adding to the scope of the world that you’re in. Drinkbox also, in a few instances, used a great technique of zooming the camera in and out in stages, mainly to show where you fit in to this large environment, but also at a late point to just be funny (extreme close-up!). At some points, the style even reminds me of another game set in a similar world, that game being ‘Grim Fandango’. But ‘Guacamelee’ is definitely all its own, and you’ll instantly be drawn into the world that Juan lives in.
For those that possess a tendency to notice some finer detail in games, you’re in for a treat, as Drinkbox has filled the background with nods to not only past Drinkbox titles, but also to other indie developers. Keep an eye especially in towns where posters are on the walls, and the clothing drying on the lines. There’s a lot to see and experience, so every now and then, take some extra time to check things out.
So, I was shopping yesterday when I realized that I was humming one of the main songs from ‘Guacamelee’. This is actually pretty surprising to me, because I don’t usually remember game soundtracks as often as you’d expect. The music is fantastic, with a definite Mexican vibe throughout. Equally, sound effects are very well-done, and as a whole, the audio mix did a fantastic job, especially in tense situations or boss battles.
Online features are limited to leaderboards for Speed Run times, and being able to upload and download cloud saves, so you can take your game on the road with the Vita, or back to the PS3 to play on the big screen.
I love this game, truly. Really my only complaints are that the co-op isn’t online, and that one of the later bosses is an absolute cheap bastard. I got past him, but it took some time. Other than that, I truly had a smile on my face while I played this one. If you’re not a completionist that won’t play a second time through in “Hard Mode”, you may consider this one a bit short in the grand scheme of things, but there’s actually a lot of game here, and luckily, you’ll enjoy it from beginning to end. HIGHLY Recommended!
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle screen capture feature.
* Note: These instructions assume that you have already setup Remote Play with your Vita and PS3.
1. Launch ‘Guacamelee’ on the PS3
2. When the game is at the title screen, turn your Dual Shock 3 off, or switch it to a different controller port (other than 1)
3. On the PS Vita, launch “Remote Play”. You’ll see 2 selections, but do NOT select “Cross Controller”
4. Launch Remote Play. Then select “Connect via Private Network”
5. When the Vita’s screen changes to black, press the “Start Button”, which should take you to the main menu in the game.