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Review

Guacamelee! Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed: April 9, 2013
  • PS3
Aaron Sampson on Google+

Guacamelee! is so full of personality and challenging gameplay that it's a shame it ever has to end.

Retro-game-homages are as popular as ever, but too many fail to capture the magic of their inspirations. To call Guacamelee! anything other than an homage is downright uninformed. However, it's surprising just how well it manages to both cite its source material and use those inspirations to form a game with a fresh and distinct identity. Those in the know will quickly recognize hints of Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and even Portal, but these references never quite dominate the unlikely setting of a dimensionally disturbed re-creation of rural Mexico. They've inspired parts of the world, and to a larger extent, the gameplay, but Guacamelee stands tall thanks to its brilliant art style, witty writing, and a steady pace, of which the biggest flaw is that the fun comes to an end sooner than any game of this caliber should.

Your adventure starts simply enough. As Juan Aquacave, a humble agave farmer and tequila distiller, your rise to luchadore-dom is fueled by the kidnapping of an old acquaintance turned recent love interest, the nameless daughter of El Presidente. The kidnapper from the Land of the Dead, Carlos Calaca, strikes during the Dia de los Muertos festival. Juan is ultimately banished to the Land of the Dead by Calaca; here, he meets the Guardian of the Mask, who bestows the legendary luchadore relic unto the humble farmer. Forthwith, Juan's resurrected into the Land of the Living as a superpowered luchadore and sets off after his kidnapped love. Apart from the luchadore-themed wrapping, the damsel-in-distress scenario is a tired trope, to be sure, but the trite conflict between hero and kidnapper is merely a catalyst. It gets the game rolling, but the real driving force is Juan's growth as a superhero.

His 2D crusade sees you ascending mountains, exploring caverns, and platforming among the tree-tops, but you'll spend a lot of time smacking enemies around and tossing them into blunt objects along the way. From these two types of attacks spring dozens of opportunities for tactical and offensive variety. Combo attacking and juggling enemies in midair are encouraged, and the right approach lets Juan take out a half-dozen enemies before touching the ground. His skill set evolves so rapidly that it's largely up to you to discover his hidden potential, but the game is good about teaching you the fundamentals of each maneuver by ramping up the challenges accordingly after each acquisition.

Unfortunately for Juan, Calaca's pet alebrije hates wrestling.

New moves and abilities are earned by discovering Choozo statues (blatant references to Metroid's Chozo statues) strewn about the world. They belong to a grumpy yet affable goat shepherd, Juan's eventual sage-like sensei, who imparts the knowledge of moves such as Olmec's Headbutt and the Goat Climb, the likes of which expand your ability to explore your environment and manhandle esqueletos. Combat truly shines once you learn to zip up a wall, dash to uppercut an oncoming enemy, and toss their body into encroaching reinforcements, a delight that rarely gets old. Whether it's the promise of new abilities, a laugh, or Juan's next rumble, there's always something in Guacamelee just around the corner that grabs your attention.

Though the progression of locales and challenges are paced well, accented by charming music and expressive colors, there are occasional dips when the action feels uninspired relative to the world around it. These moments are easy to spot: rather than introduce a new type of challenge, the game simply throws more enemies on the screen. Sometimes, it's the small number of enemy types in a given area that contribute to the sense of repetition. Thankfully, these moments are usually fleeting.

A few hours into your adventure, in a touch reminiscent of the action platformer Outland, Juan earns the ability to teleport between the lands of the living and the dead. The two worlds bring different moods and experiences to the table, defined by their respective soundtracks and color palettes, but certain enemies and objects are hidden between dimensions as well. The ability to alter your surroundings is an increasingly important component of combat, and it turns already difficult platforming sections into true tests of reflexes and intuition.

Though it demands precision, Guacamelee hardly punishes failure. In fact, it practically encourages you to take chances by being so forgiving. When Juan plummets off a cliff or platform, he's magically whisked back to safety without penalty. If he happens to run out of health, he's revived at the last checkpoint, the frequently encountered shops that auto-save your game and refill Juan's health. Guacamelee's meager consequences keep the action moving at a steady clip, but considering the exacting nature of the game's design, you can't help but feel that there should be some penalty for sloppiness. No game should rely on punishment to determine the length of the experience, but in the case of Guacamelee, the lack of expendable lives or a game-over state contributes to the unfortunate brevity of Juan's tale.

Defeating the game once opens the hard difficulty setting, but the lure of collectibles may be reason enough to revisit earlier sections of the game. If it were only to fulfill obsessive-compulsive tendencies, backtracking may not seem particularly important, but by hinting at multiple endings, the underwhelming default conclusion justifiably compels your continued search. Your newfound abilities go a long way toward uncovering all of Guacamelee's secrets, but it takes a keen eye to find every last item hidden among the caves and treetops alike.

Tostada and Juan fight their out of a room full of enemies.

Local co-op is an option, but its good qualities don't meaningfully raise the overall experience. A second player can hop in as Tostada, the Guardian of the Mask, at any time. When characters are at opposing ends of the screen, the first to move into a new area takes priority, causing the other player to appear nearby on the new screen or pop in as a floating bubble, similar to the effect used in New Super Mario Bros Wii. The second player can choose to take on the bubble form in order to skip obstacles and catch up to the leader. Apart from stringing together impromptu tag-team combos, there's nothing in Guacamelee that truly benefits from the addition of another player. At the end of the day, it's a nice option to have, but that's about it.

All things considered, Guacamelee is one of the strongest games on the PlayStation Network, period. The responsive controls and a grin-inducing sense of humor make it near impossible to put down, and the expressive use of color will warm the hearts of even the most cynical among us. It's chock-full of pop-culture references, yet it doesn't feel patronizing when there's a nod to your favorite 8-bit game, thanks to the provided twist of the world's luchadore-obsessed culture. When Guacamelee isn’t trying to make you laugh, occasional moments of drama and intense action fill you with a sense of purpose and emphasize Juan's triumphant rise to superhero status. After hitting so many high-notes, Guacamelee's conclusion is a bittersweet farewell, but every adventure, even the best of them, eventually comes to an end.

The Good
Charming characters and dialogue
Flashy and nuanced hand-to-hand combat
Fantastic use of color
Great balance of comedy and drama
The Bad
Co-op play is underutilized
Mildly repetitive enemy designs and encounters
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Guacamelee!

About the Author

Discussion

167 comments
volted01
volted01

This game is free on X1 at the moment, thinking of getting it. :D Actually screw that, it's free, getting it :D

negativeions
negativeions

Why can't there be a new Castlevania game that looks like this!!!!??????????

uhlv
uhlv

seriously??? am I the only one here who thinks this is an overrated children game???? And "9.0" ????? no...... just no.

dw9872
dw9872

Hmm, no "DIS BETTER DAN RE6?!" comments? Interesting...

IceVagabond
IceVagabond

It's funny as hell, but in no way deserving of a 9. Then again, GameSpot severely over-rates any 2D game with a unique artstyle. At least this one actually has SOME merit, unlike most of the "artsy" games they rave over.

MaxiM_
MaxiM_

Playing this game on PS3 using Vita as the cross-crontroller puts WiiU to shame ;] And then I can just sync my saves and continue playing on the bus or at work. Epic win ;]

FarginIcehole
FarginIcehole

This game has been completely consuming all of my spare time.  I've been running around in the levels looking at all of the pop culture and videogame references which has been a lot of laughs.  I'm hoping they release and expansion or at least consider a sequel.

QtrArt
QtrArt

wow another game get 9/10 

SLjimbolian
SLjimbolian

I'm a sucker for Metroid/Castlevania style games, so this may be a must-have for me.


Plus, it's been one of the most anticipated games from last year.

TheGreatPhoenix
TheGreatPhoenix

just running around and clucking as a chicken next to a mariacie band makes this game worthwhile, 9/10

yahiabusedra
yahiabusedra

how does gamespot review games, its seems though that there getting paid to give good ratings even though the game doesn't deserve it.

modernsocks
modernsocks

This game warrants the Chuck D alarm.

SillySkeleton
SillySkeleton

The chickens alone have sold me on this game!!

commanderxp90
commanderxp90

Awesome review! I'll save the money for PS Vita. :]

grey_fox1984
grey_fox1984

This really makes me want them to make a Vita version of Outland- they are quite similar in a few ways; Guacamelee! is a lot funnier, but Outland's dimension switching mechanic is used a lot more intensely 

mtait01
mtait01

Bought this game today, I'm around 2 hours in and I have to say it is amazing. For $15 it is a steal - super tight controls, humorous atmosphere, plenty of jokes and references to other games, perfect difficulty and you get the Vita version for free!... couldn't really ask for anything more from a $15 title! - You also get it for $12 if your're on PS+!! 

cheetah_TM
cheetah_TM

I played the demo of this at a Best Buy, and I was surprised by how awesome it was. I am waiting for the day when games like this will be available on Android.

krouser19
krouser19

Now we play the waiting game until it comes out for PC XD.

wavelength121
wavelength121

art style is the same as a hundred other flash games, hmmm

ixmardukxi
ixmardukxi

Is this is as good as the review states? I really need a new vita game, thinking of picking this up

guiyid
guiyid

This is the style I like. Polygon game. It has its own value. It feels true just like Age of Wushu.

JudgeSim
JudgeSim

cod is better, sales speak for themself.

Fandango_Letho
Fandango_Letho

This game makes me want to learn awesome one-liners in spanish.

laser00
laser00

There is a chicken mode???..Fuck this is awesome

erik2005
erik2005

Looks great! I'm getting this.

tmarbleii
tmarbleii

One of the most fun games I've played in YEARS!!! Brings back memories of the fun games of yesteryear like Castlevania and Metroid!

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

THANK YOU SO  MUCH FOR NOT TURING TO MICRO-TRANSACTIONS.

(Caps intended)

OMGMrTea
OMGMrTea

LOL at the chickens, hahaha

Prats1993
Prats1993

Finally, an indie game with fun gameplay. Fuck Journey and its artsy bullshit, yeah lets pay $18 for 1 hour of walking in a desert. This game is around $10 with more gameplay value, and its fun.

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@uhlv "am I the only one here who thinks this is an overrated children game????"

No. But that's not flattering to you regardless. In fact, it's shameful. You and everyone who thinks this way are the main reason why Overstrike became Fuse (still a solid game, but bland as all hell).

Jim Sterling and others may point their fingers at focus groups, but they're missing the point. Focus testing is problematic in and of itself, but for cases like Fuse focus testing is just the symptom. The actual disease is you and everyone that looks to a game with art like Guacamelee!'s and Overtrike's art and thinks "that's kiddie stuff!".

mtait01
mtait01

@yahiabusedra go play it... Stop being a troll. This game is amazing, and for $15 it is incredible value.

mtait01
mtait01

@grey_fox1984 agreed, I was thinking this whilst playing it too. It even has almost the same mechanic with the time warp feature XD. Loved Outland but I have to say I do prefer Guacamelee!

grey_fox1984
grey_fox1984

@ixmardukxi If you liked Metroid-vania style game (or my favourite term for the subgenre: Castleroid), this is a really solid one with a good sense of humor. It's not massive either, so it won't take up too much Vita card space. Considering the value, it definitely earns a 9 

Leboyo56
Leboyo56

@ixmardukxi You should. This was a steal for $11 since I'm a PS+ member. It's normally $15, though.

dw9872
dw9872

You must like Twilight too. Those movies did well, and sales speak for "themself."

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@Prats1993 I agree with the sentiment but not the example, and besides that you're fudging the numbers.

1. The problem with the "artsy" bs is not when a game is beautiful and contemplative, but when it has nothing to say with that and is just using visuals and sound to appear depper than it really is. Journey doesn't suffer from this problem, the whole game has a very clear message. Now crap like Dear Esther, 30 Flights of Loving and Protheus... THESE are work from people who don't have ANYTHING to say and are hiding it behind the "artsy" veneer.

2. Journey lasts more than 2 hours and is not just walking in a desert if you try to explore it and replay to find everything (which is nigh impossible on first play; it is designed for you to replay it and help newcomers around).

3. Guacamelee was only "around $10" for a couple of weeks for PS Plus members, and Journey is not $18. Both are $15 and got a discount for PS Plus members initially. That said, sure Guacamelee lasts more and gives more time for your money.

mtait01
mtait01

@Prats1993 I enjoyed Journey... but I have to admit I really didn't get as much out of it and other did. I felt it was a great looking game with great music and atmosphere... but that was it really. - same with Spec Ops the Line, everyone talking about how important of a game it was, I played it and just thought it was a typical 3rd person shooter with some cool sand mechanics....

lmaocarrots
lmaocarrots

@Prats1993 Why can't we have both? I doubt you even played Journey, as no matter how fun Guacamelee! is, it'll never live up to Journey, which is a significant work of beautiful, modern art.

SoreThumbsBill
SoreThumbsBill

@Prats1993  

I agree. Giving high scores and praising games because they are art! These dumbass reviewers don't know what their job is!

tightwad34
tightwad34

@Prats1993 Me and you may be in the minority, but I hate the artsy bullshit also. That will never make a game any better, in my opinion. I also remember commenting on how it's obvious that game was made by females, and I got a little backlash but not too bad.

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@Granpire @cheetah_TM Sure enough. Imagine trying to beat the jaguar battle or some of the more tricky moves/jump combos you need to pull to get to certain areas with ANY input method less than 100% precise! It'd be a nightmare!

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@grey_fox1984 @ixmardukxi It's the best game of this subgenre I've ever played since the classics that named it (Super Metroid/Castlevania SOTN). And yes, I do have an Xbox and played Shadow Complex. It's great, but Guacamelee is better.

Also, alongside Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, DmC and Bit.Trip Runner 2, it's on the top 5 games of 2013 so far.

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@mtait01 @Prats1993 I'll take a guess you didn't play Spec Ops: The Line for more than a few hours, otherwise it is clear you couldn't interpret a story/theme if your life depended on it. Sorry to be blunt, but bear with me on this:

Journey is vague and liable to varied interpretations, but the main point of Spec Ops: The Line is PAINSTAKINGLY CLEAR *once you get to the end of it*. At that point, you may not agree with what the game was trying to convey, and of course you are free to not like it... But it'd be absolutely clear WHY people got so nuts about the game. It even gets clear that the game was *purposedly* trying to look as your average shooter for the first third of it.

dietc
dietc

@tightwad34 wow. how is it "obvious" that Journey was made by "females"? by the way, the game was made by a team of guys. the only woman around was the producer.

tightwad34
tightwad34

@ryogapower Nah, I ain't going  anywhere. And I am not even close to an idiot. I said I saw an interview with a couple of females who were involved in the development and that was all I had to go on. Don't jump to conclusions so quickly about someone you know nothing about. I would love to lash out at you,  but for all I know you could be a very nice person. If you think I am an idiot, fine. Just try to think before you make assumptions. And just because there were females involved doesn't mean it's bad, by any means. I am sure I have played a lot of great games where females were involved in the development.

deathblow3
deathblow3

@ryogapower @tightwad34 @dietc it doesnt matter his point is the game design is a lot different thatn what most males do not necessarily  true as the god of war sex scenes was the brain child of a woman.

deathblow3
deathblow3

@dietc dude the boss the hpic the person telling everyone what to do leadding the design is a women i do software and i do what my boss tells me

deathblow3
deathblow3

@dietc @tightwad34 so the head person leading the direction was a woman. jsut like cliffy b is the producer og gears of war

ryogapower
ryogapower

@tightwad34 @dietc you absolute idiot. what does it matter whether females or males made the game? there is no room for this bullshit in the 21st century. GTFO.

dietc
dietc

@tightwad34@dietc

exactly two women* were part of "thatgamecompany" when Journey was made:

Development Team
  • President - Kellee Santiago*
  • Game Director - Jenova Chen
  • Lead Designer - Nicholas Clark
  • Lead Engineer - John Edwards
  • Engineer - Martin Middleton
  • Executive Producer - Robin Hunicke*
  • Art Director & Lead Artist - Matt Nava
  • Technical Designer - Bryan Singh
  • Environment Artist - Aaron Jessie
  • Feel Engineer - John Nesky
  • Designer - Chris Bell
  • Character Artist & Animator - Ke Jiang
  • Engineer - Rick Nelson
  • Tools Engineer - Michael Peddicord
  • Animator - Seiji Tanaka
  • Modeller - Dallas Robinson
  • Music Composer - Austin Wintory
  • Sound Designer - Steve Johnson
  • Community Manager - Aaron Grommesh

    as you can see, everyone actually involved in
    directing and designing  the game is male.     

tightwad34
tightwad34

@dietc I know there were males involved, but I believe the leads were females. The only thing I have to go on is an interview I saw with a couple of the devs, or higher ups and there were I believe 3 of them and they were all female. I know my comment sounded a bit harsh, but I don't write about things I know nothing about. I was also just stating the way I feel. So as far as I know the leads were females. Doesn't mean the game is bad, just not my cup of tea, or in my case beer.

Guacamelee! More Info

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  • First Released
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    Guacamelee! is a Metroid-vania style action-platformer set in a magical Mexican inspired world.
    8.2
    Average User RatingOut of 258 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    DrinkBox Studios
    Published by:
    DrinkBox Studios, Spike Chunsoft, Activision
    Genres:
    2D, Action, Platformer
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    All Platforms
    Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol