The town of Pueblucho comes under attack by the undead who kidnap El Presidente's daughter. Juan rushes in to the rescue, but is defeated as quickly as he came. In the Land of the Dead, a luchador (Mexican wrestler) called Tostada gives Juan a mask that allows him to go back to the real world and begin his quest to save the day.
There are two playable characters, Juan or Tostada (who fights alongside Juan in co-op mode or can be switched to via the costume mechanism). The game is a Metroidvania game, so expect lots of platforming, combat and exploration.
There's a lot of combat in the game. You can dodge, perform basic or special attacks, and throw when enemies are stunned. Moves can be chained to perform combos, and this usually involves launching the enemies into the air and trying to prevent them from hitting the ground to stop them recovering. Throwing is very useful in combat since you can use enemies as projectiles to deal damage to others.
Enemies drop coins which can be spent on upgrades at the shrines. The amount of coins you receive depends on your combo counter with bonus rewards for the variety of moves you perform. There's a few new moves to purchase in addition to upgrades on your health and stamina. You can also purchase costumes which give you different attributes and traits.
As you progress, new moves are introduced and these are necessary to navigate around the map. Some moves are purely for navigation, but you will need to utilise your special fighting moves. For example, the uppercut move will give you that extra height after a jump. Rolling (or later on; "The Dashing Derpderp") can give you extra horizontal distance. Eventually, other platforming staples will be given to you such as a wall-jump move and ability to double-jump. You also acquire an ability to switch between dimensions which uncovers new platforms and hides existing ones. More complex platforming sections will utilise combinations of these moves, so you will be wall-jumping and switching between dimensions in mid-air. It often requires a high level of concentration and skill to navigate these areas. An unconventional ability to transform into a chicken gives you access to narrow tunnels and gives you faster speed and a larger jump.
The dimension swapping is also required in combat. Some enemies can only be hurt in a particular dimension. These enemies show up as shadows, but can still hurt you. Dodging enemies and switching dimensions create some tough, frantic battles.
The most frequent enemies are the skeletal bandits which come in three variants. The green ones are the standard enemy. Red ones have ranged attacks, and the yellow ones are very fast and tough. Armadillos roll around, flying Chupacabras fire magical projectiles, Cacti launch grenades who can only be defeated by catching them and throwing them back. Later on in the game, even tougher enemies are introduced. There's plenty to deal with, and each requires a slightly different approach to take them down, especially when various types are attacking you at once.
Near the end of the game, shielded enemies appear. The colour of the shield determines which special attack is required to take it down. You can still knock the enemies around when the shield is active, but they only take damage when the shield is down.
Your health meter is pretty small but you won't ever lose much progress due to the frequent check-pointing. Health can be recovered by defeating enemies when in combat or passing by checkpoint shrines when out of combat. Falling off a level will transport you to the last ledge you were stood on which helps alleviate the frustration during the tricky platforming sections.
The health meter can be extended by small amounts by collecting fragments of magical heart containers, which takes its inspiration from the Zelda franchise. You also have a Stamina meter which is used for the special moves. Stamina is regenerated over time and you will only find yourself fully depleted if you keep hammering the special attacks. The stamina meter can be increased by collecting pieces of magical skulls in a similar fashion to the health-upgrade system.
The level design is fairly linear compared to some Metroidvania games. There's still plenty of optional segments as you go through the game, and some secrets to find when backtracking. Your map shows the rooms where you have visited, with doors and obstacles marked. An indicator will show you where you need to travel to progress the story which I found to be enough information to get there.
The residents of Pueblucho and Santa Luchita can dish out side quests (although there isn't a log to keep track of them). The quest rewards are often the heart or skull pieces to boost your health or stamina. Guacamelee doesn't use any voice-acting other than basic sounds much like a lot of Nintendo games. The music and sound effects are much more pleasing.
There's plenty of references within the game. I picked up on the Nintendo references such as the Zelda heart pieces, Chozo statues from Metroid, and touching an axe Mario-style to defeat a particular boss. There's a few posters or background murals that refer to other games too. I noticed a Strong Bad poster who fits the luchador theme. Guacamelee probably includes every Mexican stereotype in the game. The developers have chosen a theme and really gone for it.
I think what makes Guacamelee such a brilliant game is that it excels in many areas. The fighting system works really well and the platforming puzzles are really creative. The game is enjoyable from start to finish and never gets dull. I completed the game in under 5 hours which you could argue is a bit short, but it definitely doesn't overstay its welcome like a lot of games. Additionally, there's the option of hard mode, all the side quests, and to uncover all the chests; so plenty of replay value. Guacamelee has the charm, the creativity and the fun to make it one of the best indie games around.