Today indie games are in the conscience of the mainstream and take up at least some of the time people spend on playing games. Naturally they can’t compete with the big budget games in terms of scope and technical achievement, but they do give our old retro classics a serious run for their money. While incorporation the advantages of modern gaming mixed with the style of the old ones, indie games can make for some rather amazing experiences. It should come as no surprise that the Metroidvania concept (a sort of semi-open world type game) is one that is often tackled by these studios. I, and many other, have a strong affection for these types of games. Guacamelee! is said to be, by many, the pinnacle of the indie Metroidvania games. After beating it, I come to the conclusion that it’s a great game with a wonderful art style, music and absolutely amazing gameplay, probably the best I have ever played in a Metroidvania. The game falters in it’s story, linearity and length and therefor doesn’t quite reach the heights of the classics of the genre, but is in and off it self a great game that you should play if you have the slightest interest for Metroidvania.
Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition
Developed by DrinkBox Studios
Genre: Action, platforming (2D Metroidvania)
Released: 2 July 2014
Platforms: Playstation 3, 4, Vita, Windows, OS X, Linux, WiiU, Xbox 360, One
No spoilers to be found here!
Guacamelee! is a 2D Metroidvania game with heavy emphasis on platforming and combat. Metroidvania means that you are put in an open world where you are free to go wherever you would like, but only if you have the correct tools. Therefor you play the game as a rat in a maze, navigating from room to room, searching for the next upgrade. Then you head all the way across the world in order to find the correct place to use your new abilities, all the while killing enemies and doing some hardcore platforming.
In Guacamelee! you play as Juan Aguacate, an agave farmer (agave seems to be some sort of Mexican plant with a lot of uses) living a simple life outside the village of Pueblucho, Mexico. One day Juan’s peace is disturbed as the evil skeleton Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps the love of Juan’s life, El Presidente’s Daughter (she is never named). Juan is killed as he tries to stop them and winds up in the Land of the Dead. There he meets a mysterious masked woman who gives Juan a mask which transforms him into a luchador (a Mexican wrestler) and returns him to the World of the Living. As Juan, it is now up to you to comb the lands of the Living and Dead in order to save El Presidente’s Daughter from the evil clutches of Carlos Calaca.
The story might remind you of a certain plumber and really isn’t much more than that, nor should it be. From the moment you start the game up you can move around and after 5 minutes everything I described above has happened and your adventure can begin. Much like Super Metroid, the story is only there to set up the scenario and send you on your way. While I do think this story is mainly uninteresting, it does feature a number of fun characters, especially the different bosses who excel in both personality and design. Juan himself is very much a blank slate, but seeing his stern look when dealing massive combos and making incredible jumps made me chuckle once in a while. A lot of the random NPC dialogue in the game also made me crack up occasionally. In short, the main story isn’t great, but takes up such a minimal amount of time that it didn’t bother me at all that much. The world is filled with interesting characters and dialogue which makes Guacamelee! A pleasant experience in the narrative department.
As with most Metroidvania:s, Guacamelee! isn’t about characters or story, it’s about presentation and exploration. The game features a Mexican folk-lore inspired world, full with dry plains, lush forests and small villages. All the different biotopes are interconnected in a way that makes at least some graphical sense and the world of Guacamelee! seem more real and not just a collection of levels because of it. All the different places are varied in design but also gameplay in order to accommodate the growing expansion of Juan’s abilities. This makes a lot of the areas stand out on their own and I can now look back on my playthrough with adventurous fondness.
More than any other Metroidvania that I have played, Guacamelee! is about it’s gameplay and combat. You play as a luchador and therefor you take out all enemies with your fists and legs. At the start of the game you have simple punches and kicks, but as you continue through it you unlock more and more abilities that improves both your movement and combat abilities. After a while you feel like a super badass luchador who can string up incredible combos (which the game rewards you for) and take out the most enemies with a few button presses.
Imagine this, you run up a hill and are met with a few skeletons. They start charging you immediately, but you do a Dashing Derpderp and knock down all three. You then grab the the right-most enemy, punch him a few times and then throw him at the rest of the knocked down foes. This causes them all to fly up in the air and you do a Rooster Uppercut and hit all three. Mid-air you do a three-punch combo and then finishes it with a Frog Slam, smashing all enemies down to the ground. A single foe tries to stand up, but you pull of a Olmec’s Headbutt and destroy him. You collect your money and continue your journey. Most of the fights go like this, they are fast-paced and your skill matters a lot, which makes it very rewarding when you pull off a high combo. Combine this with the large amount of enemy types the game offers and you have yourself arguably the best combat system ever devised in a Metroidvania game (to my knowledge).
Aside from the combat, your set of moves is also very well utilized in your traversal of the world. In true Metroidvania fashion you can go where ever you would like, in any direction you want, granted you have the right power ups, in this game wrestling techniques. There are different colored blocks that all correlate to your different colored abilities (a forward dash, an uppercut, a body slam and so on). This is very standard stuff, but since these abilities enhance your movement in very significant ways, the developers added some platforming sections that can only be solved with the correct abilities. This is an excellent addition that works really well with the Metroidvania concept and are themselves incredibly fun to play. You will often enter rooms that look unbeatable, only to slowly figure out the correct way to platform around it with your skills and get the goodies. The platforming itself is also so insanely difficult at times (Super Meat Boy-difficult, if not more so) but never punishingly so. No other Metroidvania could pull of this kind of platforming as I think they lack the precision of Guacamelee!:s controls and was in the end one of my favorite parts of the game.
Guacamelee! uses a 2D flash animated style with simple and bright colors. The art style and aesthetics are inspired by Mexican folklore and the environmental design inspired are by Mexico. Together they craft a beautiful world filled with warm colors and a laid back attitude. It’s full of fun and gets you in the spirit of a luchador.
The music reflects this perfectly, as it contains a bunch of fast-paced tracks mixing instrumental and electronic music. It’s akin to the soundtrack of Super Meat Boy, fast paced and gets you in the mood for a fast game. But the music has that certain Mexican vibe which blends extremely well with the overall theme of the game. The downside to the soundtrack is that there is a World of the Dead – version of each theme which is always a slower and more boring version. While playing the game I don’t mind it that much, but when listening to the soundtrack on the phone I find myself skipping a lot of these tracks to get to the fun ones. It a great soundtrack that fits well in the game but isn’t the greatest listen in and off itself. Great when cooking though.
As is the norm in Metroidvania, sprinkled throughout this world are plenty of collectibles that aid you in some way. Guacamelee! is no different and offers the standards of Health and Stamina as well as Intenso increase (sort of this game’s invincibility). These can be found everywhere, but more often than not they are found at the end of those awesome platforming sections mentioned before. But there is also other things you can collect, very well hidden special items that when collected actually changes the ending of the game significantly. I think these items are incredible. For one, they are very hard to find and you will be very satisfied when you get even a single one of these items. Secondly, changing the ending based on specific items is smart as it takes a long time to find them, but not forever as if you were going for a 100% completion. It a great idea that I wish I see implemented in more open-world/Metroidvania games.
The map is incredibly important in a Metroidvania game, it keeps track of were you are and what to explore next on your map. Guacamelee! features a pretty good map that details all the different rooms in accurate ways and shows the different colored blocks you encounter, which is great when backtracking. If you get close to a chest but are unable to attain it, it will be marked on your map so you can go back and get it later. To top it all of, you can go between all the different area’s maps from the map screen, making the backtracking, one of the biggest aspects of the game, all the more enjoyable. The map isn’t perfect however, my biggest issue with it is the lack of proper edges of the rooms. Rooms are drawn with this light pink color, but you aren’t exactly told if you have reached the edge of a room or not, making you miss a lot of collectibles if you aren’t careful. This is a minor annoyance that can get pretty aggravating if you are trying to do a 100% completion and end up scouring every room in the game again because you can’t really see if you have hit the roof of a room yet.
The game tells you at all times where you should go with quest markers. I am fine with this, it’s never fun getting stuck and not knowing where to go. But the fact that you can’t turn this feature of drives me nuts. One of the key elements of Metroidvania is the freedom to explore the world at your own pace, finding the way by yourself. By having a constant direction I don’t put in the extra time to explore the world, which makes me feel that the World of the Dead as a whole isn’t as coherent and interesting as say Zebes or Tallon VI (all Metroid planets).
Guacamelee! is also somewhat short, I beat it , with all DLC, in about 11-12 hours. I have no problems with a game being short, a game should be as long as it needs to be, but Guacamelee! feels like it should be longer. When I realized that I arrived at the last location, I immediately went back in order to track down more things I forgotten. But Guacamelee!:s map isn’t small either, I almost think it’s bigger than Super Metroid:s, but you spend less time in it. The platforming is very fast to conquer and I think that the fact that you always know where to go makes you rush the game a bit more and not explore at your leisure, or so was my experience. In the end, when the credits roll, you feel that the game could have gone on for a while longer.
As mentioned before, the story isn’t very original but I didn’t really mind. A lot of the characters in the game speak and I really don’t have any problem with it as I thought their writing was generally pretty good. My issue comes when they start talking about the main plot of the game when I don’t have any investment in a story to begin with. The main bad guy of the game has a really nice design, but other than that, I found him rather flat. They build him up with back story and all, but in the end I simply didn’t care one bit. Either craft an interesting narrative and enjoyable dialogue, or do a simple story without much distractions in the gameplay, don’t compromise.
Guacamelee! is a very fun game, it’s easy to pick up and have a joy beating the crap out of your opponents. Guacamelee! is also a great Metroidvania, something that isn’t the easiest thing to craft. It features a beautiful world with excellent aesthetics and music, both contribution to the warm Mexican feeling. But despite how great all these things are, best thing in the game is your set of movement mechanics and the way they are seamlessly implemented in both the platforming and combat department. Guacamelee! plays like no other and has my favorite gameplay of any Metroidvania I have ever played. As often is the case, the game isn’t perfect. The biggest issue is it’s linearity, the game always tells you where to go which is a big buzz kill for me. The story isn’t the most interesting, villain included, the map is good but could use some further tinkering and the game feels overall a bit short. Other than that, the game is perfect. But those are quite a few issues as I’m sure you can see. Combined they prohibit Guacamelee! to rise to the likes of classics like Super Metroid, but the game is still a very good Metroidvania and game in general. If you like fast-paced platformers with some added combat, go play Guacamelee!
Cover image source: frontiersmedia.com