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PlayBack: Guacamelee!

Luch-adore.

So far Toronto-based developer, Drinkbox Studios, has had a good run. Starting out with PS3 exclusive, About A Blob, the team went on to release a sequel before moving onto something completely different, in tone at least.

When it launched last year exclusively on Sony platforms, Guacamelee! demonstrated just how effective Drinkbox has been in revitalising the 2D platformer. Building on the success of Tales From Space, this new game dropped the traditional level-by-level formula for something that sat within the Metroidvania sub-genre.

As reborn luchador, Juan, players were tasked with bringing down the evil Calaca and his undead horde, rescuing El Presidente’s daughter in the process. It’s a simple premise, yes, and one that even takes a poke at retro platformer classics, yet the way Drinkbox handled both the core gameplay and art direction of Guacamelee! propels it straight into the gaming hall of fame.


Best Bit

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Guacamelee!’s best feature was, conveniently, its core gameplay. Unlike platformers of the NES and MegaDrive era, the game shifts focus away from reflex-sensitive obstacle courses to something much more balanced. Combat too, instead of being limited to jumping on enemies or hammering an attack button, was expanded into its own intuitive system.

As a luchador, players can let fly with a series of moves from the onset, juggling enemies with a series of well-timed punches, dodges, and uppercuts. However, it’s not long before special moves begin to filter into the game including the dash, headbutt, and body slam. Guacamelee! even introduced a simple yet intuitive grapple mechanic, allowing Juan to grab weakened enemies, either destroying them with a devastating finisher or fling them into an oncoming mob. Throw in an increasing variety of enemies and other elements, such as plane-shifting, and you have one of the most definitive and refreshing brawlers to adopt the 2D formula.

Though certainly the game’s highlight, combat didn’t completely overshadow Guacamelee!’s other facets, namely its platforming. Outside of battles, players could use the special moves they had pick up to enhance their navigational abilities. The super uppercut, for instance, could be deployed mid-jump to extend Juan’s reach just that little bit higher. What was brilliant about these upgrades is that they just kept coming, right up until the end. Also, given the game’s Metroidvania-style world structure, there were plenty of spots players could revisit to unlock new items and bonuses.


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For a downloadable platformer, Guacamelee! is actually pretty big, clocking in at around ten hours even for those looking to blitz their way through. Aside from populating the game world with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, Drinkbox also deserves praise for the amount of detail put into every frame.

Building upon the cartoon aesthetic used in Tales From Space, Drinkbox changed things up a bit with a distinctly South American twist. A vibrant palette permeates the entire game along with a cheery sense of humour that rarely feels out of place. Gamers will also appreciate the number of references scattered throughout the myriad dialogue exchanges and in-game posters.


2D platformers are by no means outdated though it’s easy to see why so many, including myself, let Guacamelee! slip under the radar at release. It’s a shame, really, as it is easily one of the most refined games of its type I’ve come across – hence o Wprst Bit section – and suits the PlayStation Vita perfectly.

If you don’t own one of the Sony portables and have given up on expanding your last-gen library of games then fear not. Guacamelee! is currently available on Steam and will be making its way to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One with a Super Turbo Championship Edition.

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8 Comments
  1. Taylor Made
    Member
    Since: Oct 2011

    One of the best platinum game I have, man there was this was spikey level where you had to climb all the way at the top to collect one of the collectables, that made me so angry death so many times.

    But a well recommended game & I won’t be buying it again when it’s released sorely based on that but above

    Comment posted on 04/04/2014 at 11:04.
  2. Youles
    Member
    Since: Feb 2011

    This is in my top 10 all-time favourite games, absolutely loved it, enjoyable from start to finish.

    It’s great how DrinkBox made a platformer stand alongside some of the larger AAA games in recent years. Cannot wait to play it again on PS4!

    Comment posted on 04/04/2014 at 11:09.
  3. Lieutenant Fatman
    Member
    Since: Jul 2013

    This game is brilliant, definitely a must play. It has some tough bits that will push your skills, both platforming and boss fights, but that just makes it all the more satisfying when you defeat it. Gets a 10/10 for me, tempted to pick up the updated version on PS4 as well. And I’ve completed the game twice already.

    Comment posted on 04/04/2014 at 11:11.
  4. FrusciantesGhost
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    A real surprise gem of a game.. Would never have played it if it wasn’t for PS+

    Comment posted on 04/04/2014 at 11:18.
  5. yiddo
    Member
    Since: Jun 2010

    I love this game, just currently fighting the woman boss – forgot her name as I last touched my Vita like, a month and a half ago, but I’ll get back into it. As soon as I started the game though I was in love with the music, the visuals and the general atmosphere. Especially when I got to the town. Really nails the Mexican theme. Love it.

    Comment posted on 04/04/2014 at 13:31.
  6. XisTG
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    Got this game as soon as it came out just in time for a 14h flight. Loved it all the way :)

    Comment posted on 04/04/2014 at 14:20.
  7. Forrest_01
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    Don’t these usually have a ‘worst bit’ as an even handed retrospective?

    Whilst Guacamelee was (& is) a very good game, it does have a couple of troublesome difficulty spikes, most notably with Jaguar Javier as well as a couple of other places (& probably the spiky level mentioned above by TM!).

    Comment posted on 07/04/2014 at 18:29.
  8. th_mssngr
    Member
    Since: Apr 2014

    It’s a good game, bolstered by a fantastically realised setting and some gorgeous production values, but by no means was it flawless.

    The combat is initially fun, but when you’re still doing almost exactly the same thing five hours later it’s hard not to be bored. There’s also the ‘go here, do this’ nature of the main storyline, and exploring loses a lot of its lustre when ‘secrets’ are mostly hidden behind obviously breakable blocks.

    I have to give credit to the posters littered around – the Casa Crashers one still has me grinning. Overall, a solid 8/10.

    Comment posted on 18/04/2014 at 13:27.

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