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.
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.
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.