Guacamelee follows the adventures of our hero, an agave farmer named Juan. If you, like me, don’t know what agave is, then let me set you straight – it’s the plant you make tequila from. This, and the name, paves the way for the highly Mexican theme that runs right through this colourful 2D platformer.
Juan’s adventure begins when an evil skeleton steals away El Presidente’s daughter, who, of course, Juan has always had a bit of a thing for. Juan faces this villain, and gets himself killed for his trouble, where he ends up in the land of the dead. However, the game’s not over, as he finds an enchanted wrestling mask, and returns as a Luchador to the land of the living to save the damsel in distress – and kick a fairly serious amount of arse along the way.
The game plays out as a 2D combat platformer, as Juan follows a trail of bad guys looking for his femme. The combat starts out simple, and expands as you play through the game, with extra moves unlocked as you progress. To unlock a move, you simply have to smash a collection of statues curated by a rather odd goat man with a fixation on your mother. Seriously. The dialogue is genuinely quite amusing, and the whole game has a wonderful sense of humour. Plenty of other games are referenced in posters and in the background, such as the “Super Hermanos” wrestling team, consisting of two Mario and Luigi-a-likes with moustaches and red and green wrestling masks. There’s also a wonderful Journey reference at one point that I won’t spoil for you.
The moves you unlock are simple, but effective, such as Circle and Up to do a “Rooster Uppercut”. This has the advantage of allowing you to jump higher than you could without it, so it cleverly unlocks new areas as well as new ways to pulverise the baddies in combat. In fact, all of the moves that are unlocked throughout the game also work this way. The platforming is surprisingly tricky at points – you’re not just strolling from combat encounter to combat encounter, and in many cases the platforming was the hardest part. The difficulty, however, for both the platforming and the combat is pitched just right. On a number of occasions I was about ready to throw in the towel when I just made it through, which I think is the perfect level of difficulty.
The combat really is a barrel load of fun, as you batter enemies into submission, then grab them with a sneaky tap of Triangle and throw them into a load of other bad guys. It gets trickier later, as some enemies have colour coded shields that can only be smashed by the right special attack, and some enemies lurk in another dimension, and can only be attacked by switching from the land of the living to the land of the dead with a tap of the L2 button. Boss encounters are an exercise in old school gaming, as you carefully learn their patterns and adapt your attacks accordingly.
Guacamelee is available on PSN with cross buy, which means for one price you get both the PS3 and the Vita versions. It features a cloud save option in its menus which allowed me to play the game for review across two different PS3s and one Vita seamlessly. You can even use a Vita (or just a second controller) to play two player on the PS3 version, which I reckon would be great fun but didn’t try out, due to a rather depressing lack of nearby friends.
In terms of negatives, I’d say I’d have liked the witty dialogue to have been spoken rather than just written on screen, but then this a £10 title, with most likely a tiny fraction of the budget of a £40 boxed game. I also ran into a couple of little bugs where I couldn’t progress through a room, and a boss that glitched out, but the checkpoints are close enough together that this was a minor inconvenience at best.