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Guacamelee! Review

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On 09/18/2013 at 09:00 AM by Matt R

¡Viva la escuela vieja!

For everyone with a PC controller.

Old school games are here to stay, thanks to gems like Guacamelee, a fun 2D beat-'em-up/platformer with endearing characters and dialogue and a distinct Mexican flavor. It's filled to the brim with humor and now-ancient video game references to Mario, Zelda, and Metroid that will leave you laughing at how blatant they are. Its setting, music, and modern design choices all work together to make something new enough that you'll forget you're off yet again to save una otra princesa.

At the outset you step into the zapatos of Juan, who dons the mask of the heroic Luchador after El Presidente's daughter is kidnapped. From then on you're continually learning new ways to punch out foes and new ways to progress through the environment. It's almost always done in a humorous way. Most of the major moves are gained by punching a Metroid Chozo-lookalike statue, where a nearby blue goat will then transform into a sagely old man, complain that you've broken yet another statue, then explain the next move in your arsenal. And, sometimes a large talking chicken does the job instead. That's just the tip of this game's very wacky iceberg.

Yes, it lifts from old games, but it's new-school in its total linearity. You're never going to get lost, there's always an arrow on your map pointing where to go next, and no, I'm not going to get into a curmudgeonly rant about how kids these days don't have the patience to explore games on their own without having everything handed to them. I don't mind it at all. Guacamelee is so compact and well-paced that I was always looking forward to seeing the next area, challenge, and accompanying boss fight.

The NPCs you interact with have that same small-town charm as those found in a Zelda game, but it's done with genuine Mexican characters, dress, lingo, background music, and the like. Even the Light/Dark World duality of Link to the Past is given a cultural twist. Juan can eventually flip the world between the Land of the Dead and back at the press of a button, which is used for plenty of platforming challenges later on.

Besides its straightforward linearity, another major break from tradition is the frequency of save points. They're good to have around since they double as a place to buy some of the less-important combos and health and stamina boosts, and running past them will refill your health meter. But this game knows when you're going to pull your hair out in frustration and it's been designed accordingly. There are many times when you’re locked in a room until you beat all the enemies. Their numbers and combination slowly yet surely grow to an exponentially ludicrous point where you're up against groups that were previously a minor boss fight, in addition to enemies with long-range attacks, enemies that hop around, fly, pop out of the ground, etc., but the save points are everywhere so at least you'll only have to do them once.

The way the uppercut punch acts as a second jump was another source of my rabia furiosa. Like the Up+B attack/jump in Super Smash Brothers, it's too quick and unwieldy to be used as a central platforming tool. Part of the problem is that I was using a keyboard instead of a PC controller (do NOT attempt!), but there were several areas that required an awkward combination of jumps, the uppercut move, side-smash, and/or switching to the Land of the Dead and back just for the privilege of moving on to the next corridor. Just thank your lucky new-school stars that the health meter is never punished for falling into a death pit.

Handing out the double jump sooner would've smoothed some of it over, but the reality is that it's not all that hard once you clear your mind and form a strategy. That's another thing that makes it great: it's designed so that you won't go very far on mindless button-mashing, but it also spends a lot of time staying silly. Eventually you can transform into a chicken and back at the press of a button (one of my lifelong dreams), a skill that is used to pass a respectable amount of specially designed platforming areas and enemies.

For that reason Guacamelee is highly recommended for todos: old school, new school, Mexican, non-Mexican, and everyone in between will be satisfied.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Jon Lewis Staff Writer

09/18/2013 at 12:55 PM

Awesome. Would have loved to give this game a try, but for some reason the game runs in super speed on my laptop. No idea why...


09/20/2013 at 10:33 AM

When I finally decide what I am going to do about my Vita storage problem I am definitely going to get a copy of this game.  It sounds exactly like my kind of game.


10/01/2013 at 01:39 AM

Gorgeous graphics. It's going on my list.


07/17/2014 at 12:49 PM

And now I own the Super Turbo Edition for Xbox One. It's free as part of Games for Gold this month. Now I just need the system.

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