Okay, going for a landspeed record here between completing a game and writing its review.
All of 8 minutes ago me and one of my compadres grappled our way through the final chapter of Guacamelee (GM), an incredibly aptly named indie Mexican brawler that just gushes wit and colorful fun. I bought it on impulse (and love of puns) while scouring the Playstation Network for Behemoth’s new Battleblock Theater, and I haven’t looked back since.
In fact I barely slept. I fired the game up around midnight, immediately fell in love with the lively 2D art style, and practically guacamoled my jeans when gameplay started and the option for Player 2 to Press Start flashed up in the right hand corner. For the ensuing 5 hours my masked muchacho and I pounced, pummeled, and suplexed our way through armies of sombrero-wearing skeletons, giants, and lovable bosses (we completed the remaining 2 or 3 in the morning, and still haven’t completed all the side stuff.)
Players start the game as a disgruntled agave farmer who is reunited with his childhood love, only to witness her (shock!) kidnapping by an undead Mexican cowboy, after which point the hero is teleported into the world of the undead where he receives a magical luchador (wrestler) mask and proceeds to piledrive bony butts.
Developer Juicebox has proven once more that fun writing and simple art are the perfect ingredients for Great Time pie. The dialogue of the recurring NPCs is entertaining and fresh; not the garden variety raunch and slapstick humor that many games (and other fiction) default to when scheming for a laugh.
You can tell that the GM writers went with what they thought was funny, and sincerity will win the contest every single time. That is why indie games are great and (if God doesn’t hate puppies) will continue to steadily sweep the industry off its mucho macho space-marine feet.
GM is very reminiscent of the old school brawlers (described in numerous other reviews as “metroidvania”) but with far more tricks under its technicolor mask and far fewer design annoyances. I wish I could say I am one of those Zen gamers who laugh at every over-buffed enemy, crappy platforming level, and cheap insta-kill – but I would be lying. I cuss, fume, and quit more often than one should in an activity as inconsequential as gaming (but less these days okay I’m working on it.)
My point being, I didn’t get frustrated once with GM. Even when the screen was flooded with enemies of varying size and ability, or a puzzle took 28 tries to finally complete, my buddy and I found ourselves cracking up at our failures and cheering when we were finally victorious. As you progress you acquire new supermoves that allow you to explore new areas, as well as increase your maximum buttkick potential. You also gain abilities to transform and swap between dimensions, and while the combos and physics defiance become increasingly complicated along the way, they only add to the fun. Creativity and perseverance are rewarded with upgrades and money (to buy more upgrades).
And did I mention references? There are BEAUCOUP references to game and nerd culture. I love it. Everything from Mario and Link to Strong Bad and Destructoid show up in the scenery, even some of the level design is reminiscent of other games and worlds. Keep an eye out and see how many you can spot (might make a fun drinking game but you’d likely pass out before the second boss-fight and for the love of upholstery don’t play with tequila).
Other reviewers have pointed out that the platforming is much easier to navigate without a partner (as both have control of dimension-switching and the camera can only follow one player off-screen) but it is do-able and worth it for the hilarity and awesomeness that is co-op combat. Also they’ve included an option for players to “bubble out” (as with New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii) for those who can’t keep up or can’t be bothered with the difficulty. And the other player can pop them out of the bubble whenever appropriate.
The collectibles and side missions go beyond “grab all the glowing jockstraps” and actually provide a bit of an intellectual challenge. And some of them are even a little touching; as you often act as courier between the lands of the living and the dead (Dia de los Muertos is an over-arching theme of the game). And the ending was equal parts awesome and sweet in a most surprising way.
Mind you, all of this is coming on the heels of having completed the swashbuckling mind-molestation that is Bioshock: Infinite just hours before I meandered into the PSN store. And I… I’m not sure GM wasn’t just as good. For what it was! I’ve already had two friends jump all the way down my throat for even making the comparison. But in their respective categories, they are both giants.
For $15 you’d be doing yourself a malicious disservice not to pick up GM and powerbomb through it with a brawl-loving amigo. There’s a free demo for Pedro’s sake – download it and let the spicy charm wash over you like so many sweet chileño peppers.
Stay classy, gamers.