Last year, I was looking for something to play on my PlayStation Vita, and asked a community of my fellow gamers for suggestions based on my personal video game preferences. My affection for a good metroidvania game inspired numerous recommendations to play Guacamelee!, being one of the few games of that type on the Vita. Even though the outward appearance and PSN description of that game didn’t appeal to me much, I decided to give it a go based on how many people felt it would be right up my alley.
- Name: Guacamelee!
- Genre: Action | Adventure | Platformer
- Released: 2013
- Developer: DrinkBox Studios
- Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
- Platforms: PlayStation 3 | PlayStation Vita | PlayStation 4 | Microsoft Windows | Xbox 360 | Xbox One | Wii U
Canadian indie developer DrinkBox made an impression on the PlayStation audience (and later other gamers as well) with the visually unusual Guacamelee! in 2013. Featuring a theme based on Mexican luchadore culture and gameplay inspired by beat-’em-up games and metroidvanias, this game was warmly received, even though it had various qualities that were off-putting for some players. The art style didn’t please everyone, and obviously the gameplay itself wasn’t universally enjoyable either.
The game’s story is simple – it’s basically a traditional “damsel in distress” plot, only with a Mexican flavor and involving some flirting with the afterlife, which is also in keeping with Latin American culture. The visuals seem to complement these themes very well, and whether or not you like the art style itself, it’s hard to argue that the developers nailed the atmosphere in terms of consistency and compatibility with the setting.
After I first started the game, I dropped out pretty quickly, because neither the premise nor the gameplay managed to properly hook me. I gave it another shot later on, and finished the game that time around – however, the final impression was that this game wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I enjoyed it alright, and it was a fun game, but it constantly felt very average to me.
The first issue I’d like to address is the same one I had with games such as Ori and the Blind Forest: While this is essentially a metroidvania, it feels as though the maps and progression were designed by someone who hadn’t played one themselves, but just had the concept explained to them. The secrets are too simple and by-the-book to be actually exciting to explore. In this game, it was made worse by the fact that the vast majority (though not quite all) of routes that could be unlocked with additional abilities were sealed off by blocks of different color – each color signifies a specific ability needed to break that block.
That to me seemed like bad design. Many gamers remember Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, where paths were sealed by various kinds of obstacles organic to the game world. For example, once you unlocked the power to turn into mist, you would be able to pass metal grates that prevented passage earlier. Imagine if instead of a grate, there was just a blue block.
That said, the adventuring itself was mostly fun. The maps weren’t too large for what the game was, and even though the locations were confusing at first (like they almost always are with any metroidvania game), by the time you go back to clean up the missing secrets, you’ll probably know your way around the maps pretty well.
Combat is a significant part of Guacamelee!, and it works well with the various kinds of combos and special moves it offers. Some enemies require specific attacks to defeat, and the special powers unlocked as the game progresses also factor into the combat: for example, unlocking a ground pound allows you to break shells worn by some enemies, in addition to breaking red blocks that prevent passage (sigh). The game wasn’t very hard, and I don’t think I died a whole lot throughout my entire playthrough. Bosses offer a welcome change of pace, although only the final bossfight was particularly fun or memorable.
I tried my best to like Guacamelee!, and I sort of did, but I was left with a slightly disappointed feeling in the end. I’d have to call it a fine yet average action platformer, good for keeping the hunger for a while, until maybe finding something better to play.
I achieved the Platinum Trophy on October 21st, 2015. It took me about a week, although I had played for a couple of days a few months prior to starting the game proper. I’d estimate that to add up to around 15 game hours.
Since Guacamelee! is essentially an open-world adventure game with no additional modes, only one playthrough is required for the Platinum, during which you need to finish every side quest and find every collectible. I mostly focused on progressing through the game until reaching the final areas, and then went back with all of the special powers to explore the earlier areas for collectibles.
The Trophy hunt was quite satisfying, and there were no unreasonable Trophies, nor ones that would’ve been detrimental to the fun of actually playing the game. Since there were no missable Trophies either, it was a pretty stress-free and even easy hunt.